Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Nothing can hold a candle to an original source property that has inspired a reboot. So if you scowl at the thought of Universal touching up one of their classic monster-mash ups, and giving Brendan Fraser the boot chances are, you didn’t want to see Alex Kurtzman's updated “The Mummy” anyhow. In this day and age, singular movies are starting to become obsolete. No longer can studios make just one movie in a franchise, they have to create a “universe” to which their are limitless possibilities of spinoffs, sequels, and collaborations of all kinds. The best example is Marvel, who has cracked that intertwined method of bringing forth all their characters together in box office hit after hit. And now, Universal wants a piece of the cake and in doing so has dusted off the ole monster vault to bring forth the “Dark Universe.” With films like “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Invisible Man” already in the works.
To kick of this would-be franchise, “The Mummy” brings forth some a-list talent in the form of Tom Cruise, who, no matter what role you put him in, never ages. Cruise plays Thomas Morton, an Indiana Jones-esq thief that has a yearn for “adventure.” After an opening prologue set in 1127 A.D where we get a boring overview of the titular character named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) - I say boring because I hate when films have voiceover openings rather than let the story flesh out for itself - we are transported back to present day Mesopotamia where Morton, and his side companion Vail (Jake Johnson) are searching for treasure in the ruins of the Iraq desert and after the run-in goes less than planned, the US military bails them out with an air strike bringing to light a tomb that has been underground for 5,000 years.
Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an antiquity researcher, who has some beef with Morton, knows exactly what lies in this tomb, Princess Ahmanet herself, and insists on bringing her grave back for an in-depth analysis. That’s all fine and dandy until Morton accidentally “releases her” from the tomb, which, naturally, damns him to be cursed. And the plane ride home doesn’t go as planned, in fact it crashes and Morton is presumed dead. Instead, he wakes up minutes later in a body bag with no clue as to what happened. Turns out, that curse is the reason he is still alive and Ahmanet has BIG plans for him. Plans that become thwarted once an elite force of supernatural monster hunters who go by “Prodigium” come into contact with Morton and want to examine the glorified monster for themselves.
This squad of hunters, I presume, are going to be the glue that holds this universe together with Dr. Henry Jekyll (played devilishly by Russell Crowe) serving as the Nick Fury of the monster “Avengers.” Crowe is easily the best thing about “The Mummy” who throws out lines in such a sophisticated matter, it’s a treat to watch unfold. And while this newly minted and updated romp has the advantage of technology that the 1999 original lacked, Kurtzman’s film still comes up short.
I’m a big Tom Cruise fan, and I won’t go on the offensive and say this is his ‘worst’ movie as some have pegged, but even his genre fare straight face acting is questionable. He blends the right amount of cheese, with seriousness in the only way they he can, but most, if not, all of it feels forced. I would have really liked to see Morton in the early days of his career of thieving and get a feel for his character, but within five minutes of meeting him we are whisked away into the main story. Johnson has some fun playing Veil, and Courtney B Vance has maybe five minutes of screen time playing the stereotypical “pissed off” General. It’s such a throwaway role for the “The People Vs O.J Simpson” actor.
And then there is the titular character herself, whose antics are nowhere up to par with past Mummies. I hope that Boutella can find a role in the future that doesn’t require her to be covered in makeup for 90% of the movie, because she is talented - but her grimace is not very frightening.
The most inspired scene in the film comes when Crowe transforms from Dr Henry Jekyll to Eddie Hyde in a tour-de force beatdown between him and Morton in a locked office. It's like a Wrestlemania cage match and is one of the few moments where the army of screenwriters - (seriously there was like 15 writers) - injected soul into the picture. It’s not that “The Mummy” doesn’t feel like an old fashion monster film, because it does. It’s that the filmmakers choose to invest more in the setup of their cinematic universe, than make us care about what was actually happening. There is some fun to be had with “The Mummy,” and looking it as a pulpy popcorn summer flick could help ease how boring it can be at times. But if these next couple films don’t find their cinematic footing, I have a strong feeling this “Dark Universe” could be in serious trouble. C