Everyone wants to get on that train to big money which Disney/Marvel Studios and DC/Warner Brothers are on by starting up their own cinematic universe. The Mummy is Universal Studios attempt in which they bring out their classic era horror movie monsters such as Frankenstein’s Monster and The Invisible Man and, of course, The Mummy, into the modern day with a series of films known as “The Dark Universe”. Right out of the gate they are making the same mistake Warner Brothers made with their DC Comic Universe by starting in the middle of a story already well underway and expecting their audience to just run with it. However, unlike DC the characters they are using are not so iconic and ingrained in our culture that they can get away with stumbling out of the gate based on the draw of the characters alone, and with The Mummy the Dark Universe may be doomed before it even begins.
The Mummy starts out in Iraq with Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson playing Nick Morton and Chris Vail respectively, both soldiers in the U.S. military who use the fact that ISIS is destroying monuments in the area as an excuse and a cover up for their own activities of stealing precious artifacts from sites in the area and selling these artifacts on the black market. This unfortunately is everything there is to these two characters, they have no families we know of, no ambitions beyond selling artifacts, we don’t even know the branch of the military they are in nor their jobs within that branch. This is true of every character in the film, they are merely a reason to be in the film attached to a good looking countenance and absolutely nothing more. Russel Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jeckyll runs a mysterious organization and occasionally turns into a monster, we know nothing more about him nor his nor his organization’s history even though they have apparently amassed astounding numbers of trophies and pieces to study from a great many monsters over the unspecified amount of time they have been around. Anabelle Wallis’ Jenny Halsey works for Dr. Jeckyll and likes Tom Cruise for some reason. Sofia Boutella was an Egyptian Princess who got angry at her family and is now an evil mummy. If you want to learn any more about any of these people, you’ll have to hope this universe continues and these characters are in future movies, because that is all you’ll learn about any of them here.
The Mummy is billed as an action/horror, but it is definitely much, much more action than horror. There are three major action set pieces in the movie along with quite a few minor ones, and this is where the movie excels. While the action scenes are insanely over the top to the point that they shatter suspension of disbelief even in a film of this nature, they are still creative in their execution and reasonably well shot, though they do rely far too much on quick editing for my tastes. The horror half of that equation is lacking, lacking to the point that I think the only reason it’s labelled as such is because there is a mummy in the film, and mummies are classic movie monsters. Aside from that factoid the only thing even bordering on the horror genre is the mummy’s ultimate plans for Tom Cruise’s character, which I won’t go into detail on as doing so would spoil one of the few interesting parts of the story’s plot.
That plot manages to somehow be at once incredibly simplistic and confusingly convoluted at the same time. The main story of the mummy wanting to destroy or remake the world, we’re not really sure what she’s trying to do, actually, is a really straightforward chase movie. She threatens, the protagonists run, she follows then threatens again, repeat until end. But, due to a lack of any motivation on the part of any of the characters and a world steeped in lore which we the audience have not been introduced to and know next to nothing about, the reason for this chase and reason for anyone beyond the three who initially find the mummy’s tomb getting involved is next to impossible to fathom. How did Dr. Jeckyll start his shadowy monster hunting organization and how do they know all these things in the first place? Why can this random military officer order Tom Cruise around and how do they know each other? If the mummy has the power over life and death, why does she need to murder people with a knife and fight them hand to hand karate style? None of this makes any sense.
The movie does have some charms, and is even able to surprise you once in a while with its sense of humor. While the characters make cardboard look layered, they do manage to milk them for all they are worth giving us humor which really works on a more than superficial level despite the fact that there is nothing more than superficial to them. As I mentioned, the mummy’s plan is also interesting, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot sense, and the way they end the film makes for an intriguing enough situation that, while I won’t go so far as to say I want to see more of these films, I wish the rest of the movie could have been creative and engaging enough to live up to the premise set up in its climax.
Final verdict: The Mummy is not the worst movie of the year as its horrible Rotten Tomatoes score would suggest, but it’s certainly not good enough to recommend seeing. It does have some quality humor and action, and it’s finale sets up interesting sequels, but everything else is so simultaneously rote and poorly thought out that these few good elements can not overcome The Mummy‘s myriad and overwhelming flaws. This should be a lesson to other studios wanting to start a cinematic universe out there – think long and hard about whether it’s a good idea, because it probably isn’t, and even if you feel it is you can not rush the story to the “Avengers” stage within the first couple of movies. Cinematic Universes need time to germinate and develop in the minds and hearts of their audiences, and rushing to the “fun part” is only going to end in failure.