I hate having to eat my own words. I don’t mind being proven wrong but what I really can’t stand is putting my neck on the line for something only to find that the cause of my concern is going to be my executioner. It was less than 3 months ago that I wrote an article heralding the concept of the Shared Cinematic Universe (SCU) as the saviour of the medium but after seeing The Mummy, I now find myself praying that the entropic decay of this current cinematic trend comes sooner rather than later.
The irony here is, though, The Mummy represents the rebirth of the very shared universe that began it all way back in 1943 when Frankenstein (the monster) met Wolfman as Universal Studios tried to save its ailing monster movies by combining its resources. Unfortunately for Universal, they find themselves as such late-comers to a party they started that the term Monsterverse has already been taken by the Americanized Kaijus of Godzilla & co.
Instead, they have had to settle on the “Dark Universe”. That they so proudly parade this new SCU’s name at the start of the movie suggests they either are blissfully unaware of how embarrassingly generic it sounds or they figure the only way to justify the $125m budget on what is likely to be the biggest turkey this side of Thanksgiving is to get the pre-awareness in early before we begin to associate it with the horror show that follows.
THE DANK UNIVERSE
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, The Mummy is a terrible film in almost every way. We open on the discovery of a knight’s tomb from the crusade’s era in modern London before Russel Crowe barges in to tell us all about an Egyptian princess who messed around with some ancient demonology 5,000 years ago. It’s a set up that makes almost no sense, especially when you realize that Crowe’s Dr Jekyll (no prizes for guessing what’s going on with his character) isn’t talking to anyone in particular as he relays the tale.
We then flit over to modern day Iraq to meet Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton and Chris Valt (Jake Johnson) who are tomb raiders but also active members of the US military. This is something their superior officer has no issue with apparently as US forces secure a village for the sole purpose of investigating an Egyptian tomb that is so extraordinarily placed in the former Mesopotamia (we know this because Annabelle Wallace tells us at least four times how amazing this is).
Cue some Uncharted style rummaging about in an underground tomb replete with Prometheus levels of stupidity from our protagonists who quickly realize liquid mercury is dripping onto their bare skin before carrying on regardless. Then they find a coffin (sorry, sarcophagus) and put it on a plane before an encroaching sandstorm arrives in the first of many scenes that fail to deliver any of the tension they were so clearly intending to produce.
After a convoluted plane crash from which Tom Cruise fails to escape but survives anyway because the ancient goddess in the sarcophagus has gotten thirsty for him (she’s been asleep for 5,000 years so presumably hasn’t seen those Scientology tapes). It appears the plane crashed in England but since director Alex Kurtzman can’t tell the difference between murk and atmosphere when it comes to lighting his scenes, we only know this because taxi driver calls Tom Cruise a “wanker”.
Soon we find out what this is all about as we are re-introduced to Dr Jekyll who goes to great pains to set up the whole Dark Universe by explaining what his special secret organization, Prodigium, plans are. Just a quick look at his collection reveals we could well be in for a new Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Wolfman in the most blatant example of franchise hawking since Bruce Wayne gave Diana Prince that trailer disc for future DCEU films in Dawn of Justice. To be fair, Crowe hamming it up as Dr Jekyll is about as fun as this film gets and there is a twinge of regret that the big bang of the Dark Universe isn’t more focused on him because frankly, Cruise is horrendously miscast here.
CRUISING FOR A SNOOZING
Starting off your SCU with such a bonafide movie star like Cruise may make sense on a financial projections spreadsheet but it is cataclysmic in establishing tone. Regardless of your opinion of the Cruiser as a person off screen, he remains one of the most potent action stars on it so long as he remains front and center throughout and he gets to run around a lot.
So that’s somewhat of an issue for a film that’s supposed to be focused on a monster that traditionally just shuffles about. Of course, they remedy this by giving the mummy of the piece, Ahmanet, the abilities of an Olympic gymnast which completely removes any creeping dread from her presence and as such is virtually nullified as an impactful nemesis. It also doesn’t help that she is realized via CGI which doesn’t seem to have evolved much since Universal last tried resurrecting The Mummy in 1999 and that we’re having a lot less fun this time.
Not that 2017’s The Mummy doesn’t try to be fun; it just fails miserably at it. There are some embarrassingly forced attempts to get some repartee going between the characters and they just come off as unlikable dicks when they engage in such “banter”. And if the characters aren’t being assholes to one another, then they’re just merely spouting tedious and repetitive exposition to each other.
Such a deficiency in chemistry between the performers is only matched by the attempts at horror that can neither muster scares or thrills. The Mummy does have some potentially frightful scenes but has to tone them down to a PG-13 level because a kickstart to a SCU always has to hedge its bets on making itself as accessible to as large an audience as possible. This leaves not only these scenes but the whole running time lacking in any real conviction and it frequently drifts into boredom as a result.
That said, last week’s thoroughly entertaining Wonder Woman demonstrated that a faltering start to a Shared Cinematic Universe can be turned around and maybe, eventually, Universal will get its shit together in a similar fashion. But as it stands, it turns out that the DCEU didn’t need to make such a rousing movie to save themselves from being the worst cinematic universe around because The Mummy has just given that title to Universal’s Dark Universe instead.