Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Written by David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman
A lot of people think back to the 1999 Brendan Fraser film The Mummy when they see advertisements for this film. I like to pretend to be a snob and point out the 1932 Karl Freund/Boris Karloff version. It’s not without cause, however, given the direction that Universal studios would like to take this version of The Mummy and it’s cast of characters. One of the major franchises in the history of cinema started way back in the 1930s and 1940s with Universal’s “Monsters”. The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, etc. These films all features spooky special effects and scenarios, most often involving actor Boris Karloff and directors Karl Feund and James Whale, among others. With The Mummy, Universal is once again looking to get back into the franchise game, this time dubbing it the “Dark Universe”.
Starting with a known commodity such as The Mummy is likely a smart move. Even while the Brendan Fraser film is an entertaining joyride which spurred two sequels, the rest of the property has been dead for multiple decades. Failure to gain traction out of the gate may prove a death knell for the franchise before it even begins. And yet, even with a “proven” commodity to start things off, the death knell may be ringing, even with money in the bank action star Tom Cruise, who plays American soldier Nick Morton who happens upon an ancient Egyptian burial chamber in the middle of Iraq with researcher Jenny (Annabelle Wallis). But when the mummy within, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) awakens, she brings with her the wrath of a coup from ancient times unfinished. With the help of British Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), Nick and Jenny must subdue Ahmanet before she destroys the world.
This is one movie franchise I can say I was actually a little excited to hear about, given the original films are major touchstones in the history of the horror genre. I was curious how they might adapt the films to modern times, and with the result of the first film, well, the jury is still out. This installment has been getting crapped on in heaps from the early reviews, and while I cannot say it is a film I could recommend, I do think i enjoyed myself a little more than most other critics. Please do not take that line as an endorsement, however, just that I managed to have a little bit of fun. Gasp!
The screenplay is certainly doing the film no favors, and certainly could have used a unified voice behind it. The dialogue here is as clunky and vaguely cliched as about any recent blockbuster film I can recall. The characters are so thinly conceived and connected. But where I did geek out was when we got a chance to interact with the more historical aspects of the Mummy story, and get to see the archaeological adventures Indiana Jones taught us to love. Unfortunately this is a shell of those adventures. Tom Cruise, as he has aged, seems to have maintained his charisma and screen presence, though it perhaps starts to wain just a little here. How much longer can the king of action reign on his decaying throne?
There’s a few laughs, a few references to future films, and throwing in Dr. Jekyll here is a nice connective touch. Really, the way they setup everything to connect in the future is not what ruins this movie, it’s at least minimally believable. What ruins this movie is its own stupidity, which stems from a product which feels like it was rushed out the door in order to miss the franchise boat every other major studio seems to be on right now. Dark Universe has massive potential, in my opinion. It’s built of classic figures and intriguing, spooky stories which could still be relevant with a refresh. How unfortunate then to see that refresh so poorly handled by the team at Universal. Those fleeting moments of humor, creepiness and adventure that are found within The Mummy were enough to get me through the runtime, which was graciously not bloated, and perhaps even enough to get me curious about the future here, but it’s not nearly enough for me to attempt to praise this film on its own.