Tom Cruise gives us his first true stinker in this inauspicious introduction to Universal’s Dark Universe. Laurie wraps it up.
It didn’t surprise me to learn recently that Tom Cruise had almost complete creative control over the making and marketing of The Mummy. Regrettably, Universal’s first instalment in their Dark Universe is bloodied unnecessarily by Cruise-like action sequences, confusing plotlines, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, characters with less depth than a Jacob’s cream cracker, and scenes that inevitably end or begin with the actor somehow having to take his shirt off. What could’ve been a unique and thrilling homage to the great old monster movies of the last century (Boris Karloff, eat my heart out) has unfortunately been reduced to a trite, unoriginal and stereotypical machine in which Cruise has designated himself shirtless captain, arriving drunkenly to the theatre with a head full of cheap thrills, a pocketful of recycled storylines, and an ego the size of Argentina.
The fact that the movie has six different writers (Alex Kurtzman who also directs, Jenny Lumet, Jon Spaihts, David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman) is obvious from the start. We’re forced to sit and stare blankly at the screen as the plot begins in 1127 AD with some crusading knights discovering a ruby that they slip into a tomb in England. It then jumps forward like a nervous kid with Tourette’s to present day London where some Crossrail workers unearth said tomb. We’re then introduced to a not-so-mysterious Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll, who then proceeds to narrate the story of Ahmanet, our Mummy, dragging us kicking and screaming all the way back to Ancient Egypt (we didn’t really need the knights after all) to tell us the story of our lovely monster (played by the talented but underused Sofia Boutella). Back then, a high priestess called Ahmanet had a serious case of the need-to-kills which is exemplified when her little brother is born and she is no longer the sole heir to the throne of Egypt. She decides to murder her entire family and then tries and fails to evoke the spirit of Set (some sort of scary old God). Confusingly, this is done not by bringing the spirit into herself, which would’ve made more sense for a supposedly power-hungry female villain, but into the body of an unnamed lover. As punishment for her evil deeds, she is mummified alive in a tomb with an annoyingly easy fail safe that Cruise can come along and crack when he’s done with his seventy-fourth instalment of Mission: Impossible.
Flash-forward once more to present day Iraq where Nick Morton (Cruise) and his generic one-liner sidekick (Jake Johnson) are both waiting. Cruise jumps off several buildings under heavy fire and smiles into the camera while his sidekick tumbles around horribly and complains. With the help of intelligent female archaeologist Jenny Halsey (played by the brilliant Annabelle Wallis), who has already fallen for our leading man some time before the movie starts, they discover the tomb of Ahmanet not so deep in a sandy hole. Cruise frees Ahmanet with the swipe of a sword, and in turn, gets himself cursed with excessive attractiveness. That’s right. Cruise’s curse is that Ahmanet has fallen in love with him and now wants to rip his shirt off, stab him in the chest and turn him into an all-powerful God.
The tomb of Ahmanet is air-lifted out of the sandy pit and shoved onto a plane where our Mummy wakes up as angry as anyone would be before their morning coffee. Ahmanet damages the plane just long enough so that Cruise can perform some zero gravity stunts and save the girl, after which the plane lands in England and Cruise wakes up in a morgue without so much as a scratch on his newly-naked body. Ahmanet, still at the crash site, does some scary Japanese Horror twisty body stuff and then sucks face with some clean-up guys to give herself a facelift that even Joan Rivers would’ve been envious of. The film’s six different writers then introduce us to random characters and diversions from the main plot as they desperately attempt to set up a franchise that we’ve already lost interest in.
Crowe plays the aforementioned Dr. Jekyll, the head of a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats. Jekyll is holding our villain in chains for reasons I’m still not 100% sure of, stripping away the strength of what could’ve been an amazing badass female character and reducing her to a pained and vulnerable princess who tries to catch the eye of Cruise as he walks around speaking to her in ancient Egyptian and flaunting his relationship with the blonde archaeologist in her face. After an appropriate amount of downtime, Jekyll predictably loses his cool and his accent as he becomes the monster Henry Hyde, demonstrating to the world that the best way to play a villain is to play them angry, sweaty and preferably working class. Hyde and Cruise fight, Cruise tells Crowe that he won’t join him on some sort of world domination tour, and Hyde hilariously tells Cruise that he’s a young man, even though Crowe is in fact one year younger than our leading man. Cruise defeats Hyde by pumping his neck full of Hyde-taming serum and Ahmanet creates some zombie bugs and zombie minions, releasing herself stylishly from her bonds. She then ruins a lot of hairdos and the windows of the Natural History Museum when she releases a sandstorm on London and Cruise gets to show off how well he can sprint. She frees herself, recovers the ruby and orders her minions to kidnap Jenny, who Cruise must rescue once again because, obviously, an intelligent archaeologist wouldn’t be able to figure out how not to get kidnapped.
Ahmanet kills Jenny in a jealous rage and Cruise decides to stab himself in the chest with the God-evoking knife, even though this is the very thing he’s spent practically the whole movie trying to avoid. Cruise becomes the god Set, but keeps his personality and good looks and most of his control so that he can bring Jenny back to life and kill Ahmanet by literally and hilariously kissing her to death. The all-powerful and unnecessarily always half-naked Ahmanet is reduced to a shrivelled corpse and dunked in a vat of mercury so that she can be recycled for the next instalment of our Dark Universe series, and Cruise leaves the country, goes back to Egypt and rides through the desert on a stallion at the end.
To say this movie was disappointing would be a lie. I expected nothing else than what I got from a rebranding of a franchise that didn’t turn heads the first time around, coupled with the fact that Cruise was allowed to run amok with storylines and characters and grant himself much more screentime and action sequences than what was originally intended. This movie was doomed from the start! More time is spent trying to establish Cruise as our hero than establishing Ahmanet as a great villain, and the plot is corroded by unnecessary diversions and introductions. The female characters are frustratingly stereotypical and compromised by their moments of vulnerability. as well as their questionable lust for the leading man, who is actually twenty years older than both actresses.
I will say that the concept is brilliant. A monster franchise would’ve been a welcome diversion from our current comic book superheroes and supervillains if it were executed well. Unfortunately, our first glimpse isn’t giving us anything to be excited about. The only thing that The Mummy does with any sort of triumph is to dig up the graves of long dead concepts, ideas and plots and then stitch them together in a truly grotesque frankenfilm that will out-monster anything that Universal can show us next. My verdict: save your money. Despicable Me 3 is out next week and I can guarantee that it will have deeper characters, a much more satisfying plot, more brilliant females, and better minions than anything we’ve seen from this disappointing Universe debut.