In the 1930s and the 1940s, Universal made a name for itself creating monster movies. Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolfman, among others, were hugely popular intellectual properties in Hollywood. They made household names of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. They were undoubtedly iconic films.
Now, Universal is rebooting the franchise. They first attempted this interconnected horror universe with the critical flop Dracula Untold. After brushing that under the rug, they are starting again with The Mummy.
They better hope there’s more room under that rug.
The Mummy begins with the needlessly complicated backstory of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the Egyptian royalty who attempted to murder her way to the throne, only to be mummified and buried alive as a result.
The film then progresses in a needlessly complicated way, tripping its way through plot complications that don’t add up under scrutiny and trying to present itself as something narratively competent.
Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), a man who somehow works for the military but whose job entails looting archeological areas in the Middle East, drags his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) into combat to do exactly that. When an airstrike clears the “insurgents” out of the area, it also inadvertently unearths an Egyptian tomb that is inexplicably in Iraq.
Enter Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the more by-the-books counterpart to Morton. They clash with what passes for sexual tension (we know that it is sexual tension because Jenny’s introduction involves her explaining that the two have already had sex) as they uncover a chained sarcophagus. And, of course, this coffin contains Ahmanet.
Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise, a roguish scamp with a thirst for trouble. He comes off fine within the workings of the film, although it is impossible to view the character as anyone other than the actor portraying him.
At least Cruise is playing a character. Wallis’ Jenny is nobody and mostly just gets in the way despite an introduction that tries to depict her as a strong female foil to Morton.
At first, it seems that Johnson’s role in the film is solely for comic relief. Then, we realize that every character is in the film for comic relief. Humor dominates this action-horror film, for some reason, and it almost never lands effectively.
In this vein, it is pertinent to note that The Mummy is a tonal disaster. It reaches for comedy while also, in the same scene, trying to tackle suspense. Neither works on its own, but it is only worse in tandem.
The film only really succeeds when it is crashing. That is to say, it only comes through with entertainment value when staging wrecks, whether it be by plane or by truck.
Other smaller points are at least interesting. The physical transformation of Ahmanet as she absorbs the energy of the living is visually enticing. Russell Crowe’s character is worth a laugh if only because it boldly calls its shot on a potential future film.
But mostly the film does not produce much. Where the narrative is choppy at best, the visuals are only slightly better. But even technically the film has major shortcomings.
The sound design is dreadful. From the poor ADR to grotesque, headache-inducing effects work, the soundtrack is hard to listen to. Not to mention the blatantly lazy and gaudy orchestral stings that take the place of genuine suspense.
While not as drab and bland as Dracula Untold, The Mummy is only mere steps up. It is somewhat competent cinematically, incompetent narratively. To boil it down to simple acts, the film starts as a heist comedy, middles as a horror film, and climaxes as an action film. It does none of these particularly well.
Perhaps if it had been a straightforward action using the horror property as a backdrop—the action set pieces are by far the most entertaining sequences in the film—The Mummy could have succeeded. Instead, it is a handful of acceptable action sequences with a lackluster film padding it out to a feature length runtime.
The Mummy: C-
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)