It seems like trailers for The Mummy have been blasting us for almost a year now. I remember the first time I saw the teaser trailer, I was constantly thinking to myself, this isn’t going to be a new Mummy movie, is it? Universal’s marketing team has been on their A-Game ever since then. How can you get audiences excited about a somewhat-recent franchise that virtually committed suicide by remaking itself too many times, AND spawned a dumpster fire spin-off franchise? Well… I’m not sure you can, and the marketing team knows this. This presented Universal with an incredibly tough challenge; how can we keep up with Disney when our movies are hypeless?
The Mummy is the first film in Universal’s new franchise called “The Dark Universe.” The DU promises to feature all of Universal’s infamous classic monsters [just in case you’re curious, these are the Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster(s), Wolfman, Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jekyll and Hyde, and even the formerly owned Disney character the Hunchback of Notre Dame]. Like I said earlier though, it’s hard for people to get excited when the latest incarnations of these characters were such miserable failures, such as 2014’s I, Frankenstein (3% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 38% user score), or Dracula Untold (23% critic and 58% user). Even a 20% difference isn’t enough to save the latter film from being burned at the stake.
So, what Universal has done is quite possibly the most ingenious thing ever. They’ve formed a committee of directors, writers, and actors that all tend to draw in huge crowds to work on their newest projects. Take director/writer Alex Kurtzman for instance; Kurtzman has worked on several top-grossing films such as The Legend of Zorro (2005), Transformers (2007), Transformers 2 (2009), Cowboys & Aliens (2011), and The Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014)… did I say “ingenious?” What I really meant to say was, “the stupidest goddamned thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” Twelve Tom Cruises couldn’t safely remove this heaping turd from the world’s most insecure bank vault.
From the get-go, one of the worst aspects of this film is the humor. It’s painfully obvious that Universal is trying to copy the light-hearted and playful dialogue of the MCU, except their jokes are more forced than a constipated Seth Rogen. They even went as far as to copy the dead best friend from American Werewolf in London (1981).
The other worst part of the film is exposition. Holy hell, is there a ton of exposition. I’m pretty sure the only parts of this film that aren’t exposition are supposed to be funny. The characters played by Annabelle Wallis and Russel Crowe (who I won’t name for spoiler’s sake) must know the entirety of history’s great secrets between them. For once, I’d like a Mummy movie to not open with narration. Just show us what happened, why do we have to have a narrator?
The overuse of exposition is also coupled with a good 40-minute portion of the film that is dedicated to helping set up the rest of the DU, which features Tom Cruise following Russel Crowe around his secret facility while Crowe explains the foundation on which the DU will be established. Meanwhile, our antagonist politely waits for him to finish before even attempting to make her next move. Needless to say, it’s around this point that the film starts to drag and feel like it’s deliberately wasting your time.
One last major thing: there doesn’t seem to be any real motivations behind any of the characters. The best one is the antagonist, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who’s ambition for power leads her down the road of demon worship… and even that is a stretch at best. Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a grade-A asshole who is only ever in it for the money. Except, the plot wants you to like him towards the end, so it shoves in a very fake romance between him and (Dr.?) Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). You know it’s a fake romance because the writers were kind enough to include a scene in which they argue about the… um, “success” of their one-night-stand that happens prior to the film’s beginning, which counts as both failed humor and exposition.
There’s a lot of elements in the plot that the film expects/hopes you will ignore. So many, in fact, that I’m simply going to tell you that there are a bunch and move on for the sake of time.
Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. I doubt I’ve ever seen a film in which he was not at the top of his game. He might not be the most versatile actor in the world (though Tropic Thunder showed that he can break out of his box every once in a while), but he pours his talent into every role and refuses to half-ass anything. This, for the most part, makes him very enjoyable to watch in almost any movie. If anything singlehandedly saved this film from falling into the deepest pits of cinema hell, it’s him.
Sofia Boutella is pretty good as Princess Ahmanet. Her character was probably the most surprising part of the film, as she was 15-times more interesting than Arnold Vosloo’s character in the older movies.
The rest of the cast is anchored to poor writing, so no one really stands out. Poor Jake Johnson definitely got the short end of the stick too; his character is on the wrong end of about 60% of the cringe-inducing humor. Russell Crowe wasn’t bad, and I am actually interested in seeing more of him as this character (which, again, I’m going to refrain from mentioning by name to avoid spoilers).
The direction is entirely conventional, and the special effects have nothing new to show us. The fact that Kurtzman and company couldn’t muster even a spark of originality to get this franchise off the ground in the visual department is very disappointing. I understand that you want to compete with the MCU, but does that mean it must look the same?? I mean c’mon people, this is called “The Dark Universe” for a reason, is it not? That doesn’t mean take the same color grading but make sure it’s always a rainy day and/or night time.
The only thing that stands out in this aspect is Sofia Boutella’s makeup… which is weird because that’s the exact same thing that got Star Trek: Beyond nominated for an Oscar. I guess she just has a really good face for makeup design.
X-Factor: 6/10, for showing me the face of hypocrisy in Cinema
I want to take a moment to reflect on this film’s current status with critics, both professional and amateur. As I write this review, The Mummy has a 17% critic score on RT and a 45% user score. On IMDB (which I refrain from putting almost any stock it) the film has a 5.9. On Reddit’s movie poll, it has a 4.9.
I’m not saying this film is necessarily undeserving of any of those scores. I’m simply trying to point out this: The Mummy is not any better or worse than a mediocre Marvel film. In fact, it was at least more enjoyable than my two most hated Marvel movies: Thor: The Dark World and Age of Ultron, which have a 66% and 75% critic score on RT respectively. It’s outrageous to me that the MCU has somehow managed to gain this “free pass” for making average and even less-than-mediocre films, but heaven forbid anybody else try to do the same thing, or they’ll get destroyed. What I’m not saying is that The Mummy and its DU sequels should get the same pass; what I am saying is that no franchise, studio, or film should get any type of pass.
You may not agree with my criticism more than half the time, you might even think I have biases, but I promise that the one thing I will never have are free passes to give out. I was excited to see Universal take on Disney this way; I wanted the DU to succeed and actually give the MCU a run for their money, but their debut was simply not good, and I don’t know if the franchise will ever gather the support it needs to really take off because of this. Despite that, I’m not going to lie just to show my support for an MCU competitor.
The Mummy is a rocky start for Universal’s Dark Universe… and that’s putting it lightly. While I obviously don’t think it’s a good film, it is definitely undeserving of its 17% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s most certainly not a good choice to follow the highly successful release of Wonder Woman. All that being said, if you want to see the Dark Universe succeed, then I’d recommend going to see the film and molding your own opinion. If you couldn’t care less about the Dark Universe, then I doubt that you will enjoy this film very much. If you’ve already seen Wonder Woman and are dying for the next big franchise movie to come out, then maybe you should give this one a chance. Who knows? It might surprise you.