Dog’s Movie House: “The Mummy” Not Enough Boo For The Buck!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
The term “shared cinematic universe” is going to become very unpopular very quickly. Marvel Studios started this trend with their comic book movies, a strategy that makes sense because comics are often serialized stories that combine individual heroes and villains into various super teams to tell larger, interconnected stories. DC and Warner Brothers are doing the same thing, if not with the same amount of success. But now everyone is jumping on the damned bandwagon. Godzilla is getting his own shared Monsterverse, and now, Universal is creating its own “Dark Universe” repackaging the classic Universal monsters of the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s to create some sort of monster “super team.” The Tom Cruise vehicle, “The Mummy” was supposed to kick things off and it does. . .right off a cliff!
In this incarnation of “The Mummy” Cruise plays Nick Morton, an unscrupulous soldier who is supposed to protect and retrieve stolen artifacts in the Middle East but is not adverse to selling the smaller ones on the black market. When he and his partner Chris Vail (a painfully unfunny Jake Johnson) stumble on a huge burial chamber in the desert they accidentally awaken the evil and power-hungry Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who curses Cruise and tries to, wait for it, take over the world! It’s up to Nick, Chris, an archeologist named Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) and a secret evil-fighting organization called the Prodigium to stop Ahmanet before she becomes all powerful.
If it sounds goofy and contrived, well, you’re not wrong. The problem with “The Mummy” isn’t in the story, although we’ve seen it before. It’s in how the story is told. It’s too close to the Stephen Sommers’ films starring Brendan Fraser in terms of execution, only this film takes itself waaaay to seriously. Yet for all the somber goings-on, there isn’t one ounce of horror to be found in, you know, a HORROR MOVIE! The film plays like a superhero film with monsters instead of costumed heroes and villains and the end result is a very mediocre film.
Cruise does what he can, but we’ve seen way too many iterations of this character before. The studio and filmmakers play with the idea that he is corruptible and could be a willing accomplice to Ahmanet when she curses him, but they don’t carry it far enough to be believable. You never get the sense that “SuperCruise” won’t come out on top and that saps the drama right out of the film. Nick Morton is simply Ethan Hunt with a slightly shady moral compass.
Everyone else in the film comes off a undercooked, thanks to a script credited to no fewer than six screenwriters. Some of those writers include good ones like Jon Spaihts, David Koepp, and Christopher McQuarrie, all of whom have done exemplary work in the past. I think this is just a matter of too many cooks in the kitchen. Any one of these writers could have expressed a singular vision that turned out better than this studio constructed mess. First time director Alex Kurtzman does a serviceable job, but the movie’s action beats are more suited to a Batman film than a horror film, so tonally the film seems a bit. . .off.
Annabelle Wallis is decent as Jenny, the archeologist who works for the Prodigium, but the would-be sexual byplay between Jenny and Nick doesn’t get tiresome: it starts out that way. Cruise looks good for his age but I haven’t been this creeped out by an older actor-younger actress pairing since a nearly sixty-year-old Roger Moore shared a shower with twenty-something Tanya Roberts in “A View To A Kill.” It’s time to leave the studly action star archetype behind, Mr. Cruise.
As for Jake Johnson’s Chris Vail, this character is officially nominated to the Jar Jar Binks Sidekick Hall Of Shame. To be fair, it’s not Johnson’s fault. He’s a talented comic actor who just happened to be saddled with one of the worst gimmicks in recent cinematic memory. The idea is to have Vail serve as Nick’s undead conscience, appearing as a ghastly apparition to give Nick advice on how to deal with what’s happening to the mummy-in-training. Does this sound familiar? It should because it was done a lot better in “An American Werewolf In London.” I don’t mind a good homage if done correctly, but the Chris Vail character doesn’t make any sense given the way Ahmanet operates. It’s not even clear how Vail dies. He’s bitten by a camel spider at one point but those aren’t poisonous. He just expires and kind of becomes either a zombie or ghost depending on the situation. He doesn’t even give any advice: he’s just there as poorly written comic relief.
To round things out and really put the final touches on this “Dark Universe” we have the head of The Prodigium, one Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Yeah, that Henry Jekyll. And of course you have to get a little Mr. Hyde going to make sure you give the audience what you think it wants. Never mind that Hyde’s appearance is about as random and fan serving as a monster appearance can be and adds almost nothing to the movie except to tell the audience, “Look, we’re really serious about the Dark Universe thing!” Crowe actually appears like he’s having a ball as Hyde: as Jekyll, he’s Mr. Exposition, telling the audience things that we should really be able to figure out on our own.
The effects are fine, the action is adequate, but it’s the dreadful tone of the piece that gets my proverbial knickers in a twist. The movie is serviceable but not as fun as the Fraser Mummy films and is certainly lacking the dread that Boris Karloff inspired way back in 1932. If you’re going to continue on this Dark Universe folly, please at least make it different from the comic book films you seem desperate to emulate. Put some horror in your horror film and find a way to unite audiences by making those classic monsters scary again. Take some chances and go darker: that way you can create a “Dark Universe” you can be proud of. 2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!