Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Sofia Boutella, Courtney B Vance, Marwan Kenzai.
Universal has launched a brand new franchise under the umbrella of Dark Universe, in which the studio plans to remake all of those classic monster movies from their vaults, like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman. Most of those monster movies from the 30s seem a little dated now, and the studio plans to drag them into the 21st century through CGI and modern cinema technology.
The first film in this proposed new series is The Mummy, one of Boris Karloff’s more famous creations from the 30s, which provides the basic building block for what follows. Moviegoers will also remember the bright and breezy trilogy of Mummy movies from the late 90s starring Brendan Fraser, which are a far cry from this reincarnation. And to ensure the success of the franchise’s opening salvo, they have brought on board Tom Cruise, arguably the biggest movie star on the planet, to give it some box office clout.
The Mummy begins with a prologue set in Egypt several thousand years earlier. Princess Ahmanet (played by model and dancer Sofia Boutella, from The Kingsmen, etc) is destined to rule Egypt as the first female ruler. Until her father sires a son to his new much younger wife. Making a deal with Set, the Egyptian God of the Dead, she kills her family to usurp the throne, but is punished for her crime. Ahmanet is mummified and buried alive in a sarcophagus that is buried hundreds of miles away from Egypt.
Cut to the modern day, and the war in Iraq. Nick Morton (Cruise) and his sergeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson from the tv series New Girl, etc) are a couple of soldiers of fortune who steal antiquities and sell them on the black market. Nick and Vail come under heavy enemy fire in a small village. They call in a devastating airstrike, which uncovers the buried tomb of Ahmanet. But in disturbing the tomb, Nick seems to have woken the malevolent Ahmanet. He is cursed by her and seems to have been chosen to help her find her rightful place in the modern world. Ahmanet begins to raise an army of the undead to help her conquer the world. Meanwhile Nick seems to be possessed by dreams and visions of Ahmanet.
Also on hand to help Nick in his fight against the evil Ahmanet is Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis, from Annabelle, etc), a British archaeologist, who is working for an organisation under the auspices of Prodigium, a secret organisation that apparently protects monsters from the real world. The head of the organisation is Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) – yes, THAT Dr Jekyll, the dedicated scientist who transforms into the brutal Mr Hyde. Jekyll wants to capture the mummy and experiment on her as part of his research into otherworldly creatures.
Cruise’s Morton is full of his usual cocksure attitude, his roguish quality, his impish grin and mannerisms, but he seems a little uncomfortable with the demands of his character here. His Morton suffers plenty of beatings along the way, and is more vulnerable and less heroic than normal. Cruise is also known for performing a lot of his own stunts to add veracity to the action scenes, and here he is involved in a few outlandish set pieces, including a couple of crashes and fighting off legions of zombie warriors underwater. Cruise spends a lot of time running in his movies, probably more time than Forrest Gump ever did.
Halsey is mainly a female foil for Cruise’s character, but Wallis brings a strength to the role that will remind audiences of the strong female characters from the Indiana Jones series. Johnson has been a staple of the independent movie scene through the films of Joe Swanberg and films like Safety Not Guaranteed, and he brings touches of humour to his biggest mainstream role to date. His Vail is the voice of reason to Cruise’s more impulsive Morton. Crowe seems to be the only one in the cast who recognises that The Mummy is a load of nonsense and he shamelessly chews the scenery as Jekyll, a character who embraces both good and evil. His character is probably meant to provide a bridge between the various characters who will inhabit this dark world of gods and monsters.
Unlike previous incarnations of the mummy though, this new take on the familiar bandage-wrapped character undergoes a change in gender, which adds an interesting new perspective to the mythology. Boutella brings an intriguing quality to her performance. She spends a lot of time under layers of make-up or having her skin covered by digitally enhanced hieroglyphics.
The film has been directed by Alex Kurtzman, who is better known as a writer who, with his former partner Roberto Orci, scripted the Star Trek reboot. This is only the second feature film for Kurtzman as a director, following the emotionally charged drama People Like Us, which is a vastly different film to this special-effects driven action adventure. Kurtzman keeps things moving along at a fair pace. There are some half decent CGI effects here, especially as Kurtzman and his team create an army of the undead swarming through London’s underground railway system and give us the mother of all sandstorms. But, as is typical of a lot of today’s blockbusters, the effects often tend to overwhelm the material.
A lot of money has been thrown at the screen to ensure that this fledgling franchise starter gives audiences a lot of bang for their buck. There is some impressive set design from Jon Hutman and Dominic Watkins, and some great action set pieces.
Six writers have laboured over the script, including David Koepp (Jurassic World, etc) and Christopher McQuarrie, a regular collaborator with Cruise, who directed Jack Reacher, etc, which accounts for its somewhat uneven and inconsistent tone. Many character are underdeveloped here, and the plot raises more questions than it answers. The film intertwines horror and supernatural elements with a boy’s own type action yarn, laced with some touches of forced humour, much of which falls flat. The Mummy is a little cliched as it borrows heavily from a number of 80s adventure horror films.
Cruise has rarely made a bad movie, but The Mummy is certainly one of his lesser and more lightweight outings. The Mummy is mindless popcorn entertainment, and one of the sillier films in Cruise’s resume.