The Mummy (2017) | Alex Kurtzman | June 9th, 2017
In 1999, The Mummy was remade into a cheesy action blockbuster starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. It was a ridiculous action movie, but it had heart, some great chemistry between the lead characters, and atmosphere. It was just plain dumb fun. With this new 2017 remake, all the fun has been replaced with desperate and extremely clunky world building.
A few years ago, Universal decided to jump on the “Cinematic Universe” train by reviving their classic movie monsters. Multiple monster movies that interconnected and would be the start of the Dark Universe. Universal makes a bold choice by blatantly putting a “Dark Universe” logo on-screen so that there’s no mistaking it. This is a franchise. Its first film, Dracula Untold, was a critical and financial flop … and it’s not part of the franchise as a result. They decided to bring in more star power to beef up the new films. Tom Cruise, Javier Bardem, and even Johnny Depp are now linked to this upcoming franchise. They might want to watch the finished 2017 version of The Mummy first before going further. This is a bad movie, and a bad way to start a film universe.
The Mummy of 2017 has the same problem as the rest of the universe building franchises right now: focusing too much on the endgame and not the present. The DC cinematic universe has floundered (with the exception of Wonder Woman) by trying to get everyone and everything connected in a jumbled and rushed way. That’s not the only problem here though. The Mummy just isn’t fun. It’s also not scary. The only thing going for it is that there are a few creative action scenes. That only accounts for maybe 10 minutes of the running time though. The rest of the time, the film relies on over-explaining a simple plot to the point of extreme redundancy.
This version of The Mummy begins in present day after a brief historical connection between British Crusaders and the mummy in question. Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a selfish antiquities smuggler who goes looking for a secret treasure in the Iraqi desert. Jake Johnson plays his sidekick Vail. Together, they accidentally stumble upon the lost tomb of an Egyptian princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). During the excavation, Nick’s one-night-stand (of course) Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) shows up to berate him for stealing her treasure map that has led them all to this location. They explore the tomb, and Nick suddenly starts having visions of the princess after staring at her sarcophagus for too long. They decide to bring the sarcophagus out and to London for further study. The cargo plane carrying Ahmanet’s sarcophagus, Nick, Jenny, Vail, and a small military contingent is brought down over England, which leads to Nick waking up without a scratch on him in a body bag in a morgue.
Ahmanet has now escaped her sarcophagus and begins to seek her revenge on humanity. Before she was mummified, Ahmanet was denied a place on her father’s throne. She killed him, his wife, and their child after making a deal with Set, the God of death. Set has given her a dagger that she needs to thrust into a willing host. Performing this ritual will allow Set to overtake whoever is stabbed by the dagger. After being set free from her sarcophagus, Ahmanet begins her quest for the two halves of the dagger, and to make Nick the host that will free Set, as he set her free. With the help of Jenny, and her boss Henry Jekyll played by Russell Crowe, Nick tries to understand how to potentially stop Ahmanet.
The film has a fairly straightforward plot, and is almost even simpler than the 1999 The Mummy. What becomes frustrating is that the script (with its 3 screen story contributors and 3 screenplay contributors) and the director Alex Kurtzman decides to explain every single detail multiple times. The exposition sequences are repeated just to make sure we all get what’s going on, even though it’s painfully obvious. At a point in the film, Tom Cruise is listening to Russell Crowe explain everything yet again, and Tom’s character literally says that he’s not interested. Tom Cruise says “hmm..okk..ohhh..riiighhtt” like he’d rather be listening to someone talk about paint drying. I couldn’t come up with a more on-the-nose metaphor for the audience if I tried.
Tom Cruise has a lot of action scenes and stunts that honestly look great in this film. Some of the action is fairly directed, and the plane crash sequence is even better than I anticipated. The sets are nice to look at and well crafted. Other than that though, I wish I could say that something else in this movie thrilled me. There are a number of homages to past horror properties here. The Birds, An American Werewolf in London, Willard, Night of the Living Dead, and even the 1999 Mummy gets an Easter egg. That’s another problem though. The film constantly makes you think of other infinitely better films.
Russell Crowe seems to be the only one having a good time here. His portrayal of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde is fun when unleashed. Besides one quick scene though, he simply comes across as Mr. Exposition – a plot giver, even though we really didn’t need one. Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll briefly sets up the ‘world’, without explaining his own backstory or much about himself. He informs Nick that this is a new world of Gods and Monsters. He also shows Nick his lab, which hints at other movie monsters still to come. Besides that, there isn’t much other universe building here. The film tries to set up the Dark Universe, but it fails to do that. It also fails at being just a standalone mummy movie. It’s a strange lose-lose.
Sofia Boutella comes across much more sinister as the mummy when she’s not fully healed. She’s just not that menacing once she regains her youthful looks. Ahmanet appears to have control over Nick’s mind, but only when it services the plot, or when a plot point needs to be re-iterated. The actual mummy in The Mummy just isn’t compelling. There’s no personal motivation here like there was with Imhotep in the 1999 version. Say what you want about that version, but at least the villain had clear goals and motivations. Cruise and his co-star/love interest Annabelle Wallis have hardly any chemistry. The film’s attempt at finding humor in their bickering comes off as awkward and off-putting. The hit-miss ratio for the humor here is 90% miss. There were laughs in my screening, but all were from the unintentionally funny dialogue.
When it was all over, the first film in the Dark Universe did almost nothing to cause excitement for the next films. This is why Marvel has done such a good job. They understand how to balance making a complete stand-alone story while also adding layers towards a larger narrative. The Mummy makes it clear that Universal currently doesn’t know how to do both at the same time. It took the DC Universe 4 films to truly have a winner with Wonder Woman. I’m not sure if the Dark Universe can afford to go that route. If we’re supposed to care about these monsters coming together, the next film in the series (Bill Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein, if it makes it out of pre-production), needs to have characters to care about. Or at least give them personalities.