The Mummy (2017) / Action-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Screenplay: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Review published June 11, 2017
The Mummy kicks off yet another shared cinematic universe of films, this one called the "Dark Universe", that will, if successful, put together the slate of classic monsters in the Universal Pictures arsenal, to include the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, and others. This one draws much more star power in the form of Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) than the studio's prior attempt to do the same with Dracula Untold just over a year before. Alas, if this is the flagship property, it doesn't bode well for Universal, as The Mummy will go down to rank as one of the bigger turkeys of 2017, and perhaps one of the worst films in the career of its main star.
Cruise plays a roguish armed forces associate who doubling as a tomb-raiding antiquities procurer, Nick Morton, who, along with smart-alecky partner-in-crypts, Chris Vail (Johnson, Win It All), earns his living digging up ancient artifacts, then selling for the highest price he can get on the black market. Soon the men join forces with noted Egypt expert and archaeologist (and Morton's chance to hook up) Jenny Halsey (Wallis, The Brothers Grimsby) while in Iraq, where a mammoth underground burial site lies under the sand, housing a mysterious sarcophagus containing the dormant body of Ahmanet (Boutella, Star Trek Beyond), an Ancient Egyptian princess cursed to evil after an attempt to murder her family and usurp the throne to become pharaoh. Now revived from her tomb, Ahmanet decides that Nick will be the new conduit to bring evil to Earth as the host for the god of death, Set.
In addition to a mummy to flesh out the title, we are also introduced to Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe (The Nice Guys), showing hints of that darker side we all know will eventually take the form of Mr. Edward Hyde. Jekyll is the head of the Prodigium, which is a secret organization built on the premise that it will find, contain, and obliterate all evil on Earth. Of course, that means that Ahmanet is top prey on their agenda.
The Mummy is directed by Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us), from a script from some well-known screenwriters in the form of David Koepp (Inferno), actor Dylan Kussman ("The Steps"), and frequent collaborator with Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow). Alas, it's apparent that these scribes all took their turns cobbling the script together rather than work as a team, as the tone of the film is schizophrenic, never quite settling into a groove as an action, adventure, horror, or comedy feature. What's missing here, despite lots of exposition to show otherwise, are stakes we believe in or care about, as we proceed forward through a story that has no ability to fill us with awe or delight, and when death isn't even a permanent option for any character in the story, not even the threat of the complete annihilation of everyone we see on the screen seems to hold much weight. It's a pointless endeavor.
Cruise, from the first scene, is delivering a campy take on the hero adventurer, with forced jocularity going against the grain of his usual intensity to get us to take potential dangers as something substantial. Meanwhile, Ahmanet, who is supposed to be scary because she is covered with ancient hieroglyphic tattoos and boasts two irises per eyeball, is just pure evil personified, offering little joy or excitement beyond just having a wicked look and performing horrible deeds. Crowe seems like what he is, just there to set up the tie-in for the characters to connect with those of proposed entries in the Dark Universe, a la Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in the MCU. Jake Johnson is the requisite comic-relief character, but really doesn't do or say anything particularly funny to merit his inclusion.
As we never get rooted into the characters, some of whom are living, some dead, and some undead, when the big set pieces involving nasty birds and zombie armies come our way, they merely serve initially as eye candy that get quickly redundant as we realize that the stakes of those scenes aren't established as particularly important, at least not to us, given that we know there is no permanence in losing one's life, especially since there are franchise expansion considerations made obvious from the outset. Nothing can surprise us, and nothing else seems built to delight or frighten us, leaving it all quite mind-numbing in execution. The final act of this movie, which is quite prolonged, yields little but spiritless CG entities who are circling around the protagonists, who are also churned through computers rendering them with obvious and gimmicky artificial enhancement.
The only thing truly funny about The Mummy is that there are people of talent involved that think this is the sort of thing that might get audiences charged up for more of this extended universe of campy horror, and the only thing scary is the idea that we will likely suffer through more of the same for the foreseeable future should Universal proceed according to plan. Just like the real mummy, post embalming, the movie that bears its name is a soulless undertaking that has its brain shrunken and no trace of heart to spark it to life.
©2017 Vince Leo