In the latest effort to mimic the unstoppable success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Universal Studios decided to create the Dark Universe, in which they would combine all the monsters who featured in their movies as far back as the 1920s; from Dracula, to Frankenstein, to the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Mummy – originally a 1932 horror film starring Boris Karloff, which was already remade into an action-adventure in 1999 – is intended to be the first film in this new universe. However, given that it turned out to be a critical and commercial disappointment, the future of the Dark Universe now seems less certain. I was unsure whether to see The Mummy in the cinema after reading the reviews, eventually deciding against it after having a poll on Twitter. This week, I finally checked it out; and I personally think that while it’s not very good, neither is it as bad as some critics claimed.
Rather than a Egyptian High Priest named Imhotep, the new Mummy is a princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Raised since birth to inherit her father’s throne, and understandably annoyed when she is displaced in the succession by the birth of a son, Ahmanet makes a deal with the god Set for ultimate power and immortality, only to be mummified alive for her trouble. Five thousand years later, American sergeant Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) uncovers Ahmanet’s prison in Iraq with the intent of pillaging its treasures. Soon Ahmanet is free, and intending to make Nick the vessel for the spirit of Set, leaving Nick and his archaeologist companion Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) to run as fast as they can while figuring out how to stop this ultimate evil.
The Mummy does try to be different from previous incarnations with its setup, but it is ultimately a simple tale of a monster that wants to take over the world and needs to be destroyed. It sometimes tries to be darkly humorous – such as the scene where Jenny unexpectedly interrupts Ahmanet’s first ritual attempt with Nick – though it is inconsistent in how seriously it apparently wants the audience to take it. And there are certainly well-executed moments here and there, such as how the ground is seen rushing terrifyingly up toward Nick when he’s trapped in a crashing plane, or a creepy underwater scene while Ahmanet’s zombie minions slowly swim after him. For the most part, however, both the action and the zombies are pretty generic.
The insistence on emphasising that this is meant to be the first film of a bigger universe – to the point of including a Dark Universe logo at the beginning – doesn’t do it any favours. The secret organisation Prodigium, which will presumably link everything to come, certainly looks interesting; as is its head, Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who briefly transforms into Mr Hyde at one point presumably as a taste of things to come. But there’s a sense of insecurity and lack of patience in how much time the film spends setting all of this up, and it distracts from the central story that it’s supposed to be telling.
Definitely a big flaw is that the Mummy is basically a secondary character in her own movie. While Sofia Boutella gives a good performance, her role is relatively low-key – she doesn’t get many chances to show off the extent of her evil powers – and there’s not much to the character beyond a basic movie monster. The movie naturally makes sure to play up the gender swap with what screentime Boutella does have, such as having her look especially seductive in mystic vision scenes with Nick, and suck the life out of her victims by French-kissing them like the Inca mummy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It also feels like a mistake to have a movie called “The Mummy” be set mostly in England; all we see of Egypt are the flashbacks to Ahmanet’s origin story (since her tomb is technically in Iraq). Not that it really matters, since the majority of the English scenes are in Prodigium headquarters or various spooky, nondescript chambers – though they do at least ensure the background characters have pronounced London accents and say words like “sodding” and “wanker”.
As for the two leads, Tom Cruise offers his usual appealing charisma – with plenty of running thrown in – though when he’s in the right light, there’s no escaping the fact that he’s not getting any younger. Annabelle Wallis’s Jenny is mostly there to spout exposition and be the damsel in distress; we don’t feel any real chemistry between her and Nick, which is a problem when the climax of the film is supposed to hinge on the love between them.
There are too many problems with The Mummy for it to really be considered a “good” film, but I still found it reasonably entertaining, certainly more so than plenty of other films. Rating: 3/5.