With shared universes continuing to be all the rage in the blockbuster circuit these days, even to the point of moving beyond their superhero inspiration, Universal is now attempting to throw their hat in the shared universe ring with another stab at a major connected franchise venture. This comes in the form of the new Dark Universe movie series, which promises to unite Universal’s classic monsters in a shared movie canon, much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or DC Extended Universe. After a seemingly failed attempt to launch Dark Universe with 2014’s disappointing and forgettable Dracula Untold, Universal is instead giving the proper introduction to Dark Universe, complete with a fancy logo, via their latest reboot of The Mummy.
Unfortunately, that reboot was stalled multiple times in pre-production, to the point where six different writers have taken separate cracks at the screenplay, and producer, Alex Kurtzman is cutting his teeth as a blockbuster director for the first time on this project, with his only other feature film credit being 2012 drama, People Like Us. That certainly presents a few red flags, even more than Dracula Untold had back in 2014, and unfortunately, those red flags do indeed signal a movie that is ultimately ruined by having way too many cooks in the kitchen.
A mismatched, confused and thinly-spread movie that feels like a complete mess, 2017’s reboot of The Mummy feels like it has to do double duty in both setting the stage for the entire Dark Universe franchise, while also having to revitalize interest in the titular monster. To that end, it’s also competing with the somewhat recent and mostly beloved Brendan Fraser-starring remake of The Mummy from 1999, even if that movie suffered from noticeably inferior sequels, and a spin-off franchise that was largely and rightfully banished to the direct-to-DVD landscape. While 2017’s The Mummy is at least an improvement over most of those sequels and spin-off movies, it doesn’t manage to compare to 1999’s own take on this franchise, one that also isn’t bogged down by having to inhabit a shared universe with the other Universal Monsters. Unless you’re actively invested in the Dark Universe canon from the jump, you should probably stick with the 1999 movie for your Mummy fix.
The Mummy stars Tom Cruise as Nick Morton, a soldier-of-fortune and treasure hunter who is on the trail of a particularly valuable find. Alongside his awkward comedy sidekick, Sergeant Chris Vail, played by Jake Johnson, Nick gets a lot more than he bargains for after he accidentally unearths the underground prison of Princess Ahmanet, the titular Mummy who replaces former Mummy monster, Imhotep in this reboot.
Gender-swapping the titular Mummy seems to be one of the most noteworthy tricks in this reboot’s arsenal, and to be fair, our new Mummy actress, Sofia Boutella is definitely one of the best parts of this movie. Boutella is quickly becoming a very accomplished creature actress, and she’s smartly chosen for this part, making her definitely the main draw of this latest Mummy reboot. Boutella’s unique blend of vulnerability, horror, ambition and sex appeal as Ahmanet makes her an immediately striking Mummy, and has her stealing the movie and running with it, even when she’s supposed to be an antagonist of few words.
Of course, part of this is due to the fact that Cruise feels like he’s operating on half-tilt here. Playing much the same lovable rogue as he does in the Mission: Impossible movies, only with just slightly more of an untrustworthy, dick-ish edge this time, Cruise feels noticeably miscast in a universe that’s supposed to be dark and intriguing. Johnson feels similarly oddly cast, being a comedy sidekick that’s also supposed to be a horrifying harbinger of events to come with Ahmanet. Both actors feel like they’re constantly hamstrung by a script that can’t commit to any one direction or tone, and the result is both of them feeling like they’re playing wholly ineffective characters, and not really leaving much of an impression. Johnson even goes one worse than that, since it’s laughably impossible to take the joker from New Girl seriously as any kind of creepy threat!
Similarly, Annabelle Wallis is frustratingly given absolutely nothing to do as apparent female lead and love interest, Jenny Halsey, who feels blatantly crowbarred into the story in a way that never feels like it organically makes sense. Wallis tries her best to give Jenny a lovable sense of attitude, but she’s given far too little to work with, ultimately making Jenny a frustratingly ineffectual tag-along for Nick that only exists to cause trouble and get captured. Jenny’s character is also meant to serve as the lead-in to Russell Crowe’s character, a character that I won’t spoil the identity of, since it may be a bit of a cool surprise for Universal Monsters enthusiasts. Crowe however is nonetheless saddled with the thankless duty of having to foreshadow future Dark Universe movies, while also stopping this movie cold at various points to explain the current lore. Crowe does have one highlight scene that I really can’t go into without divulging a considerable spoiler, but it’s a shame when it’s over, since you’ll wish that the movie would have devoted more time to the fallout from this sequence, and yet, it doesn’t. Instead, it’s building a foundation for a universe on promises of better characters that we don’t even get to see yet.
The storyline of The Mummy is all over the place, and it’s frustratingly obvious that a huge chunk of writers kept altering the script with distinctly different visions. This leads to a story full of too many heterogenous elements that never truly gel, especially since this reboot really can’t pick a tone, and that’s bad news for the Dark Universe series as a whole too! In certain scenes, The Mummy is a horror movie. In certain other scenes, it’s a light-hearted action blockbuster. In yet more scenes, it’s a monster-themed comedy. Finally, in yet other scenes, it’s a character piece about inner darkness. Like I said, past a decent opening sequence, it’s all too obvious that The Mummy is a total mess that has no idea what it truly wants to present as a new take on the franchise, beyond the fact that the titular monster is female, and the story now takes place in the modern era, rather than being a period piece.
This messiness behind the story is very frustrating, because there are some truly great scenes and some truly awesome ideas in The Mummy here and there, which will just make you wish that the movie had committed to a single tone and direction. Instead, this is one of those movies where the handful of genuinely awesome moments are surrounded by slower, less interesting or mismatched moments that are filled with either jokes that don’t land, or scares that don’t work. One of the biggest story failings in fact is The Mummy feeling way too calculated and humourless, despite sometimes awkwardly shifting to certain scenes that try to inject humour, and fail. Some of those aforementioned bright spots shine through, and there is a genuine sense of intrigue that might make viewers nonetheless want to see more developments for the Dark Universe franchise in future, but it’s not enough to make the plot and progression of The Mummy all that good on its own merits.
Alex Kurtzman directs The Mummy as his first major blockbuster effort, having previously produced and/or written for other high-profile movie franchises like Paramount’s current run of Star Trek and Transformers movies, as well as some genre television shows like FOX’s recently-cancelled Sleepy Hollow, and CBS’ way too short-lived TV adaptation of Limitless. Unfortunately, producing and directing can be very different beasts though, and Kurtzman’s lack of experience with actually directing major blockbusters really shows here. While some scenes are directed well, it feels like Kurtzman doesn’t provide enough of a sense of bringing everything together, with his directing style being just as all over the place as the script. That goes for both the tone and the quality, since Kurtzman manages to realize some decent action or horror-driven scenes here and there, but he also botches others, on top of having a consistently ineffectual ability to properly make the script’s attempts at humour truly work.
The Mummy really needed a more experienced director when it has a script this messy, because at least they could have focused the tone a bit more, if nothing else. Instead, Kurtzman puts all of his eggs in the titular monster’s basket, to the point where virtually any scene that doesn’t have Boutella’s Mummy in it mostly fails to hold the audience’s attention. This leads to a movie that’s full of characters that are almost entirely bland and uninteresting, beyond any of the monsters that are supposed to populate the Dark Universe movies to come. It’s much the same situation as Paramount’s Transformers movies that Kurtzman helped start up, ironically, since the human personalities feel like they only exist to intrude on the time of the creatures that audiences actually came to see. This ultimately leaves The Mummy without any real reason to relate to it, nor remember it by the time you exit the theatre.
The musical score of The Mummy is composed by Brian Tyler, who largely established his composing talents with horror movies in the earlier years of his career, before more recently moving on to scoring action movies, and even providing the soundtracks to a few Marvel Studios productions like Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron. That kind of background makes Tyler a logical choice to compose the soundtrack of The Mummy, especially in providing some early musical compositions to herald the Dark Universe franchise as a whole, but unfortunately, the movie’s soundtrack doesn’t make much of an impression either. Tyler seems to be as confused as anyone else about what kind of movie The Mummy is truly supposed to be, so his score just kind of seeps into it without all that much real enthusiasm, creating the distinct feeling that Tyler is primarily taking this gig for the paycheque.
The rest of the audio work and sound mixing is quite potent by contrast, especially if you’re watching The Mummy in a premium theatre format like IMAX. There are a handful of pretty sharp jump scares early in the movie, and any scenes involving Ahmanet are made to feel especially overwhelming and heavy in the audio. Once again, it feels like Ahmanet is the only character that The Mummy truly cares all that much about in most instances, since the audio itself seems to aggressively leap and bow to her presence. I suppose that centering most of the audio flourishes around the titular monster makes sense, but it would have been nice if the scenes without Ahmanet could have felt similarly powerful to listen to.
Among the disappointing elements of The Mummy is the fact that its special effects often aren’t that great, which, for a Summer blockbuster that’s already running on fumes from its other botched elements, is a really bad sign. Several of the effects are flat out lifted from other notable horror and adventure movies, and even then, they’re rife with lacklustre CGI that don’t make them feel that convincing. Ahmanet is of course the exception to the visuals, since her make-up, costume and overall design is fantastic all around, being very effectively grim, ominous and grotesque, yet also inhumanly beautiful in a strange way. Ahmanet’s design is so great in fact that it makes the former Imhotep portrayals look downright primitive in comparison, even as recent as the 1999 version of The Mummy! It’s really enough to make you wish that the movie relied a lot more on practical effects than shoddy CGI, but no such luck, unfortunately.
The Mummy is also available in 3D and IMAX 3D as well, with my screening being in full IMAX 3D. The 3D presentation is generally alright, adding a bit more atmosphere to the movie, even if there’s only a couple of truly noticeable 3D flourishes throughout much of it. It’s good enough for people who enjoy 3D movies, but if you’d rather just watch The Mummy flat in 2D, you’re really not missing much. As for the IMAX presentation, it feels like it enhances the audio much more than the visuals, since the movie looks awkwardly squished on the larger IMAX screen, which in turn feels like it further disturbs the integrity of the 3D presentation. Sadly, like many blockbuster IMAX conversions, it feels like the IMAX conversion of The Mummy was clearly an afterthought, and it’s really not worth it here. You’re best off saving the money and sticking with a standard digital screening, with the choice between 3D and 2D likely coming down to a matter of personal preference in this case.
The Mummy feels like an especially big disappointment in a Summer movie season that’s sadly been almost entirely full of disappointing blockbusters so far, with only Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Wonder Woman so far being the only shining exceptions. This movie at least does show some promise for future Dark Universe projects from Universal, but for now, The Mummy is a frustrating dud, one that not only fails to compare to the considerably better previous Mummy reboot from 1999, but also sadly kicks off the Dark Universe movies on a pretty sour note. As heartbreaking as it is, there really isn’t much to recommend here, unless you’re a massive fan of the Universal Monsters, and even then, you’re probably going to be disappointed, if not outright angry at how weakly the Dark Universe movies get started.
Fortunately, at the very least, Boutella’s Mummy is a great highlight, one that clearly deserved a better movie than she got here. Universal frankly should never have started their Dark Universe franchise with a movie that so clearly struggled in development hell for several years, being passed between way too many writers, and a director that quickly proved to be in over his head. I really hope that this doesn’t end up being another Dracula Untold that kills the studio’s shared monster universe plans before they even properly start, but seeing as Universal has already set a release date for the next Dark Universe movie, 2019’s Bride of Frankenstein, on top of casting a new Frankenstein’s Monster and Invisible Man, it looks like they’re nonetheless proceeding ahead, The Mummy’s failures be damned.
As much as so many rival studios clearly want to chase Disney’s and Marvel Studios’ recipe for success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, very few of them seem to properly grasp exactly how tough a feat that is to attain. Warner Bros.’ competing DC Extended Universe only now produced a legitimate gem barely a week ago, and Wonder Woman is its fourth movie! Sony Pictures’ plans for a shared Ghostbusters universe were also obliterated before they properly got off the ground, following the original reboot’s lacklustre box office intake (let alone its overblown controversy!), and Paramount’s desires for a shared Hasbro Universe don’t even seem to be getting past the writing phase at this point. Linking several franchises together into one super-franchise is a very delicate art, one that even Marvel Studios doesn’t always stitch together with perfectly consistent quality, even if they’ve so far avoided churning out a legitimately bad blockbuster.
I do hope to see more of the Dark Universe franchise, which will hopefully rebound with its planned sophomore installment in 2019, but there’s still no excusing many of the mistakes made by The Mummy. This is a disappointing franchise kick-off, and a really underwhelming reboot that falls considerably beneath Universal’s previous attempt to re-envision the Mummy franchise for a modern audience at the turn of the millennium. This new female Mummy might be one of the best incarnations of the monster to date, but the latest Mummy reboot still nonetheless proves that Ahmanet alone can’t elevate a movie that feels so constantly sloppy and poorly-realized.
- Boutella's Ahmanet is a superb new Mummy rendition
- Sporadic standout scenes that present promise for Dark Universe movies to come
- Crowe's role has some cool surprises for Universal Monsters fans
- Story is a tonally confused, inconsistent mess
- Most characters are way too bland and leave no impression
- Lacks the absurd charm and adventurous spirit of many former Mummy movies