Who doesn’t love a good monster movie? No one, that’s who. And there’s really no better purveyor of quality monster flicks than Universal. Well, except maybe Hammer, but forget about that, we’re talking about Universal right now. The Universal Monsters are some of the most famous and influential creations that Hollywood ever devised, and have almost completely eclipsed their subject matter in popular culture. It can be done, but it’s extremely difficult to try and create new versions of Dracula or Frankenstein without being reminded of the Universal versions. These Monsters have survived decades and while there are always times where they fade from the popular consciousness but they’re never forgotten. And yet, since there will always be some people who don’t want to watch old movies there’s always going to be a market to reimagine and remake the classics. Often to very little success. But cashing in on some cultural credit and trying to make a successful film without going through the trouble of creating new intellectual property is always going to a go-to tactic for Hollywood, so of course we’re in a time where they think that they can remake the Universal Monsters. And this time they’ve decided to also jump on the whole “Cinematic Universe” bandwagon and try to tie all of their Monsters together in one huge franchise. They also decided not to this patiently, and just dove right in. I wonder how that worked out for them?
The film obviously starts off in London during the Crusades, where a group of Crusaders who recently sacked Egypt are hiding a mystical dagger that they stole from the Egyptians. This then cuts to modern day where the tomb of the Crusaders is located by a mysterious man named Henry, who tells us the story of an Egyptian princess named Ahmanet. Ahmanet was groomed to become the queen of Egypt, but the unfortunate birth of her brother spoiled all of that. So she sold her soul to Set, the God of Evil, to get magical powers. But after killing her family she was caught and mummified alive, left hidden in a tomb far from Egypt. And once that’s established we jump back to modern day and find that Ahmanet’s tomb is located in what’s now Iraq and we meet our hero for the movie, Nick Morton, an American soldier who has a side-interest in stealing antiquities. Nick and his pal Vail storm a small village that they’ve heard has treasure in it, and end up getting the whole place destroyed. But, after a missile destroys the village they find the opening of the secret tomb that Ahmanet was buried in. Nick and Vail prepare to head in and loot the place when they’re stopped by an archaeologist named Jenny who Nick slept with and stole the location from. She ends up accompanying them into the tomb, and translates the various curses and warning inside the tomb. Nick ignores all of this and frees the sarcophagus from the pool of mercury the Egyptians buried it in. Which is when Nick starts getting strange visions of Ahmanet telling him he’s her chosen one. He ignores this though, and they drag the sarcophagus out of the tomb and onto a military plane. They begin flying the sarcophagus out of Iraq when the shit promptly hits the fan. Ahmanet manages to curse Vail and causes him to attack everyone until he’s killed. And once that’s taken care of the plane is attacked by a flock of birds, causing the plane to crash in the English countryside. But Nick was inexplicably able to survive the crash, despite going down with the plane. Nick and Jenny then begin trying to find the sarcophagus, hoping to get some answers, while the mummified body of Ahmanet has escaped and is beginning to drain the lifeforce from random people. She ends up summoning Nick to her, and attempts to kill him with a magical dagger that will turn him into Set, but is stopped when she finds that part of the dagger is missing.
And this is where the movie gets absolutely insane. Because Nick and Jenny are saved by a small army, led by the man Henry from earlier. They manage to capture Ahmanet and bring her, Nick, and Jenny back to the Natural History Museum of London, where Henry’s secret base is. Henry then reveals himself to be Henry Jekyll and explains that their organization, which Jenny is a member of, has been tasked with finding a “cure for evil.” And they think that if they let Ahmanet turn Nick into Set they can then kill Set and destroy evil in the whole world. Nick is obviously not down with this plan, especially when he has to fight off Mr. Hyde, who emerges from Jekyll when he wasn’t able to take his antidote. But things are made difficult when Ahmanet manages to escape, and heads off to find the missing jewel from the dagger, which was found with the Crusaders from the beginning. Ahmanet heads into London, destroying everything she can touch, while Nick and Jenny chase after to destroy the jewel and end her curse. Unfortunately Ahmanet is able to get down to the crypt first, and assembles the dagger while Nick and Jenny deal with a bunch of undead Crusaders. Ahmanet ends up abducting Jenny, and drowns her in a sunken portion of the crypt. This obviously pisses of Nick, who heads up to kill Ahmanet. He manages to get the dagger away from her, and threatens to destroy is until Ahmanet says that Set will have power of life and death. He then sacrifices himself, draws in the power of Set, and uses it to drain the lifeforce from Ahmanet and bring Jenny back to life. Nick then brings Vail back to life and goes to live in the desert, dressed like a mummy, until Jekyll needs his help killing more monsters.
This is a shockingly inept film. I had heard pretty dreadful things about it, but it’s really amazing how many bad choices were made with this film. Now, I’ll say right now, I kind of had a blast with this movie. But it’s awful. It’s a nest of cliches, it’s poorly paced, the editing is all over the place, the tone vacillates wildly between scenes, the effects are largely lackluster, and the acting is less than stellar. And yet, there’s just enough stupid ideas and ridiculous aspects that kept me smiling most of the runtime. It legitimately feels like no two actors were in the same movie, some of them hamming it up like it was an Ed Wood film, some thought they were in a weird comedy, some in a horror movie, and others in a balls-to-the-wall action flick. And none of those tones or performances gel at all. Tom Cruise is putting in a truly mediocre performance in the film, remaining oddly flippant throughout. Jake Johnson is very out of place as the comedic relief, making things far goofier than it should be. Plus, seeing an actor who is most famous for playing a character named Nick yell at another character named Nick is rather odd. Annabelle Wallis was shockingly dull as Jenny the archaeologist, and really is instantly forgettable. I have absolutely no idea what Russel Crowe was doing as Jekyll/Hyde, but he was pretty entertaining at the very least. The only real strong performance came from Sofia Boutella, who is always terrific, and while Ahmanet wasn’t a particularly interesting character Boutella delivered a very creepy performance.
But the biggest sin of this film, and the thing that’s earned it the most mockery on the internet, is it’s slavish devotion to the idea of a shared universe. Now, I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe as much as anyone else, but it’s done some serious damage on Hollywood. Basically every other studio is seeing the money that’s being raked in by Disney and wants a part of that. However, as we’ve seen from the struggling success from the DCEU, it’s easier said than done. The MCU was built up over years, it took risks and they paid off. But no other attempt at a shared universe has had the patience that the MCU had. No, instead they’re all gunning for a universe from the beginning, and find that that’s basically impossible. The MCU was built by created interesting characters and engaging performances that made viewers want to see them together. But this Dark Universe had no interest in this. It took idea that people were familiar with, the Universal Monsters roster, and slapped them into a rushed universe. This movie literally stopped for about fifteen minutes, put its plot aside, and explained the premise of some future entry of the series. Dr. Jekyll comes marching into the film, dumps a metric ton of exposition on the viewers, and then unpauses the movie. And that sort of world-building, that lack of interest in plot is what dooms this film, and what will ultimately doom this series. These cinematic universes are really hard, and need to happen semi-naturally. We need to actually give a damn about the characters, and want to see them interact with each other. Instead films like the Mummy basically inform us that this is happening whether we like it or not, and insist that we’ll like it. Which is a very audacious called-shot, and one that certainly does not pay off here.
The Mummy was written by David Koepp, Chrisopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman, directed by Alex Kurtzman, and released by Universal Pictures, 2017.
Categories: Reel Talk