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FILM REVIEW: THE MUMMY A Calcified Beginning for Universal’s Monster Universe

FILM REVIEW: THE MUMMY A Calcified Beginning for Universal’s Monster Universe

There are two narratives at play in the new Tom Cruise film, The Mummy. The first is that of the movie itself, and is likely one that Cruise and Universal, who is releasing the film, will feel cursed about over the coming days. The second offers a tad more light, as the film began laying the groundwork for what could be a much more promising Dark Universe—an extended world that will tell stories of classic monsters from the Egyptian legends to Wolfman, Bride of Frankenstein, and potentially many others.

But first, to the matter at hand. After a somewhat promising beginning that evokes both the Crusaders and shades of the original epilogue in 1999’s Mummy movie starring Brandon Fraser, we are treated to wily thieves Nick and Chris (Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson), who are on the hunt for treasure in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). They soon stumble upon an apparent death chamber—correction, “this isn’t a tomb, it’s a prison,” the sexy archeologist Jenny whispers ominously. This is a precious, long-lost site, which explains why she and the thieves are quick to extract from it the most crucial treasures within minutes of arrival.

Sure, explain it away as being necessary due to ongoing fighting in this Iraqi province, a convenient but unsatisfactory excuse that telegraphs from the beginning just how much the film will go to justify some of its contrived plot twists and holes (while totally letting go of others).

Fine, we can accept that somehow or somewhere the titular mummy is going to be foolishly unleashed by an unsuspecting creature. We can forgive and forget to get into the action. The problem is that what follows does not get any better. For most of the seemingly unnecessary runtime, the characters bumble around between dopiness (every scene in which the pallid Chris makes reappearances is like nails on chalkboard) and toughness (though even the more exciting scenes devolve into repetitive body-being-slammed-against something after a while).

The Mummy makes its way to England, where the pieces of the puzzle need to align so that the baddie can achieve her purpose (obviously world domination and destruction simultaneously, with no real reason). But, like every good baddie in a bad movie, this one takes all the necessary steps except the crucial last, abandoning her quest, inexplicably, despite being presented with several opportunities to conquer. Whatever little suspense filmmaker Alex Kurtzman has managed to evoke as the threads connect for the villain is completely undone when she seems foolishly unwilling to easily finish the job.

At the core of the problem is that Kurtzman, essentially a novice director who has many more writing credits under his belt (think Now You See Me and The Amazing Spider-Man 2), does not know what type of movie he wants to produce. Or perhaps the problem is his aging if hardworking star, who similarly seems caught between the decades. At times, The Mummy appears pulled straight out of a Mission: Impossible outtakes reel, with explosions, daring escapes, and rolling vehicles taking your breath away.

At other times, the film tries too hard to emulate the dopey rapport that tough-damsel Rachel Weisz had with airhead pretty boy Frasier in the original film. But that chemistry is simply not there between Cruise and Annabelle Wallis, who plays the doctor. And, at all times, the perpetual Walking Dead-like sequences of threatening zombie hordes overwhelm the other action, propelling the whole thing into the childish when it tried for campy.

The Mummy herself, played with bravado but ultimately unidimensionally by Sofia Boutella (Star Trek: Beyond), is relegated to a slightly more advanced version of the spooky girl in The Ring. Speaking in ancient Egyptian and having four irises an original character does not make, even though the studio’s entry into the 21st Century of flipping the expected gender of a character is not lost on me. But hey, what’s so evil about four eyes anyway? Isn’t that some cruel childhood joke about kids with glasses?

If there is one saving grace outside the opening minutes it comes in the scenes where we are treated to what could have been, or perhaps what could be, for this nascent franchise. Russell Crowe makes an appearance as Dr. Jekyll, and while Crowe is sometimes saddled with some of the worst dialogue in a movie that has Egyptian sands-worth of it, at least he’s pretty believable as the guy with the secret anger management problem. Jekyll, indeed, drops hints about the organization known as Prodigium, and those clues are sufficiently intriguing to keep me interested in what is to come.

But, for now, the opening salvo of the universe should have been much better and it would have been, had it not succumbed to all its worst instincts. It’s not just that the “soul sucking by the Mummy” trope is used and overused, it’s that clichés like “I think we’ve angered the Gods” or “you can’t run, you can’t escape” are lazier than a project of this nature deserves.

So when Jekyll philosophically contemplates that “death is a doorway,” he may be right, but a doorway is precisely what many audiences members may be looking for if cursed into a screening.

Grade: C-

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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