Director Alex Kurtzman accepts the daunting task of kickstarting Universal’s “Dark Universe” with The Mummy, and holy hexes, first impressions are not favorable. Wonky structuring and general tone mishandling never unearth a confident vision. Be it Tom Cruise’s obsession with Annabelle Wallis’ “15-second-man” comment or Sofia Boutella’s male-gaze-y mummification, reboot aesthetics gamble lax horror representation on a losing hand. Generic jumps, blurry action – at least dialogue peppers in the words “dark” and “monster” a whole bunch! You know, because we require needless reminders that the movie is “dark,” and there sure are more “monsters” on the horizon (Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera, etc.). Expect the “blackened” mainstream thrillification that genre fans so dreadfully feared – frantic yet bland, heavy CGI and one woefully mistold tale.
Mr. Cruise stars as Nick Morton, an Iraq-based sergeant who abandons post to sell “local antiquities” on the black market alongside Private Chris Vail (Jake Johnson). During their latest escapade, the duo inadvertently uncover an Egyptian tomb – some 1,000 miles from Egypt – with a hellfire missile. That’s when the cavalry shows up (Colonel Courtney B. Vance) with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). She drags Morton and Vail into the crater, where they discover a mercury-encased tomb. Or is it a prison?
Either way, Morton moronically ignores all the safeguards and frees a giant sarcophagus from obvious containment. At the same time, Vail is bitten by a camel spider (don’t worry, Morton assures us they’re not poisonous). Everyone boards a plane, no one notices Vail’s pulsating wound and before long, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) emerges from Halsey’s artifact. Welcome to a world of monsters and mystery – one that Morton hopes to escape without being cursed for life.
Buckle up – it’s going to be one bumpy tailspin of a ride.
Upon Morton’s run-and-gun introduction (camera flailing with erratic focus), plot development is an early casualty. Cruise plays a dickish grifter who thinks he can charm his way out of enemy gunfire, friendly punishment and maybe even undead sacrifice. Of course his arc is redemptive, and of course every other character is treated like discarded burial wrappings because of it.
Despite being an A-list actioner, Cruise displays absolutely zero chemistry with Wallis (who’s relegated to rote love-interest frustration) and stifles Boutella’s undead transfixing. Mummies love him, ladies love him – but you forget there’s even a horror scenario at play. Morton is just another stud lead who we’re forced into “liking,” devoid of investment or genuine reason. He’s like Indiana Jones, but in a way less interesting movie.
Maybe there’d be forgiveness with a more adventurous story, but The Mummy‘s six-person writing collective (Christopher McQuarrie and Jon Spaihts included) mainly panders to franchise potential. Ahmanet’s power-hungry backstory preaches unexplained vengeance while her abilities forgo outlining. Why offer details when you can cue the same CGI critter stampedes or cut the tension with Vail’s misplaced zingers? It’s with seething frustration that we openly predict Morton’s fate, never granting Ahmanet a devil’s chance in Hell to impress.
Boutella represents a mere token, all Egyptian-tatted and clothed with inevitability looming overhead. The real focus is put on Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and his evil-hunting society, or Morton’s infatuation with Halsey. Who cares about zombies from the crusades (who just vanish at one point) or Set, the God of Death (played by Javier Botet for about two seconds) when there are awkward romantics to be shared?
If you’re opting for a light-hearted “Dark Universe,” be funny (Johnson’s sidekick reminds of An American Werewolf In London). If you’re opting for a horror resurgence behind classic Universal beasts, bring the terror. The Mummy? It does neither.
Morton’s early insistence on misfired sexual humor is equal to Kurtzman’s inability to conjure a single scare. Maybe that’s because costume design is either toilet-paper-BDSM-chic (Ahmanet) or digitally underwhelming (Mr. Hyde appears whenever Crowe’s face turns…grey? That’s all?). Or possibly because jump scares are treated as a horror genre pillar. Think latter Underworld or Resident Evil entries (still better movies), and less Benicio Del Toro’s The Wolfman. What else do you expect from a film more obsessed with Morton’s sexual stamina than Boutella’s scarab-riding rise? Even Crowe’s cockney split persona doesn’t seem to be having much fun, given his bookish vs. brute duality – and he’s supposed to be the constant who keeps this “Dark Universe” hunting for future prey.
Kurtzman’s team proves incapable of over-tampering with the most technical scenes, as rapid-fire editing and cloaked darkness make for monotone visual boredom. A good 80% of The Mummy is spent within night’s dreadful embrace, dimmed to a point where contorted Ahmanet minions are undefinable in form. Dusty flesh sacks become lost when dashing full speed (no life essence, still plenty of pep?), and when lights finally flicker on, Morton leads us right into another shadowy catacomb. Not like we’d catch even 20 seconds worth of mummy-bashing given how cameras cut perspective with dizzying intent. Three credited editors seem to have made their own separate cuts, and instead of choosing the best, just hacked each mark. Following Morton is like playing that ball-under-a-cup switch-up game. Find the Cruise in the crowd of baddies!
The Mummy feels like a poorly navigated mashup between World War Z and a Universal theme park ride, never committed to one cohesive theme. Alex Kurtzman succeeds in confirming there will, in fact, be a “Dark Universe,” but what awaits still remains a subject question – and that’s a major red flag. This is your “Mummy” origin story, yet there’s far more to be said about Dr. Jekyll’s horror homage to James Gunn’s The Collector or one fateful closing scene that rewrites the book on masturbatory he-man character “development.” Not enough Sofia Boutella, even less excitement and too many pixelated rats.
Frankly, Kurtzman’s “dark” debut (in lighting only) is a head-spinning, simplistically unsophisticated mess from definiteness fight choreography to inexplicable villain motivations. This isn’t a new breed of terror, just another neutered reboot churning all the same mainstream gears. No matter what kind of fan you are (horror devotee, Friday-night-blockbuster watcher, Cruise worshiper), be ready to welcome disappointment – a fate much more tedious than death by damnation.
The Mummy is a product of uninspired storytelling and a distracting focus on franchise world-building, rarely stopping to service the origin at hand.