While Hollywood has become increasingly obsessed with interconnected universes, Universal Pictures has felt a little left out due to the lack of comic book characters they own the rights to. To make up for it, they decided to go back to the classic movie monsters that the studio had such success with in the 1930s (indeed, they created an interconnected world of them back then). They’ve been busy attempting to build a linked series of movies around them, called Dark Universe.
The Mummy was the film designed to kick off the Dark Universe, with a big budget, an a-list star and a property everyone knows thanks to its 1990s/2000s resurrection with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. The response from critics and US audiences was muted however, with American box office stalling (although it did manage $400 million globally) and an abysmal RottenTomatoes rating (currently 16%). That’s caused a bit of a rethink about how the Dark Universe is going to pan out, with Bride Of Frankenstein pushed back, and the likes of The Invisible Man (with Johnny Depp) and The Wolfman currently without a release date.
The Mummy however sees Tom Cruise as a kind of modern, low-rent Indiana Jones called Nick Morton. He is in Iraq ‘liberating’ historical artefacts before they can be stolen and put on the black market. In the process, he accidentally manages to uncover the carefully hidden tomb of the Ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who promptly starts to spring back to life, cursing Nick in the process.
The action soon moves to England, where Ahmanet’s undead-ness and malevolence quickly grows. Longtime paranormal fixer Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) thinks Nick is the key to stopping Ahmanet, but as Nick is cursed and now trapped between good and evil, it could kill him in the process.
It’s all okay, but The Mummy never quite works out its reason to exist. Part of the problem is a lack of internal logic and indecision over exactly what it wants to be – is it a monster movie ‘horror’, a summer action blockbuster, or something a little more gothic and strange? Even the fact it borrows heavily from other horror movies, from An American Werewolf In London to The Exorcist, seems less like homage than it does a movie having an existential crisis. It doesn’t help that crisis that Nick’s curse mean he keeps seeing things that’s aren’t really there, which results in large chunks of the film being difficult to trust.
The difficulties continue with uncertainty over how much it needs to be a standalone film on its own, and how much it needs to tease a much wider universe. Russell Crowe’s Henry Jekyll is the main hint that there’s more than just Mummys in this universe, but when he inevitably goes Dr. Hyde at one point, it feels like it’s fallen in from another movie and makes little sense in this film. Other than that, there’s a fair amount of portentous talk about Nick being cursed and what that means, which suggests he’ll be turning up in more Dark Universe films in the future, but it does little to make us want to see him again.
While some films that have very deliberately set out to start a franchise have bombed because they failed to be entertaining movies in their own right, The Mummy almost has the opposite problem. There’s so little that makes it feel distinctive or that hints towards an interesting wider world, that the viewer’s not that likely to care what comes next.
To be fair though, it isn’t a dreadful movie, just one that never works out what it’s doing or why. It provides a few decent action sequences, and Tom Cruise is on pretty good form, but there isn’t a second when it looks like anyone has worked out what they’re doing or why – other than Universal told them to make a new Mummy movie.
There is probably still life in the Dark Universe, but to make it work they need to work out what this universe really is, and then ensure the resulting movie don’t look quite so much like they created it by committee.
The Blu-ray does have a good selection of special features though!
Overall Verdict: As popcorn fluff it works, but it’s very forgettable, never working out why it exists, or what it’s got to do with the wider Dark Universe.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac