The Mummy is many things to Universal Pictures and it has many conflicting tones to go along with it. The film shares the name of franchise of the Brendan Fraser flicks started in 1999 and little else. Most importantly, it’s the premiere title of the studio’s planned Dark Universe series which will bring back invisible and wolf men and Frankensteins and their brides.
Perhaps that’s why The Mummy can often seem like a preview of what’s to come. Based on this initial offering, the Dark Universe and its grand designs to bring back the classic monsters of Universal’s past is iffy but not without some occasional charms.
A prologue tells the tale of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), Egyptian royalty primed to rule her land. Family complications alter that course so she goes on a murderous rampage which results in her mummification. Her story is buried for centuries until present day.
That’s when Nick Morton, a former soldier still in Iraq to pillage treasure with his comedic sidekick (Jake Johnson) inadvertently unearth the Princess’s tomb. Our title character has serious cursing skills and uses them on Nick and others. Thus begins an attempt to destroy her and get Mr. Cruise back to his normal self.
The screenplay makes the decision to make Nick a bit of an anti hero. He’s a slight jerk who’s in it for himself for a good portion of the running time. There are shades of Cruise’s character in Edge of Tomorrow, a better film to be sure. It allows this movie star a chance to be funny at times, a little cowardly, and it’s kind of fun to watch Cruise play it.
What the script doesn’t do is provide any development to his archeologist love interest and investigative partner Jennifer (Annabelle Wallis). We’re told the two shacked up a couple of nights before we meet them, but their connection is pretty much non existent. As mentioned, it’s sometimes a hoot to see Nick as a louse. When the screenplay tries to get us to care about his feelings for Jennifer, it falls flat.
For that matter, the lovely Boutella isn’t much of a scary villain. Sidekick Johnson has a few humorous bits, but gets lost in the shuffle mostly. There’s not much time for character development sans Cruise’s take on his part. Russell Crowe is here as Dr. Jekyll so we know he gets to have some duality in his role. His performance is just fine, though one suspects his real opportunities will come later in this universe.
This Mummy works best when it goes campy – something I wouldn’t have guessed. A number of moments going for intentional chuckles work. However, the studio has much to set up and allowing director Alex Kurtzman and his slew of writers go full out camp doesn’t happen. This creates an uncomfortable mix of horror, adventure, and the aforementioned and often successful self parody. Much of The Mummy is filled with action sequences that are indistinguishable from other summer blockbusters (though a zero gravity plane crash is nifty). We don’t really care about what’s happening because Universal seems in a hurry to get to the next monster mash. Yet I’ll be figuratively damned if I didn’t enjoy some of it.
**1/2 (out of four)