I saw The Mummy. Maybe that’s doesn’t seem remarkable, but it is for me. As a child of the 80s, I am not of the “monster kid” generation that feels a particular nostalgia for classic Universal horror. Nor am I of the generation who rediscovered those films when they made their way onto early consumer televisions. No. I am young. Young I tell you! (fine. i’m old. but not that old.) I certainly don’t dislike Universal’s monsters, but I watch those old films with a historical/cultural/technical appreciation rather than for pure entertainment. So, when I saw that Universal was hoping to “reboot” their classic properties and brand them “Dark Universe”, I was intrigued. Would they cater to horror fans or to film fans or to bored people looking for some relatively cheap entertainment via movies. Then I saw the trailer for The Mummy. It looked like the bored people won the day again. But was that really the case? Let’s get into it, shall we?
Army guy, Nick (Tom Cruise), is a weasely opportunist who’s using his time stationed in the Middle East to steal antiques. He and his sidekick / partner-in-crime stumble upon a huge ancient Egyptian tomb 1000 miles from Egypt. Turns out there was a reason that the ancient Egyptians buried that particular sarcophagus so far from home in a chamber that rains mercury (for some reason). Everything about the burial – the mercury, the chains, the guardian statues – points to bad mojo. Or so says Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), the Army’s resident archaeologist in charge of… um… deciding where not to bomb maybe? (it isn’t explained and i’m not well-versed in war jobs) Nick doesn’t have time for this! He shoots at the chains and frees the sarcophagus from it’s mercury bath. Only problem is that the bad mojo assessment was correct and now Nick is cursed. Turns out, the evil princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who sold her soul to the devil / satan / set / hades is mummified inside of that sarcophagus and she is pissed about not being able to turn a mortal man into satan back in the day. Now she has her sights set on Nick. She can summon crows, sandstorms, bugs, and corpses to do her bidding while she vampirically sucks lifeforce from living people to regain her full strength. So she does that. Meanwhile, it turns out that Jenny works for a well-funded shadow group led by a familiar doctor (Russell Crowe) whose mission is to find and destroy evil. Will Nick become evil incarnate? Will Jenny let her womanly emotions trump common sense and personal safety? Will you get to see some fun Universal monsters easter eggs? (‘yep’ to that one!)
You’ve probably read a few reviews of this film that reflect and / or contribute to its abysmal Rotten Tomatoes rating (16% at time of writing. yikes). In a lot of ways, that assessment is well-earned. The film is over-long. It’s filled with clunky exposition and unnecessary / redundant / repeated flashbacks. It’s tonally all over the map, going from bright, loud action, to claustrophobic horror, to one-liner comedy, to grand conspiracy / mystery and back. It also seems to feature some line delivery that deserved another take or two. (an especially bad infraction for Cruise who MUST have had better takes in him) It has the tired old dude with a love interest 20 years his junior trope. It relies HEAVILY on obvious CGI. And there’s probably more that I’m forgetting right now. With all that working against it, it’s hard to believe there are any redeeming qualities. But there are. There is a strong undercurrent of potential in this film. There are some genuine scares and terrifying visuals to start with. The scarred / tattooed princess has a unique look and her undead (lifeforce impaired) minions are ugly, dessicated automatons. And their unrelenting drive to retrieve Nick at all costs makes for some harrowing scenes. It’s just too bad the focus was on action and CGI and spectacle rather than bringing that undercurrent to the surface. I can’t help but think that with some top-notch creative editing, this film could have been saved. (like, some sort of “phantom” edit?)
The Final Cut: The Mummy is an inauspicious start for Universal’s “Dark Universe” with myriad mediocrities and tired blockbuster tropes, but the good stuff hiding just below the surface (hopefully) hints at a deeper, more horrific direction for the franchise.