Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe
We’ve been discussing cinematic shared universes a lot of late. Obviously every time a new Marvel or DC film comes out the topic gets raised, but there are other shared universes that don’t revolve around superheroes. In fact two of them revolve around monsters. We’ve already seen the continuation of the Legendary’s MonsterVerse with Kong: Skull Island earlier this year, and now we see the launch of the Universal Monsters shared universe (recently renamed Dark Universe) with The Mummy.
This tale draws from the original 1932 film, and slightly gender-flips it so that the mummy is Princess Ahmanet rather than Imhotep. Cursed for millennia for murdering the Pharaoh and attempting to summon the demon Set into the world, Ahmanet’s (Sofia Boutella) tomb is discovered by a mercenary treasure hunter, Nick (Tom Cruise). Soon after removing the sarcophagus from the Middle Eastern war-zone in which it was discovered, the transport plane is beset by strange events and crashes. Now loose in England, Ahmanet’s reanimated remains seek the pieces of a ritual to bring about Set’s rule on earth, while a mysterious organisation attempts to thwart her plans. Nick finds himself caught between the two, as the Mummy’s tomb has granted him an unusual gift, but has also cursed him to be part of Ahmanet’s schemes.
Technically this is a relaunch of the Universal Monsters shared universe. Not only does Universal Monsters have one of the oldest claims to a shared cinematic universe with Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1948), but they have previously tried to launch this concept with Dracula Untold (2014). Unfortunately the bad critical and box office reception soon drove a stake through the heart of those plans. So Universal went back to the drawing board to build a bigger, better monster (well, possibly eight – given recently announced plans). A star studded vehicle headed by Tom Cruise was their response.
Caught between its 1932 iteration and its 1999 iteration, this version of The Mummy is unsure of what it really wants to be. Follow the original Universal formula, and we should have a solid horror film, updated for modern sensibilities. Follow the late 90s version, and we should have an action-adventure comedy with big digital effects producing a thrill ride. The 2017 version tries to combine both, and becomes weaker for the effort, providing no clear direction for what it wants to be as a film. Add a few Walking Dead inspired zombies, a secret society (that will likely link the other Dark Universe films together), and a deeply confused third act – and the whole thing falls apart quicker than a Nosferatu sunbather.
Nor are the performances alone, good enough to carry you through this parched desert. Cruise never cuts through the confusion, giving no sense of “what” or “who” his character really is. He looks in a trance most of the time, even when not under the spell of Ahmanet. Sofia Boutella is suitably mesmerising as the embalmed princess, doing what she can with no motivation and a barely fleshed out back-story. At least Russell Crowe gives a fairly memorable performance, despite the fact that his character seems to be from an entirely different film (and honestly – one I would have preferred to see).
There is some interesting world building here, and the film does raise the question of how this “world of Gods and Monsters” intends go forward. For the now though, The Mummy is a pretty average big budget tent-pole film, that does everything you would expect it to, in as underwhelming way as possible. Not a memorable monument, but rather something that will soon be buried by the sands of time.