‘The Mummy’ Review: A Wretched Abomination

The Mummy marks the beginning of Universal’s Dark Universe, the brand under which the studio’s cinematic universe of classic monsters interconnects.  While cinematic universes became all the rage thanks to Marvel, Universal Monsters have crossed over decades ago.  The question with Universal Monsters wasn’t “Could they cross over?” but rather “What tone would they take?”  The original Universal Monster movies run the gamut from darkly comic (The Invisible Man) to tragedy (Frankenstein), sometimes within the span of the same movie (The Bride of Frankenstein).

For producer and The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman, his solution is to try and create an action-horror hybrid, a movie that can give action-packed scenes like Tom Cruise plummeting to Earth in a cargo plane, but can also be suitably creepy.  Unfortunately, The Mummy is left hanging somewhere in the middle, not thrilling enough to be an action-packed ride like the surprisingly enjoyable 1999 movie, nor is it scary enough to stand alongside serviceable PG-13 horror films like Cloverfield or Drag Me to Hell.  What should be the dawn of a new age of “gods and monsters” instead appears to be at a loss with how it should even begin.

The story follows Nick Morton (Cruise), a reconnaissance officer in the U.S. military who spends his time stealing antiquities in Iraq to sell on the black market.  When he and his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) come across a tomb thanks to research stolen from archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), they discover a sarcophagus belonging to Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian who made a pact with Set, the God of Death, to rule Egypt.  However, the ritual to summon Set was interrupted, Ahmanet was mummified alive, and now she’s very angry.  When Nick carelessly raises her sarcophagus, he becomes “chosen” by her to be the new vessel for Set, so ends up scrambling across London with Jenny to avoid a wrathful Ahmanet.

If you look closely at The Mummy, there are some interesting things it’s trying to do.  Previous versions (the 1932 original and the 1999 remake) made the mummy, Imhotep, focus on his desire to reunite with his lost love, and, wouldn’t you know it, the female lead happens to remind him of that love, so he’s after the woman, and it’s up to the male hero to stop him.  Kurtzman’s Mummy tries to turn that on its head by trying to make the male lead the damsel in distress.  Moreover, it’s not that Nick reminds Ahmanet of her lost love as much as he’s a useful body so she can summon Set.  It’s a fun way to deconstruct the male hero, and one that Cruise is game for as he muddles his way through while Jenny provides all the knowledge.

Unfortunately, this approach is severely undermined by how Ahmanet is portrayed.  Her sexuality is turned not only into a key part of her character, but it’s literally weaponized.  Throughout the movie, she turns men into mummies by making out with them (if this sounds familiar, it’s because Enchantress also turned men into monsters by making out with them in last year’s Suicide Squad).   When it’s time to turn Nick into Set, she straddles him sexually, and while Kurtzman’s intent may have been to give Ahmanet the power in the scene, it shows that her power is mainly manifested in sexual ways.  Thus, the woman’s sexuality is both exploited and held up as a threat.

But even if the movie had somehow nailed the gender dynamic, it would struggle with the fact that it’s not a particularly interesting story and the lead characters lack arcs.  I’m a little shocked that Kurtzman, who’s not exactly new at screenwriting, can’t seem to grasp basic character development.  There’s not much reason to care about Nick and Jenny, and there’s very little reason to invest in their relationship.  The movie tries to coast on Cruise’s charisma, but even he seems at a loss as to why he’s there.  Nick isn’t an interesting guy, and his “arc” (if you could generously call it that), seems to be “He’s a bit of a selfish guy but then he ultimately does a selfless thing for a woman he doesn’t really know too well.”

The Mummy seems so eager to get to the action scenes and building up its own little universe that it skips the important stuff like “Make sure the audience is invested in the characters,” and “Make sure the story makes sense.”  I know that a Creature from the Black Lagoon movie is in the pipeline because I saw the creature’s severed hand in a glass jar when Nick walks through the lab of Prodigium, the super secret organization run by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  What I don’t know is why a super secret organization would be run by a guy like Jekyll who needs a complex series of injections every few hours or else he turns into a cockney rage monster.

Of course, the reason is because The Mummy is more concerned with setting up the pieces of future Dark Universe movies rather than telling individual stories.  But if The Mummy is any indication of what’s to come with Dark Universe, then these aren’t movies worth making.  What The Mummy signals is that Dark Universe will pile on loads of crummy CGI and awful storytelling that’s a waste of the time and talent of A-list actors like Cruise.  Kurtzman isn’t just some hired gun on board for this one movie.  He, along with Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious), has been the guiding force of Dark Universe, and he thinks The Mummy is a fine start to this cinematic universe.  It’s not.  It’s an abomination.

Rating: D-

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 movies

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