The Mummy is an introduction to Universal Pictures’ “Dark Universe”; a cinematic universe based around the interconnection of classic Hollywood monsters the studio owns the right to. There are currently eight movies already slated for development at Universal, making The Mummy one of the most important films Universal is set to release.
Having now seen The Mummy, that does not bode well for Universal’s future.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Mummy.]
The real problems with The Mummy begin almost an hour into the movie, but that’s not to suggest the first 60 minutes are fun. The Mummy starts with an intense, questionably placed action scene and ends with one. The movie never lets you take a second to breathe and that’s a problem. There’s so much action packed into the film that the narrative is almost forgotten, the acting is disregarded, and there’s no room for comic relief in a movie that badly needs it. It all makes for a tedious experience that left me feeling a little out of breath by the time the credits started to roll — and not in a good way.
Even putting aside the basic filmmaking issues the movie has, where The Mummy suffers is trying to kickstart an entire universe in one film. If the first act of the movie was dedicated to setting up the mummy’s origin story and explaining how this monster reemerged, the rest of it was spent trying to explain why she was only a vessel for a much bigger story focused on a secret organization. The Mummy wants to tell a story about extraordinary beings with unbelievable powers and grotesque physical transformations; more to the point, The Mummy wants to tell a story about struggling with being exceptional and the downsides that accompany that realization.
In essence, The Mummy wants to be a superhero movie in the same vein as DC and Marvel movies, but it neglects to focus on the horror as a result. A monster movie universe without anything particularly scary isn’t just problematic, it’s deceitful.
The Mummy isn’t so much of a reboot or a remake as it is an extended thought. It steals from the school of improv, looking at what Stephen Sommers did in 1999 and replying with, “Yes and.” Like Sommers’ 1999 movie, Alex Kurtzman’s Mummy follows an American soldier, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), serving in the army. At heart, however, Morton is a treasure hunter and a thief, hellbent on finding a secret underground tomb in Iraq.
What he accidentally stumbles onto, however, is the prison of an ancient and evil Egyptian woman. Through some kind of magic, Morton becomes entranced by the spirit of the woman, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the forgotten daughter of a pharaoh. After Ahmanet returns to the world of the living, slowly sucking the life out of everyone she encounters to remake her physical body and rebuild her strength, Morton becomes her “chosen one.” In order for Ahmanet to fully return and retake her place as the most powerful being in existence she needs Morton — both in life and death. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse between the two characters, but more importantly, it’s their relationship to one another that drives the one theme The Mummy focuses on above all else; the battle between good and evil.
There are two major wars waging in The Mummy: the fight between Morton and Ahmanet and the fight between Morton and himself. He wants to do the good thing, but he’s slowly turning into a monster. He wants to be the man that his friends, and love interest Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), see him as. He wants to believe that despite being given the gift of absolute power, he wouldn’t abuse it in the name of evil.
It all comes back to The Mummy trying to be a superhero movie — and ultimately why it doesn’t succeed. By taking what makes the story of the mummy and trying to sculpt it in the mold of other popular films, it loses what made it unique. It becomes lifeless and dull, another summer blockbuster that will be forgotten about in a few weeks’ time ... or until someone gives it the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. The Mummy is almost a perfect parody movie of the superhero genre that has dominated the industry for the past decade, but that becomes an issue when that wasn’t the intention.
All of this would almost be forgivable if it wasn’t for the movie reminding the audience every five minutes that this was the beginning of a cinematic universe. When Russell Crowe’s character, Dr. Jekyll, meets Morton, he gives a speech about the value of good versus evil, the growing threat of monsters and how Morton could be the beginning of finally destroying evil once and for all.
If that sounds at all familiar it’s because Kurtzman and Universal are using the exact same method for introducing new monsters — or superheroes — as Warner Bros. and Marvel did. It’s in the post-credits scene for Iron Man that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) first tells Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) about the Avengers initiative, chiding him for thinking that he’s the only superhero in the world. At the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) tells Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) that something big was coming and he was thinking of putting a team together, setting up the Justice League.
While Marvel’s approach is a little more direct than DC’s, both do a great job of setting up future characters without it feeling overly corny. It took two movies for DC and Warner Bros. to set up the introduction of the Justice League and the only hint that more was to come for Marvel occurred after Iron Man ended, with little to no mention of what other superheroes may appear.
Simply put, those universes didn’t feel forced, but that’s the core issue of The Mummy. The Mummy exists to further along a business plan — seven other movies over the course of the next few years. It doesn’t hold up as a stand-alone film and it doesn’t seem that Universal cares if it does. There’s little enjoyable about The Mummy and I can’t keep count of how many times I sighed in the theater.
The only positive takeaway from the movie is Boutella’s performance as Ahmanet. Boutella, best known for her work in Star Trek Beyond and Kingsman: The Secret Service, is a treasure in a junky movie. She doesn’t shy away from the grossest scenes, including one particularly cringe-worthy body transformation and, because of that, is the only interesting aspect of the film. She steals the scene whenever she appears on screen. It’s unfortunate that her performance will be overlooked because of how bad The Mummy is, but she’s a rare jewel in a never ending pile of dirt.
The Mummy is plagued with a never ending list of problems, but the biggest issue that’s impossible to ignore is how it acts as nothing more than a springboard for other movies. It doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed out idea, but does come across like a necessary means to an end for Universal to get its universe off the ground. With a little more focus, The Mummy could have been a fantastic and terrifying movie that also led into a cool universe focused on monsters. Cliched one liners, a messy narrative and a lack of uniqueness to the overall feel makes The Mummy absolutely forgettable and that’s a downright shame.
Do I need to wait around for a post-credits scene: Nope! There wasn’t one at the press screening I went to.