THE MUMMY – a review by JJ Heaton

Starring: Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher), Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond), Annabelle Wallis (Annabelle), Jake Johnson (Jurassic World), Courtney B. Vance (Office Christmas Party), Russell Crowe (Gladiator)

Director: Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us)

Writers: David Koepp (Spider-Man) and Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow) and Dylan Kussman (Burn)

Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes

Release Date: 9 June (US, UK)

Marvel Studios really set the groundwork for how to make a cinematic universe, but no one else has managed to step up to the plate to meaningfully challenge them. DC has only just managed to make a movie that’s genuinely great after uneven results, whilst Legendary’s Monsterverse is young but still shows plenty of potential, but no studio has tried harder and failed more miserably than Universal trying to resurrect their classic series of monster movies. Their confused remake of The Wolfman and the abysmal Dracula Untold were both quickly swept under the rug after failing, but now they’re gunning harder than ever. Officially dubbing the series “Dark Universe” with a fancy pre-titles logo and a slate of movies set with major talent lined up, you’d think Universal had a movie as solid as Iron Man on their hands to plan out this intricately this far in advance. But you would be wrong. So, so wrong. The Mummy is an absolute disaster of a start for a potential franchise; a train wreck of bad decisions that makes Batman v Superman look like The Avengers in comparison and casts serious doubt on this franchise continuing beyond this point.

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Up front, the biggest problem with The Mummy is that it has no idea what kind of movie it even wants to be. You’d think they’d try to evoke the feel of the classic Universal Monsters movies and make a moody, atmospheric horror film. No major studio is making big budget horror anymore, and with the right vision they could carve out a new market whilst still cashing in on the movie universe trend. But rarely does The Mummy ever try to genuinely scare or even unnerve. Most of the time, it feels like an unholy mixture of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, any of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and the worst superhero movies of the past ten years. The film’s story is insultingly simple and yet needlessly complicated, with the plot then essentially coming to a halt halfway through so they can set up their universe in the most tedious way possible. You thought Bruce Wayne finding a flash drive full of info on metahumans stupid and contrived? Wait till you see Russell Crowe drone on about his secret society of monster hunters for ten minutes! The film is essentially two hours of exposition, action sequences and incompetent brand management, and when the film isn’t frustrating you with how tedious and lifeless the whole enterprise is, you’ll just be bored.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but the man usually has decent taste in film choices. What convinced him to star in this tripe is completely lost on me, because not only is the material not good, but also his character is so incredibly indefinable that the movie never even properly explains his occupation. Cruise’s Nick Morton has no clearly definable personality, history or motivation beyond what other characters tell us about him, and what little character is there is just Cruise acting on auto-pilot. There’s all this talk about him being a rebel and that he has demons to get over, but Cruise himself never really has a chance to exhibit any of this. This feels like a role that was written for a typical Hollywood bland man like Sam Worthington or Jai Courtenay, but Cruise somehow manages to exhibit even less charisma than the finest performances of those actors’ entire careers. Annabelle Wallis fares little better as a totally superfluous and vague love interest who’s only real purpose is the blurt exposition at Cruise, whilst Jake Johnson is relegated to being annoying comic relief and then ripping off Griffin Dunne’s role in An American Werewolf in London; if this movie was made in the 90s, Rob Schneider would have played this character. The only actors who shine at all in this mess are Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and Sofia Boutella as The Mummy herself. Boutella works because she actually seems to be trying, delivering a genuinely nuanced performance with very little screen time or dialogue, whilst Crowe eats up the scenery at every chance he gets; I’ll take hammy Crowe over boring Crowe any day.

The Mummy contains far more action than horror, but it never gets either element right. The action sequences are loud, relentless, poorly directed, driven mostly by CGI, and lacking in creativity. The one close-to-original stunt, the much touted zero gravity plane sequence, is staged and directed without any original flair and is over far too quickly to impact. When it comes to scares, all they can really muster are some lame jump scares or some mildly creepy imagery, failing to capture either the moody ambience of the classic monster movies or the unnerving terror of modern horror films. There is some cool design work here, like how The Mummy reforms herself or how her mindless minions gait around like all their limbs are broken, but none of it is particularly outstanding. Not even Brian Tyler’s score for the film can muster anything past generic.

If Marvel established the textbook way of how to start a cinematic universe, The Mummy should serve as the example of how not to. It can’t decide on a tone or a genre, it doesn’t set up any interesting characters, it doesn’t tell a coherent story, it fails to deliver any memorable action or horror sequences, and its attempts to build a world are basically reduced to talking about it instead of letting the universe naturally unfold. It feels less like a filmmaker trying to create a good movie they genuinely care about, and more like a studio attempting to copy a trend and slapping one of their established brands on it. If Universal are genuinely serious about using this as a springboard for a whole series of movies, they are about to make Warner Bros and DC look like prodigies.

FINAL VERDICT: 3/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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