“The Mummy” is the first official entry in the “Dark Universe,” a franchise where Universal aims to revive its classic movie monsters and have them mingle. Think of it as a variation on the Marvel and DC Extended Universes. I have to wonder if The Mummy as a character is the best entry point for this series. Isn’t The Mummy kind of low-tier for this big of a role? Probably the only reason we’re getting The Mummy instead of power players like Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster is that “Dracula Untold” and “Victor Frankenstein” flopped so badly. “The Mummy” is going to flop too, all the more devastating to Universal now that it “counts.”
Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, a scavenger who steals ancient artifacts and sells them on the black market. The role was probably pitched to Cruise as Indiana Jones with Hans Solo’s values. He and his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) follow a map stolen from scientist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) to Iraq, where they find the tomb of mummified princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Just their luck, Ahmanet was the most evil princess in all of ancient Egypt, she was mummified and hidden for good reason, and now that she’s been freed she can unleash her evil upon the world.
You can probably guess what the story is going to entail. Nick is cursed. Vail is enslaved and forced to do Ahmanet’s bidding. Everybody chases after magical artifacts that can break the curse. Nick and Jenny become romantically attached. All the hocus pocus is confusing and we’re disinterested by the time we get to the finale, where there’s loads of bad CGI. Oh, and there’s a detour involving a doctor (Russell Crowe) who is partially a monster himself. The non-monster part of him wants to kill Nick for good reasons, the monster wants to merely maim Nick for no good reason. So… human nature is a rich dichotomy?
Action-wise, the only memorable sequences are a plane crash that plays with gravity, some fun kills on zombie minions, and a mean punch from Ahmanet (she’s evil, but the audience will still be cheering for the Girl Power). The humor is mostly terrible, this movie’s idea of comedy is Nick engaging in some clearly-rehearsed verbal hustling and a man running into a ladies’ restroom. I laughed maybe once or twice at characters frozen in shock at unbelievable situations.
As for the performances, Cruise and Crowe are fun in some of their crazier moments, but this isn’t exactly a career high for either of them. I’m told I’m supposed to dislike Annabelle Wallis for being stiff, but I thought she was fine in her stock role. Sofia Boutella gets to do little more than snarl, sometimes maliciously, sometimes amorously. This is a shame because I think she could have a major presence if the role was better-written. Then there’s Jake Johnson. His might be the single most annoying performance of 2017. Everything out of his mouth is whiny, pessimistic, or unproductive. I’ve never been happier to see a “good” character get shot three times in a movie, and never more displeased with a resurrection.
The difference between the Dark Universe and the DC and Marvel Universes is that Batman, Iron Man, Superman, and Captain America are guaranteed to draw audiences even if they’re in a bad movie. The Universal monsters aren’t going to be afforded the same luxury. People aren’t going to get excited for yet another vampire, werewolf, or evil lab creation movie unless Universal can convince them that these movies are actually good. This movie is a perfect example of what they shouldn’t do: rely the monster to sell tickets and let the movie around it be an afterthought (put it on Cruise Control, if you will). “The Mummy” could cause the Dark Universe to unravel in a real hurry.