Synopsis – An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.
My Take – The titular character of this film has been a part of our pop culture for quite some time now, gracing the screen for the 1st time with the 1932 original & following it up a few sequels. While the character received some universal attention in 1959 as the British Production Hammer Films began its own series of films revolving around the character, it wasn’t until the fun but lazy 1999 remake & its disappointing sequels starring Brendan Fraser & Rachel Weiz that we got to see the resurrected Egyptian monster in blockbuster form. Rebooted again, this Tom Cruise led film is the first entry into what the Universal Studios is calling their ‘Dark Universe’. Yup, in a world where shared universes are becoming more and more of a thing, Universal seems determined to bring in their own set of monsters like The Wolfman, Dracula (not Dracula Untold), Frankenstein, and many others into the mix. With the right amount of ambition & star power like Tom Cruise (as the lead here), Russel Crowe (as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), Johnny Depp (as the Invisible Man), Javier Bardem (as the Frankenstein monster), Dwayne Johnson (rumored for the Wolfman) and Angelina Jolie (rumored for the titular Bride of Frankenstein), backing the franchise up, it seems like an easy sell for the studio to get the audience in, of course, provided the films must be good too, right? That is where the problem lies with this Alex Kurtzman directed film. Even though, the film manages to keep you hooked on with its set of entertaining and intense scenes, the whole situation of extended focus on the franchise building steers the whole film in the wrong direction. Most importantly, the film is neither scary or action packed (except for a few scenes) and seems to be pandering in between in a meager attempt to cash in on a potential franchise, which assuming the further films even happen after this one fails (as its off to a terrible start at the BO). The 1999 film might not have been a ‘masterpiece’, but it was a good old-fashioned action/adventure film that was at least fun. This one? Eh.
The story follows Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), a US soldier & a relic hunter, who along with his team mate Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), during sanctioned missions locate hidden artifacts & sell them on the black market. During a hunt in modern day Iraq, from a map stolen from Dr. Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the two accidentally uncover a lost Egyptian tomb due to an airstrike called in by Vail in order to survive an assault from the area’s insurgents. As the location of the tomb is hundreds of miles from where it should be, the three descend into the tomb and uncover a lost sarcophagus of an Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was allegedly erased from history. Using the armies help via C17, Jenny decides to transport the sarcophagus back to London, in order to be examined & studied. However, when a flock of crows unnaturally attack & destroy the engine, the plane crashes with Jenny being the sole survivor. As Nick was the one who released the princess from her prison in Iraq, she has chosen him to be her vessel for the reincarnation of Set, the god of death, and is brought back to life while still at the morgue. With Nick convinced that he is cursed, mainly due to his horrid hallucinations, Jenny decides to take him to meet her supervisor, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), a member of Prodigium, a mysterious organization which seeks & hunts evil. With Ahmanet’s powers back in full form, the group must stop her from destroying London & save Nick from being sacrificed. Honestly, things get off to a smooth start with an interesting opening featuring a crusader buried with an important red colored jewel and the multitude of writers have managed to patch together a set of scenes which are quite entertaining to say the least, but once the main story comes into play, the whole set up just back fires. Agreed, the concept of what the writers and director Alex Kurtzman are trying to present here is nothing unique, nor that I expected it to be, but the biggest problem about it is that along the way the film is shoved in with moments that just don’t work. For some reason screenwriters which include David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man) and Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) think more explanation is still warranted though and in that they couldn’t be more wrong, for something trying to feel new, it’s remarkably easy to tell where all this is going. Certain qualities of the film curtail to setting up for the next film of the franchise. These moments are a change of pace (good), but divert a little too much from the path into the cheesy, overdramatic styles that we sometimes see. I’ll agree that they are impressive displays of technology, but this just proves that not everything has to be covered in films (hence sequels). In many proceeding films, it takes time for the bandaged monstrosity to rise to power, requiring gradual offing of characters in suspenseful sequences, but here version the whole set up is a little short sighted & reduced to a monotonous ploy that lacked little more than repetitive spasms of poor extras. Even her back story felt quite rushed, I know I wasn’t expecting anything new or exciting, but the whole sequence of Ahmanet going rogue & turning towards evil resulting in her being mummified could have been a treat, but somehow doesn’t feel organic. The jokes also fall flat so much so you kind of feel sorry for Jake Johnson who clearly wants to make some effort as this film’s comic relief. Cruise and Johnson attempt to convey camaraderie between their characters, but their ‘banter’ falls flat. There’s not much humor in this film, and what little it has rarely works. The biggest laugh in my theatre came from Jenny’s reaction to seeing Ahmanet straddling Nick at one point. I think calling her character ‘useless’ is a bit unfair. She saves Nick at least once or twice (which is kind of her, considering he was going to ditch her/leave her to fend for herself against the mummy’s minions at one point) and is certainly less of a jerk than him. The romance that Cruise and Wallis try to make work between their characters doesn’t really succeed much. There are also parts that are just absolutely pointless and unnecessary, especially the ones including Dr. Jekyll who frequently draw conclusions out of thin air. And of course, just as many expected, instead of it being a film about Sofia Boutella‘s titular character, it becomes all about Tom Cruise (and I complaining despite being a huge fan). I understand that the studios probably think that banking on an A-lister would translate into box office results, but fact of the matter is outside “Mission: Impossible” franchise, Cruise just doesn’t fit anywhere else anymore. The character that he plays here is a thieving treasure hunter, much like Nathan Drake from the “Uncharted” games, but all you see on the screen instead is special agent Ethan Hunt desperately trying to be someone he’s not.
If you subtracted the female monster this is basically just another Mission Impossible film with zombies. There was so much potential for this film but there was just too much wrong with it, from the lack of authenticity the unnecessary link with the crusaders, the change of location and why does Dr. Jekyll have more screen time than the main antagonist? The truth is that despite its many shortcomings and linearities, the film can be termed as a harmless mindless fun watch; 110 minutes that fly by as easily as a serviceable B film – the type you enjoyed yourself while watching it the first time & may end up never seeing it again. It’s not terrible as some critics are pointing it out to be, it’s just simply a onetime watch. The makers deciding not to use CGI in an exhibitionist way was another one of these good bits: in many scenes, the overall darkness leaves just enough for our imagination to fill in with scary ideas instead of showing off so much, we start noticing how sterile and unfrightening CGI looks in general. As for being an action flick, it’s not terrible, nor great either, and had a little problem with unnecessary action sequences. The fight between the characters of Nick and Dr. Henry lacked any motivation other than showing off that yes, we have another monster in here! If you’re building a universe, you need strong, memorable characters to build it upon, glory of the past and eye candy is simply not enough. Giving some power to the Good, if Evil has so much would spice things up. Jekyll’s self-sustained evil is nice, but why stop there? Let’s make it interesting. What if the reanimation of the dead Crusaders backfired and they tried to fight Ahmanet due to their once holy life? They were trying to guard that gem after all, keeping their oath in their death would have been a nice addition. I understand that the franchise is more about monsters than heroes, but reducing the possibilities of what *could* happen in a still forming universe is unnecessary and even harmful.The cast is surprisingly strong on paper but director Alex Kurtzman fails to utilize them. Tom Cruise is just being Cruise here. He gets to run around a lot doing his “intense face” all while an attractive woman half his age is along with him for the sexual interplay (more on her in a moment). Yeah, there’s discussion about his character growing something of a conscience as this goes on but it’s pretty perfunctory. Yet, Cruise being Cruise, he is likable as always. Annabelle Wallis does her best with what she can with the material she’s given. Russell Crowe feels like he’s acting in a different film as Dr. Henry Jekyll. At least he looks like he’s trying to have some ‘fun’ with the role, but even when we’re introduced to Mr. Hyde, it’s not enough to save this film. In smaller roles, Jake Johnson & Courtney B Vance are wasted. The only cast member that fits the part is Sofia Boutella, who nails her character of Princess Ahmunet! She is truly a goddess & her character is so likable you actually end up rooting for the ultimate evil, Boutella brings a charisma to the screen that is just hard to match. Like I said, I didn’t hate the film, even if it seems like how this film failed is going to be a trending topic for the new few days, all I can think is if Wonder Woman, a 4th entry of a franchise, can fix the trajectory of DC films after three critical failures, maybe there is still hope from next slated films of this Dark Universe franchise, whose next release as of now is Bride of Frankenstein. On the whole, ‘The Mummy’ has a few thrills but is dissatisfying and disappointing in every other sense.
Directed – Alex Kurtzman
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 110 minutes