The idea of Tom Cruise being involved in “The Mummy” seems odd on a number of levels. It doesn’t fit his m.o. at all, which makes one wonder how they were able to lure him in. My theory, based mainly on that new Dark Universe title card, is that Universal wants to reboot their classic horror properties to launch their own MCU, the Monster Cinematic Universe, and they wanted a bonafide star, someone with a higher Q factor than Brendan Fraser had when Universal last rebooted the “Mummy” franchise in 1999, to serve as the anchor. Hmmm…
*Googles ‘Universal dark universe’*
How about that? That is exactly what is happening. Scout’s honor, I did not know anything about this film, or any other Dark Universe film, before writing that first paragraph. For whatever reason, I wanted to go into this movie with as blank a slate as possible so I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about the film’s intentions or possible long-term master plans.
Even without knowing that, though, it was painfully obvious what Universal was trying to do here. “The Mummy” has some thrilling sequences (as well as some creepy ones, far darker than anything from the Fraser films) and is largely entertaining, but it is woefully short on story. They are making the same mistakes that Warner Brothers has made with the DC Universe; both studios want to jump straight to Phase 2, instead of making films that can stand on their own regardless of their connection to the overall story Universal hopes to tell.
Nick Morton (Cruise) is a soldier of questionable integrity, one who plunders war zones for valuables that he can sell on the black market. After an intimate encounter with Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), Nick steals a map from her that he thinks will lead to untold riches, but in fact leads to the tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess who was buried alive 5,000 years earlier and erased from history for the unspeakable crimes she committed against her family in the name of power.
Jenny is eager to know more about what they have discovered, even though all of the signs suggest that they should get out of there as soon as possible. Nick senses Jenny’s apprehension and rids her of it by releasing Ahmanet from her mercury-submerged grave. Ahmanet recognizes Nick as the man who freed her from her prison and plans to reward him by sacrificing his body to the god of death so that this world would finally know a living god.
“Mummy” director Alex Kurtzman has had a hand in some good things (“Fringe,” “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible III”) and some bad things (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Cowboys & Aliens”), but he has yet to direct something on this kind of scale, and he gets to start by directing Tom “Don’t make eye contact with me” Cruise and Russell “The second you say ‘Cut,’ I’m gonna kick your ass” Crowe (more on him later). At least he has experience working on one of Cruise’s films, but still, this is as trial by fire as it gets. From a directorial standpoint, Kurtzman fares pretty well. The scene on the cargo plane is a stone-cold classic, even if it’s a different spin on the opening scene from “Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation” (Christopher McQuarrie has a writing credit on both that film and this one, for the record), and the underwater sequence (which, again, recalls “Rogue Nation”) is downright creepy. The film also has fun with the notion of killing the undead thing, which can still attack you even when headless, limbless, and somehow, bodyless.
Kurtzman’s direction, which falls anywhere from thrilling to harmless, isn’t the problem. The problem is the script, which boasts the names of two heavyweights (McQuarrie, David Koepp) and one newcomer (Dylan Kussman). It features expository narration from a character who hasn’t yet properly been introduced (Crowe) because without it, the audience would be totally lost. It features a scene where a fingerprint scanner can identify the different characters within a person who has multiple personalities (this is physically impossible). It features lines like, “This isn’t a tomb… (pregnant pause) it’s a prison.” And most importantly, it features a painfully anticlimactic climax. For all of the thrills that the movie may provide here and there, the ending is a dud.
So, back to the beginning. It’s easy to see why Cruise would be interested in being a part of a universe like this. His character is set up to be sacrificed in order to serve as the vessel of a god, and isn’t that what Cruise has wanted his entire life? The bigger question is why Crowe signed on to play Dr. Henry Jekyll (and at the same time, the hooligan Eddie Hyde). The long-term answer is that he will play a larger part in the Dark Universe later, but the short-term answer is that he gets to flex some acting chops (two characters with different accents) while exploiting his bad boy persona at the same time. It’s kind of genius, even if it also feels like slumming.
Universal apparently assembled a writer’s room, much like the one that TV shows enjoy, in order to bang out the individual stories for the Dark Universe. Meanwhile, “Iron Man 3” writer and director Shane Black decides to blow up all of Iron Man’s suits, and when someone asks Marvel executive producer Kevin Feige how that will affect the upcoming “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” he simply says, “That’s Joss’ problem” (Joss being “Ultron” writer and director Joss Whedon). There is a lesson to be learned here. If you look too far ahead, you lose sight of what is directly in front of you. Universal should have made “The Mummy” the best movie they could possibly make, regardless of how difficult its ending may make things for those responsible for continuing the story.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari
Director: Alex Kurtzman