The Mummy had almost everything going against it. From trailers that quickly became easy Internet fodder to the announcement that the film would be the first in a multi-film cinematic universe (something audiences don’t seem to be terribly interested in unless it’s coming from Marvel Studios), The Mummy just had a general lack of buzz and excitement.
But that’s all stuff outside the film. Perhaps the film could actually be great, simply suffering from the curse of bad marketing and studio hubris. Maybe, taken on it’s own, we could have ourselves a fun little adventure film with some thrills, much like we saw in the Brendan Fraser films. So, pre-publicity aside, how is The Mummy?
I’m here to report that The Mummy is bad. Very bad.
Tom Cruise stars as Nick—a soldier of fortune who hunts down ancient artifacts and sells them on the black market. With his partner, Sergeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson in a role that was clearly meant to be comedic but just comes off as irritating), Nick uncovers the tomb of Princess Ahmanet (played by Sofia Boutella). Nick also enlists the help of Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) because Nick had a one night stand with her and stole the map to Ahmanet. So, Jenny hates Nick, but of course they fall in love and see more in each other because movie. Jenny was given the map by her boss, Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe: the only one who seems to realize he’s in a big ol’ pile of schlock and is consequently the best part of the film). Jekyll and Jennifer work for an organization that discovers monsters… or preserves monsters… or fights monsters (here’s your universe building). Nick becomes cursed for opening the tomb and unleashing Ahmanet. Mummy stuff happens: soul sucking, sand waves, spiders, etc. A race ensues to break the curse before the entire planet crumbles under Ahmanet’s rule.
So what’s the problem? I’m certainly not expecting a Mummy film from the writer of the first two Transformers movies and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to be Oscar quality. The summer movie season is often one that we associate with this kind of dumb fun. Personally, I’m someone who tends to enjoy Roland Emmerich’s brand of summer schlock. So what happened here?
Well the devil’s in the details, so let’s talk details.
From a story standpoint, this film has six total writers: three with a “story by” credit and three with an actual screenplay credit. And perhaps because of this, the film is very inconsistent. Ahmanet seems to get new powers just as the film needs her to get new powers. This isn’t the biggest deal, except she never uses her old powers again, even when it would seem helpful to use her old powers. Half the film she seems to be able to control birds and bugs, but we never see that again (like the scene in the woods—woods that probably had a lot of birds and bugs.) The weapons of man seem to affect Ahmanet up until they just don’t anymore. She can lure Tom Cruise to her until she suddenly can’t anymore (probably because he’s such a good guy [or maybe because he’s in love]). It’s not that the character needs to use her powers all the time. It just seems odd that at times when certain powers would be very useful, she just doesn’t use them. Maybe she forgets she has them? Regarding the power of the curse, Tom Cruise can survive a violent fiery plane crash, but a spear killed the last guy who was cursed by Ahmanet, and he never came back?
“Cruise’s character is all over the map; he’s a literal soldier that’s also a treasure hunter. He’s a piece of crap who jumps head first into everything without thinking of the consequences.”
Okay, some of this may seem like nitpicking, but it’s the smallest things that can pull us out of a film like this. Enough about story, let’s talk about character.
Cruise’s character is all over the map; he’s a literal soldier that’s also a treasure hunter. He’s a piece of crap who jumps head first into everything without thinking of the consequences. He stole from this woman and almost left her to be killed by a mummy, but he apparently has real feelings for her. There’s at least three scenes of Cruise looking right into camera while he’s told exposition. His personal stuff aside, I like Tom Cruise as an actor and do enjoy most of his films. But just to say it straight up, he’s too old for this kind of role now. Tom Cruise looks great for his age (hell, he looks great for my age), but at 54, a character who just can’t get his act together and who’s a real rascal in the Army does not gel. It feels like a part written for someone in their mid 30s. It seems like Cruise was interested, and being one of the few big stars that can still bring an audience today, Universal put him in the film and didn’t change the character in the script to better suit Cruise. Literally everyone else in this film besides him and Crowe (who is actually younger than Cruise and whose job is to explain the world, playing an older expert-like character) is in their 30s. This also adds a level of “yeech” when Cruise and Boutella kiss in this film. Or when Cruise eyeballs Wallis’ midriff and talks about their one night stand. Yeech, indeed.
I’m not saying Cruise can’t do action movies. Far from it. I love the Mission Impossible films. But those films allow Cruise to play a man and character appropriate for his age. He’s also not kissing on girls 20 years younger then him.
The Mummy does two things that are true sins in an adventure film. Firstly, one of the reasons we watch adventure films is to see our heroes get placed in dangerous situations and see how they get out of them. When faced with great peril, how will our heroes get out of the pickle? For one such scene in The Mummy, the answer is…
“It was just a dream.”
Right when it looks like things are going to be very bad for our hero, he wakes up in a different place. That sucks. Secondly, in multiple situations, Cruise gets out of danger, not because of anything he does or because he uses his mind or skill, but because outside parties who we haven’t previously met come in and save him. Is this character really capable of anything or just lucky? Dreams and character introductions are not satisfying ways to have our heroes get out of tight spots.
Perhaps most upsetting about this film is its special effects. I can’t recall a big summer release that had such glaringly bad CGI since X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Every studio adventure movie has CG, but you never want it to pull you out, and this film had a lot of CG that pulled me out—be it rats, skeleton men, or Jake Johnson dead man effects (Yes, Johnson dies and then plays exposition machine to Cruise, blatantly taking from An American Werewolf in London.). I hate seeing poor CG effects in instances that didn’t need to be CG in the first place. Ahmanet has a CG undead army that would have been more effective if they had men in suits. Instead we get an “I Am Legend” vibe that just feels outdated.. It’s odd because Universal knows how to do effect films. Look at The Fast films and the recent Jurassic World. Regardless of the quality of those films from the script standpoint, the effects are great. This film just looks and feels cheap.
Are there any saving graces? Boutella is trying and doing a fine enough job with what little she is given. She’s an interesting actress and has a commanding presence on screen. The idea of her playing a monster is a smart one. I wish she had more to do, but the bit of fun she does get to have is good. For me, the honest-to-God highlight of this movie is Russell Crowe. He realizes the kind of film he’s in, and he just eats it up. He’s big and broad and cheesy, and in a film like this, that’s super welcomed. To be honest, if he’s the Nick-Fury-like character for the Dark Universe, then I’ll be on board. I wished we could have seen more of him in The Mummy.
So that’s The Mummy: an adventure film that isn’t exciting and a horror film that isn’t scary. It just exists with some minor highlights. I will give credit that the film is only two hours long. In the day of the modern blockbuster that feels the need to be almost three hours, this was a nice literal change of pace.
Where does this leave the Dark Universe? It’s hard to say. With casts and directors announced already, we’ll probably get another one or two in the series, even if this film doesn’t do very well. In the stack of Mummy movies, it’s better then The Dragon Emperor but not by much.