“Dark Universe” is what Universal Studios calls its attempt to establish a new movie series full of classic monsters. After watching Disney make billions with its Marvel and Star Wars franchises, the studio now wants its own piece of the pie. The opening to its new series, “The Mummy,” is the studio’s attempt at getting just that.
Several thousand years ago, Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) forges a dark alliance with the evil god, Set, to take the throne from her father. The ritual is interrupted, and she is buried alive far from her home as punishment. In present-day Iraq, grave robber Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) tries to make a fortune in the wake of the war by stealing ancient artifacts. When an airstrike uncovers Ahmanet’s grave, the undead princess curses him. Together with the archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and the mysterious Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), Morton tries to stop the curse of “The Mummy.”
Universal has high hopes for this new universe, but the movie can’t live up to expectations. The studio could have just made a fresh take of the 1932 horror classic, and gauge the returns from there. Instead, the approved vision was a new cinematic universe where new spins on Dracula, Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera and their ilk contribute to something grander.
This is the biggest problem of “The Mummy” – it’s clearly a prequel to a movie series about the “Prodigium” organization led by Dr. Jekyll —a secret society where all the monsters will converge in a monstrous “Avengers.” However, it’s not that easy to imitate what Marvel did.
Other than being an inadequate start to a new series, “The Mummy” has its own problems. As is typical for mainstream blockbusters, a relatively inexperienced director is the ringleader. This $125M vehicle is only director Alex Kurtzman’s second movie. Since this is done to keep the creative control in the producers’ hands, Kurtzman’s direction is undecided, and the film constantly switches genres: a buddy movie, a screwball comedy, an action-adventure or zombie-horror. There is no knowing where he wanted to go with the film.
Writers David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman had some good ideas, but in the end it wasn’t enough to save the movie. Instead of the dark and melancholy tone of the DC movies, the filmmakers decided on a more “popcorny” tone for “The Mummy,” but ultimately lost sight of it.
The film is cheeky here and po-faced there, rinse and repeat. The visuals were surprisingly grim for a PG-13 movie, and it’s quite brave to “kill off” the protagonist and his sidekick within the first half hour of the film, but that is just overloading. As if it wasn’t enough to introduce “Prodigium,” the story cues Crusader knights, who distract rather than enrich the experience. While the movie offers some surprises in the beginning, it is nothing more than a predictable summer tentpole movie akin to “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Transformers.”
As is usual in such a film, the actors barely have the opportunity to shine. Cruise does what he always does, and he seems to like playing a thief for a change, but of course, is again the hero. The on-screen chemistry with his love interest is barely existent. Crowe, even through doing a good job portraying the Jekyll-Hyde duo, feels misplaced. The character is interesting, but we don’t see enough of him, something that could be remedied in a solo film (is there a demand, though?) The big surprise of this movie is Boutella, who gives an antiquated creature a new shine with distinct menace, seductiveness and tenacity.
The special effects were adequate to the film’s approach. A plane crash in the beginning, a car accident and hordes of undead fighting in “The Mummy” amaze, but can’t undo the mistakes that were made on the drawing board of the “Dark Universe.” It feels a lot like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” a movie that sent Sean Connery into retirement and made Alan Moore break ties with Hollywood.
“The Mummy” is a festival of missed opportunities. Even though there are some good ideas, it feels like a movie under the supervision of suits rather than creative forces, which is a recipe for disaster.
There is still entertainment here, but it’s apparent that it could have been much better. While it was a good idea, on paper, Universal ultimately fails to reanimate their monsters into a new cinematic universe. The “Bride of Frankenstein” has been set to rise next year, and it will be interesting to see if mistakes from “The Mummy” have been noted down.
Overall Rating: 3/10