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 Should Have Stayed Buried

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise
Universal Pictures
 110 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe
The Mummy

As I watched the latest incarnation of the classic horror film, The Mummy, which in this incarnation is far from horrifying and even farther from classic, the old expression about “trying to fit a square peg into a round hole” came to mind. Only, in this case, those responsible for the movie, most notably Universal Studios brass and director Alex Kurtzman, weren’t merely trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Instead, they were trying to fit that peg simultaneously into round holes, triangular holes, star-shaped holes, and a whole bunch of other size holes, with rather predictable and dismal results.


The basic storyline of all the Mummy movies is the same. Due to some sort of black magic, an ancient Egyptian mummy comes back to life in the present day and tries to do some very bad things. The franchise has been very good to Universal Studios for nearly 90 years now, dating all the way back to the original 1932 version of the film starring Boris Karloff, which was made to cash in on the popularity of similar Universal efforts Dracula and Frankenstein. Over the years, the franchise had its ups and downs (the downest of downs being when the eponymous creature met Abbott and Costello). But after the newest version of these films, starring Brendan Fraser as the Mummy’s arch foe, had seemingly run its course, the series was seemingly consigned back to the desert sands from whence it came.


But you can’t keep a good Mummy down, not if you are Universal Studios, whose execs watched jealously as both Disney and Warner turned their comic book properties into a seemingly neverending flow of interrelated superhero movies forming a cinematic “universe.” Since Universal lacked any similar properties, the studio decided to use the properties it had, namely various horror film franchises, many dating back to the Karloff days. Calling their creation the Dark Universe, the studio tried to launch it in 2014 with its reimagined vampire tale, Dracula Untold. But when that movie bombed, creatively and at the box office, they went back to the drawing board, and the resulting effort is The Mummy, featuring a considerably higher budget and a big name star in Tom Cruise. Unfortunately, the results may lead to yet another trip to the drawing board, or worse.


Of course, every Mummy movie needs a good Mummy, who, in this case is a former Egyptian princess, Ahmunet (Sofia Boutella), who was in line to become the ruler until her baby brother was born. Upset that she’d been cheated by royal sexism, she made a deal with the god Set and killed her family, which led to her being entombed alive for centuries.


Fast forward to the present day and fortune hunter Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), accompanied by archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), finds Ahmunet’s sarcophagus and attempts to return it to England. He soon learns that it’s not nice to mess with the ancient Egyptian gods, who summon a flock of crows that cause Morton’s plane to crash (see the scene below). Jenny escapes when Nick gives her the plane’s only parachute, but Nick apparently meets his fate, only he also winds up coming back to life. It seems that Ahmunet has taken a shining to Nick and wants to bond with him in some manner that will make Nick the vessel for Set’s return to life. In order to do so, Ahmunet will have to perform a ritual involving a sacred dagger whose pieces are scattered around London, including a jewel residing in the tomb of one of the Crusaders from the Middle Ages, who happens to be buried right in the path of construction for a new London subway line.


If this plot synopsis seems silly, it is, but this brief synopsis actually makes more sense that the rest of the movie, which involves Ahmunet gradually regaining her strength by draining the life force from various people she meets and turning them into zombies under her control. Nick also has an encounter with the shadowy head of a secret government anti-monster task force called Prodigium headed by a certain Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Yes, that Henry Jekyll, and, at a key moment in the film, his alter ego Edward Hyde also shows up.


Part of the plot confusion may result from the fact that The Mummy is supposed to be the foundation for Universal’s eventual Dark Universe, and the script has been seeded with Easter eggs for future films. The most obvious one of these is the shadowy Prodigium, which undoubtedly will figure in other battles against supernatural monsters. The effectiveness of that rather dubious strategy is immediately undercut here by the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As played by Russell Crowe, the characters seem more like something out of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, with Crowe trying to keep his body under control and force himself to take an injection of his antidote. Even worse is Hyde, who comes across as Benny Hill’s somewhat meaner brother.


Unfortunately, the script, which is credited to six different people, including some talents like Christopher McQuarrie, David Koepp, and director Kurtzman, never seems to know from one scene to the next what type of movie The Mummy actually is. So, good sequences like the suspenseful plane crash scene are followed by Ahmunet turning people into zombies, something that’s more ridiculous than creepy. Nor can the movie keep its mythology straight. Viewers don’t expect anything approaching real world credibility, but it would be nice if the supernatural elements were consistent. Instead, it appears than Kurtzman and his screenwriters improvised as they went and threw in tons of overblown CGI effects to boot


Tom Cruise has generally gotten a pass in his more clunky action vehicles in recent years because he throws himself into his roles with such abandon (and does stunt work that would put a man half his age to shame). But this is his worst performance in years, especially the love scenes with Wallis (two decades his junior), in which he seems distinctly uncomfortable.


The Mummy is an example of big studio filmmaking at its worst. It has a handful of good scenes interspersed with numerous truly dreadful ones, some of which wouldn’t even have made the cut when the monster was tangling with Abbott and Costello. Worst of all, the film totally squanders a potentially effective villain in Sofia Boutella, who is largely absent from the screen for far too much of the middle of the film. Instead viewers get scene after scene featuring a pair of men in their 50’s who should have known better than to get involved in a mess like this. The best thing about the movie may be that it might torpedo Universal’s Dark Universe idea before any more creatively bankrupt box office bombs. Like the Dark Universe, this Mummy should be entombed very soon.    

In this scene,  Tom Cruise's plane goes down with the mummy of Ahmunet on board.

Read other reviews of The Mummy:


The Mummy (2017) on IMDb