Based on all the advance publicity, it looked like the new version of The Mummy was basically going to be the 1999 Brendan Fraser version without any humor. I am happy to say that perception is incorrect: there are quite a few laughs to be had, some of which are definitely intentional. There’s also a lot of unwieldy exposition, way too much plot, and expansion of the running-versus-walking zombie debate with the addition of swimming zombies. It is, as perhaps you are already presuming, a mess. And messes can be fun, but they work best when they’re not pretending to be tidy.
Universal, having failed at least three times to reboot their classic monsters into a shared universe (Van Helsing, The Wolf Man, and Dracula Untold) are going all in on this one from moment one, as our perspective of the globe in the Universal logo slowly shifts to the other side of the planet where letters spelling out “DARK UNIVERSE” make up the opposite pole to the studio name on the front side. I’ll give you a sense of why this is overly optimistic in regards The Mummy in a moment, but I think they’re just missing the point in a larger sense too: those old movies work so well in part BECAUSE they’re old, and have a classic, vintage feel to them. The black and white, the practical makeup, the oddly named stars who became famous specifically for playing those monsters…none of that can be recaptured with A-list stars using CGI enhancements. And most are public domain characters anyway: only Creature From the Black Lagoon is owned outright by Universal, and while they can copyright the specific looks of their old creations, they aren’t really trying. Sofia Boutella’s Mummy might as well be an action figure plucked from the “Todd McFarlane’s Tortured, Twisted Hot Topic Universal Monsters With Boobs” toy line that never actually existed (though Todd came damn close a few times).
Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll narrates for us the mostly predictable tale of Princess Ahmanet (Boutella), mummified alive after making a deal with evil deity Set and slaughtering her family on his behalf (this sequence features infanticide and Boutella nudity, so yay PG-13 studio favoritism!). Even more predictably, in the present day Tom Cruise plays Nick, a liar and thief who abandons his squad in Iraq to try and steal antiques, and he winds up raising Ahmanet’s coffin from its extremely cursed pool of mercury surrounded by giant spiders. Busted by both his commanding officer and the female archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis) he seduced the map to the tomb away from, he can do little but tag along as they airlift the sarcophagus to England, whereupon a zombie and a flock of evil birds send the plane crashing down, which Nick, left aboard without a parachute, somehow survives.
Okay, not “somehow” – Ahmanet has had her eye on him and been giving him hallucinations ever since he first laid eyes on her resting place. And this is undoubtedly why Cruise took the role: the whole goal of this Mummy is to reincarnate Set inside his body, because guess what? She thinks he’s a perfect physical specimen for it. She wants to rule the world by boning Tom Cruise–defeating her, therefore, ought to be as easy as letting Katie Holmes talk to her in private for about 30 minutes.
But that running time needs to be padded out, so there’s all this other stuff involving a monster-hunting collective called Prodigium, led by Dr. Jekyll. Crowe’s big, inevitable Jekyll-and-Hyde moment is the funniest thing in the movie by far – as Hyde, he suddenly switches to a Cockney accent and beats the crap out of Cruise, who frequently sustains Bruce Campbell-in-Evil-Dead levels of abuse (It’s as if South Park‘s “Russell Crowe Foightin’ ‘Round the World” were briefly for real). And that’s not the only more modern horror shoutout – there’s a running gag 100% lifted from An American Werewolf in London that hasn’t even been hinted at in the trailers. It’s passably done, but blatant.
Make no mistake: this is a bad movie. But it is frequently good-bad, when it lets the insanity take over. Cruise is best when he’s playing Nick as a selfish liar, but being Cruise, he has to rise to the occasion of being good and noble and the greatest man alive before all is said and done. Hey, that’s how you get him to sign on. I can’t blame Boutella for cashing in on the “exoticized hottie” stereotype while she’s young, but somebody please offer her a role with more depth sometime soon.
There’s no mid-credits tag to suggest what the next film in the shared universe might be if, against all odds, the majority of moviegoers actually decide this was a good one. I’ll gladly watch Crowe’s campy Jekyll as the center of a gothic musical comedy, but I doubt that’s what anybody else has in mind.
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