With Disney and Warner Bros. raking in the big bucks on their movie mega-franchises (Marvel Entertainment and DC Extended Universe, respectively), it was inevitable that Universal Studios would jump on the bandwagon and develop their own big budget franchise that the movie-going public could get behind. Called “Dark Universe”, this movie brand doesn’t feature superheroes though. Instead, it features supervillains… or perhaps misunderstood villains. Mining their decades-old back catalogue, Universal is planning to release at least a half a dozen films over the next decade acquainting, or reacquainting, audiences with characters like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and even the Phantom of the Opera. The first in the series, THE MUMMY, just arrived at the cinemas and if this film is a portent of what’s to come, Universal would be well advised to quit now. THE MUMMY is awful!
The film stars Tom Cruise as fortune hunter Nick Morton. Nick, for some reason, is attached to the US military forces in Iraq. When an air strike against a ragtag ISIS-like militia creates a gigantic sinkhole in a town that is home to ancient non-Muslim artifacts, Nick, his sidekick, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson, TV’s NEW GIRL), and British archaeologist Jenny Wallis (Annabelle Wallis, who appeared in the almost as bad KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD) — who seems to show up out of nowhere without a flak jacket or helmet but no one seems to mind — discover an ancient Egyptian burial tomb belonging to the princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, STAR TREK BEYOND). Legend has it, we’re told in a Russell Crowe voiceover at the film’s outset, Ahmanet was an ambitious young lass. Seemingly first in line to the throne, her father, King (not Pharaoh?) Menehptre, thwarted her plans when his new wife gave birth to a boy. Ahmanet took matters into her own hands, did a deal with Set, the god of Life and Death, to get some supernatural powers and slew her father, step-mother and half-brother. In exchange for Set’s help, she had to use his jewel-hilted dagger on her lover, which would allow Set to gain corporeal form. Together, they would rule the world, or Egypt at least.
Unfortunately for her, the king’s men captured her before she could bring Set to physical life and they buried her alive along with flesh-eating scarabs. (Crowe says in the voiceover that they mummified Ahmanet but she was definitely alive when she was put into that sarcophagus. That’s Problem #1 with the story. She’s technically not a mummy.) Not content to bury the princess in Egypt’s borders or at least in the nearby Sahara Desert, they travel all the way to Mesopotamia and bury her there in a elaborate crypt that includes towering statues and a labyrinthine network of channels that contain mercury, the latter of which, we’re told, was meant to keep Ahmanet from resurrecting. Problem #2: Where were the Babylonians while this was going on? You’d think they wouldn’t have been too happy with that arrangement. Problem #3: Where did the vast amounts of mercury come from? Did they bring it from Egypt? Mercury is a pretty heavy metal. How did they get it there? Problem #4: Why build such elaborate tomb for someone they wanted to erase from the history books? Who built the tomb? Egyptian artisans? Aramean slaves? It must have taken years to build. What did they do with the sarcophagus while all the building was going on?
Back to the present and Nick becomes cursed by Ahmanet for opening her tomb. (Problem #5: Shouldn’t he have been cursed by the Egyptian necromancers instead?) Chris, meanwhile, gets bitten by a scarab and turns into a zombie. Nick kills Chris but Chris, it seems, comes back as a spirit that only Nick can see. Throw in a spectacular plane crash, a double-cross, a meeting with Dr. Henry Jekyll (an overblown Crowe), who apparently runs a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats deep in the bowels of the British Museum, and a final encounter with the now very much alive Ahmanet who blows out every office window in London with her ferocious power. Oh, and did I mention a legion of Crusaders who are also unearthed by some excavators digging a new London Tube line and whom Ahmanet brings back to zombie-like life to serve her in her conquest to use Nick as the vessel with which to resurrect Set? If it seems way too complicated, not to mention nonsensical, it is.
If the story isn’t ridiculous enough, the acting is cringeworthy. Often times throughout the film, Cruise has a bewildered look on his face that belies what he must be thinking, which is, “Why did I agree to do this dog of a film?”. His character is so bland, it’s impossible to garner any emotion one way or another for him. Wallis fares much worse. Most of her lines consist of “Nick?”, “Nick!” and “NICK!!”… and a few gasps when director Alex Kurtzman (producer of the first two “new” STAR TREK films) wants us to be scared. But THE MUMMY is neither scary nor campy. It’s like going on a kiddie roller coaster. The top speed it reaches is 5 mph, and the twists and turns the track takes are so tame, you could be forgiven for getting bored and wanting to exit early.
There is so much more I could say about this film — all negative — but it’s not worth my time or yours. What I will say though is that someone pointed out to me a few days ago that even BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, a film that was widely panned by critics, still made almost a billion dollars at the box office. If THE MUMMY can do that well, you can be sure we’ll be seeing more of Nick and Ahmanet in the future.
May the ancient gods of Egypt spare us!
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