Haven’t you heard?
Simply everyone has a shared universe these days?
Marvel Studios have one, Warner Brothers / DC have got one, Transformers / Hasbro have one (God help us), even Sony are so confident that they’re trying to create a shared Spiderverse without Spider-Man.
Given that Universal own the rights to cinema’s greatest icons of horror it stands to reason that they would attempt to capitalise on it by attempting their own shared universe (turns out 1987’s Monster Squad doesn’t count).
The ill-fated and underrated Dracula Untold (2014) was their first abortive attempt but The Mummy represents the first overt step into the proposed ‘Dark Universe’.
Yet it’s the world building elements and the attempts to broaden the film’s appeal among different demographics that make it such a frustratingly mixed bag.
While the original Universal monster movies had their crosshairs pointed squarely at horror, they didn’t take themselves too seriously. Stephen Sommers’ Mummy trilogy opted for an action adventure bias with the occasional horror trope thrown in amidst the visual comedy.
This version, directed by Alex Kurtzman, tries to have its cake and eat it, veering jarringly from ghoulish horror to farcical slapstick.
This is a shame, as most of the film’s elements, in isolation, work pretty well. The production design and creature design and effects are excellent and the core plot is a fairly interesting variation on that of the original 1932 classic.
Tom Cruise brings his rogueish Ethan Hunt charm to the role of mercenary/graverobber Nick Morton and Russel Crowe is typically affable as Dr. Henry Jekyll, who will no doubt serve as the connective tissue between the Dark Universe films (essentially Universal’s Nick Fury).
Sophia Boutella, who charmed us as Jayla in Star Trek Beyond makes for a menacing, if not entirely unsympathetic antagonist as the mummy Ahmanet (a name phonetically impossible in ancient Egyptian langauge). Some critics have likened her to Cara Delevigne’s Enchantress in Suicide Squad but on balance, Boutella gives a more rounded performance, even if I can do without the “scary/sexy” schtick.
For all its tonal confusion, the film does muster a few very good scares and some well placed and loving homages to Universal’s iconic back catalogue and, of all things, An American Werewolf in London (1981). The film gets a lot right… But unfortunately, it gets just as much wrong.
While Tom Cruise is never less than watchable he isn’t given all that much to do except run away from explosions and/or sandstorms. I mean, he’s shit hot at running away from explosions and/or sandstorms but an actor of his calibre deserves better.
Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll is perfectly fine but the glimpses we see of Edward Hyde (oh come on, that’s not a spoiler) are… disappointing. The most egregious failing is in the ‘love interest’ represented by Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) whose character is poorly written, badly pitched and blandly delivered.
Given that the third act’s climax hinges on her relationship with Nick Morton, it’s a pretty huge problem that we’re given absolutely no reason at all to believe in their relationship.
On balance The Mummy is not without its flaws but its far from being the dumpster fire that many reviews have indicated. The film’s merits may not hang together all that well alongside its flaws but there’s enough good in there to make it worth watching at least once.
Disappointing to be sure, but far from disastrous.