What if Giles from Buffy the Vampire the Slayer was also Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? This is very much the vibe that Universal’s first installment in their new Dark Universe movie series gives off. This could lead to a serious problem as the last thing you want in your multi-million dollar franchise is for it to come off as an overblown television show. Clearly, the hiring of Hollywood heavyweights Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe is a key component in overcoming this feeling but regardless of star power, this version of The Mummy does seem more like a pilot to a TV series than it does a stand-alone movie.
This rendition of The Mummy follows the adventures of Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) an American reconnaissance officer stationed in Iraq who, along with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), spend most of his time scouring the local terrain for treasure and not-so-much doing his actual job as part of the United States military. When a firefight with some insurgence accidentally reveals an ancient Egyptian tomb, being they are in Iraq everyone finds this rather odd, and our heroes plunge into the depths of the tomb with archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) to discover its secrets. While there they come across the resting place of the lost Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who we later learn was so mummified and imprisoned because she murdered her father and baby brother when it looked like she was losing her spot as heir apparent.
Needless to say, things go rather badly. Poor hapless sidekick Chris is bitten by a spider and turned into some kind of zombie Renfield to Ahmanet while the military transport plane bringing Ahmanet’s sarcophagus back to England is downed by a flock of crows. Jenny is the only survivor because just before it crashed Nick was able to get her into a parachute (being saved is her sole character trait), but later Nick wakes up in the morgue wondering what the hell is going on. It’s at this point we are introduced to Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) who is the head of Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to the hunting of supernatural threats and is based under the Natural History Museum of London. While Jekyll tries to fill poor “not dead” Nick on what is happening we watch as Jekyll has to inject himself with a serum to prevent his Mr. Hyde persona from making an appearance, sadly this has nothing to do with the movie we are watching and is all part of the “world-building” for the Dark Universe the studio is praying will make them loads of money, and in my opinion is a pretty big misstep.
“Believe it or not but I’m younger than Tom Cruise.”
When Marvel released Iron Man back in 2008 there was no grand plan for a cinematic connected universe so no other Marvel characters from other comics were ham-fisted in, but then with the success of that movie, and the many that followed, a shared universe was born. The key difference between Marvel and Universal here is that one seemed organic while the other seems forced and clunky. This movie has more in common with the laughably bad League of Extraordinary Gentlemen than it does Boris Karloff’s The Mummy from 1932 or even the Brendan Fraser reboot in 1999, as this film seems more a haphazard mash-up of bits and pieces rather than a movie that can stand on its own two legs.
The movie is its own Frankenstein monster.
Universal attempted to get their shared universe off the ground back in 2014 with Luke Evans as the title character in Dracula Untold, but then it flopped and Universal kicked it to the curb in favour of this one with mega-star Tom Cruise who I guess becomes some kind of monster fighter who will then tackle the rest of the Universal Monster line-up which so far includes; The Bride of Frankenstein, The Creature of the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Phantom of the Opera. I’m not sure how many of these entries Mr. Cruise is going to make, he is certainly not cheap and is often busy making Mission Impossible movies, but it looks like Crowe’s character is set up to be the Nick Fury of this franchise.
Now I will say this version of The Mummy is not a complete garbage fire, Cruise is his ever-charismatic self and there are some really good nail-biting action scenes on display, and I did like the gender swap that landed Sofia Boutella as the title character, but one never got the sense of excitement or fun that I’m betting the studio was trying for. There was much to like in this movie, and if Universal had the courage to take it slow with their universe building it could have been a solid movie, but as is the film does kind of feel like an expensive pilot for a new HBO series.
• The ghost of decaying best friend Chris popping up to invisibly harass Nick seems like a blatant rip-off/homage to undead Jack from An American Werewolf in London.
• Why was there a pulley system in place to raise the sarcophagus out of her tomb when no one on Earth would want her free?
• In the workrooms of the Prodigium, we get a glimpse of a bottled arm of The Creature From the Black Lagoon and there is a vampire skull on display.
• The Book of Death from the Brendan Fraser Mummy makes a quick appearance.
• We also get the same giant sandstorm Mummy face as we did in the 90s entry.
• If it takes the knife and the jewel together to bring the god Set into the world why didn’t the Crusader knights just smash the jewel instead of hiding it?
You can check out my other reviews here: Universal Classic Monsters: A Cinematic World of Horror.
The Mummy (2017)
Director Alex Kurtzman is a prominent television director and so that this movie feels like TV show should not be all that surprising, but I’m betting some of the problem comes from Universal forcing all this Dark Universe crap on him. I was entertained enough at times but it’s a hard movie to recommend.