Learning lessons from Marvel, every major Hollywood studio’s idea of franchising nowadays is to create a cinematic universe that is largely based on a brand name, whether it’s other comic book publishers, toy companies like Hasbro or even Ghostbusters. In the case of Universal, the studio is planning a series of films that will intertwine the classic Universal Monsters, beginning this “Dark Universe” with a new take on The Mummy.In present day Iraq, soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) accidentally discover the tomb of the mummified Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who has chosen Nick to awaken an ancient evil.
Although Universal has revisited these ghoulish figures over the years, the last film that featured a number of the iconic monsters is 2004’s Van Helsing, a mashup that should’ve been more fun than it was, considering that film’s writer/director Stephen Sommers helmed The Mummy featuring Brendan Fraser, which not only acknowledged its horror roots, but was swashbuckling in the style of Indiana Jones and wittily self-aware enough to hide its flaws.
Sadly, whatever fun we had with Sommers’ remake is lost in this contemporary reboot, directed by Star Trek alum Alex Kurtzman. Given the horror origins with Boris Karloff in the 1930s, any subsequent time they revisit The Mummy ups the scale in terms of action and, in this case, the casting of Tom Cruise couldn’t make this film any more blockbuster-friendly. However, no matter how much money they can throw at the screen with action sequences that rival Cruise’s other franchise Mission: Impossible from an airplane crash to Cruise being thrown around in an ambulance or even a double-decker bus, none of the action has much wit and invention and you just go numb by the sheer amount of crashing and banging.
As Cruise’s name is above the title, the real star (and the only good part) of the film is the Mummy herself, played by Kingsman: The Secret Service’s Sofia Boutella, who once again delivers a stunning physical performance as in the role of Ahmanet – she is both beauty and beast. But despite Boutella’s menacing presence, the horror itself is problematic as it’s not only based more on cheap jump scares as opposed to atmospheric tension, but it is highly derivative of past horror works that did a better job at delivering both the scares and laughs, the most notable of which is Jake Johnson’s comic relief, clearly ripping off An American Werewolf in London.When it comes to these kind of monster movies, the common criticism is the level of dialogue in explaining the monster’s backstory and motivations, such as an unnecessary prologue that does all that, creating a lack of mystery for the rest of the movie. And as if we couldn’t get any more exposition, Russell Crowe steps in as Basil Exposition AKA Dr. Henry Jekyll AKA Mr Hyde. This leads to a big section in the film that not only explains the plot, but sets up the Dark Universe, with Dr. Jekyll (with Crowe terribly experimenting with the English accent once again) heading an archaeological organization that specializes in discovering monsters, which sounds too similar to Legendary’s MonsterVerse.
If this is what to expect in the future with Universal’s rebooted line-up of classic monster flicks, then count me out as The Mummy is so relentless in its big-budget spectacle that it lacks in tension and horror to the point that you just don’t care.