Mummy, The (2017)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 06/11/17 09:21:41
It's fitting that Russell Crowe's Dr. Henry Jekyll is set up to be the Nick Fury of Universal Pictures' "Dark Universe" franchise, because the version of "The Mummy" that kicks it off has a heck of a split personality: not great, perhaps, but plenty of fun when it stays in its lane with mummies serving as a means to zombie-movie mayhem and the sort of big, fancy action sequences that star Tom Cruise dives into like few others. It can be a real downer when it tries to set up something larger, enough to sabotage what works and maybe make a viewer resent the world-building.After a bizarre, disconnected London prologue splitting time between the middle ages and today, the action moves to Iraq, where American soldiers Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) have gone off-mission in search of antiquities, as is their wont, only to find something truly incredible after an airstrike: An Egyptian tomb built like a prison, with a sarcophagus smothered in mercury to prevent its contents' escape. Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the historian from whom Morton stole the map leading him to the tomb, reads the hieroglyphics to discover that this is Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess who made a bargain with Set, the god of death, after her path to the throne was blocked, killing her family and being sentenced to being mummified alive and interred far from home. Some sort of strange power still surrounds her, allowing Morton to miraculously survive when the plane bringing them back to England crashes. Fortunately, this happens to be the home base of the Predigium, and organization dedicated to fighting supernatural evil headed by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).
The first part lifts from a lot of things, perhaps most surprisingly and notably An American Werewolf in London, but mostly from pulpy material. As they bring mummy movies into the present day, director Alex Kurtzman and his five credited co-writers see a line between the slow-moving mummy of the 1932 original and modern zombies, and following that line gives them things that hit a sweet spot between classic, modern, and inventive, as Ahmanet's draining the life force from others gives her an army of shambling corpses, and an early comment about London being one large cemetery certainly pays off nicely. It's fun when Kurtzman can just mess things up with some good mummy action as a lot of punches getting stuck in decaying corpses, and the bigger showpieces are a kick as well.
Of course, even the good parts have their issues. There's a lot of "I just know" plotting going on, sometimes repeated multiple times because Kurtzman and the writers can't seem to figure out a way to not spring things on the audience unfairly and also have the characters learn things they need to know. There's no romantic tragedy here, the way there is in the best previous Mummy films, leading to a less interesting villain. There's an interesting potential substitute in Ahmanet's thwarted ambition, but the writers never really dig into that as a tragic flow rather than a way to scale things up for the Dark Universe.
On top of that, Tom Cruise is starting to look too old for this stuff; as much as he's in great shape and able to commit to some impressive stuntwork, he looks worn down in close-up, not quite the youthful rogue the script describes Morton as. He's not given as enjoyably clear a path from jerk to antihero as he was in Edge of Tomorrow, although he plays well with Jake Johnson. Annabelle Wallis and Sofia Boutella don't even get that much to do as good and evil potential lovers, with Wallis never quite able to nail down a personality for Jenny and Boutella able to project physical menace very well but never given a place to point it. Russell Crowe's Henry Jekyll is a complete misfire, seeming like Crowe can't quite find the accent and demeanor to be aristocratically condescending or calculating; he clicks as Hyde, but a good take on this pair can't come from Eddie Hyde alone.
That this film includes Jekyll & Hyde as a sort of side act to the main event makes one wonder a bit about Universal's plans for Dark Universe, and whether it makes sense to reveal them this early. Reviving the Universal Monsters in something along the lines of a shared superhero universe isn't a bad idea - it's very easy to extrapolate the potential, and there are fun moments when a tour through the Predigium reveals werewolf skulls and fishman limbs (though Kurtzman could do with underlining them a little less). And while the writers do okay in integrating this material into the main story, they can't help nudging Nick and Jenny out of its center. It's hard to shake the sense that things would be more involving if Nick and Jenny were trying to stop Ahmanet from bringing Set to Earth on their own.Clean some of the shared-universe crud up, and the lively-but-relatively-bloodless (because mummies crumble) action and fun approach to scares would likely make this this a horror/action movie that ten-year-olds would probably love. If you're going to reboot the Universal Monsters, that's not a bad goal, one which the people making the next Dark Universe movies should keep in mind.
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