The Mummy is the first movie in the “Dark Universe,” a planned series of films that will intertwine the ghoulish tales of the classic Universal Monsters. But it contains zero scares and is devoid of any sense of fun. What it does have is whole lot of Tom Cruise, and a Mummy whose motivation feels very, very problematic.
Cruise is a movie star for a reason. Given the right material, he can be entertaining as hell — even when he’s not playing a particularly charming character, as seen in films like Edge of Tomorrow. In Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy, Cruise’s Nick Morton is presented as deliberately unlikable from the start; when first we meet him, he’s shirking his military duties in Iraq with the intention of pillaging ancient treasures from a village overrun by insurgents. After an energetic gun battle, Nick’s glib partner-in-looting, Vail (Jake Johnson, saddled with the thankless role of comic relief in a consistently unfunny movie), calls in an air strike to save their butts, and the resulting bomb opens up a tomb which contains you-know-who.
As if Nick weren’t already looking like the worst guy in the desert — lying point-blank to his superior officer about his intentions in the village — we learn that he’s been guided there by a map stolen from archaeologist Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) after they had a one-night stand in Baghdad. Then, after the trio descends into the tomb, which is very clearly the final resting place of something intensely evil, capable of wielding curses and probably the apocalypse, Nick shoots the chain that’s holding the sarcophagus in place, thus unleashing the Dark Universe’s first monster.
Nick sucks, and even though The Mummy realises this, it also hopes that we still root for him (presumably because he’s Tom Cruise) against the film’s outright villain, Ahmanet the Mummy (Sofia Boutella). Ahmanet declares Nick to be “my chosen,” a.k.a. the earthly vessel that will allow her to bring Set, the Egyptian god of death, to life. This enables Nick to miraculously survive a terrible plane crash (which occurs when a United States military jet goes down while, uh, smuggling a priceless artefact out of Iraq), but it also means he’s plagued with sinister visions that hint at his apparently inevitable fate.
Fortunately or not, we don’t need to rely on Nick’s visions to understand what’s going on, because The Mummy begins with a boatload of exposition recounting Ahmanet’s history, including why an Egyptian princess is buried in what’s now Iraq. (Basically, she was so vile in life that she was banished after death.) The movie makes it abundantly clear that she’s ruthless and will do absolutely anything to rule; less clear, however, is why this version of the Mummy was written (by the film’s six credited story and screenplay authors, which include Kurtzman) to be so intertwined with Set. In the film, it’s explained that she’s made a pact with what is essentially the devil, who hates humankind as much as she does; he gives her powers when she agrees to find him a man-husk to inhabit. Okay, a deal’s a deal.
However, this plot point means Ahmanet spends the entire movie chasing after Nick — when she’s not restoring herself by sucking the life out of every male who crosses her path, that is. Yes. She is a literal man-eater. What is the point, exactly, of having the Mummy be a woman if she requires a man to make her powers complete? “I will be your queen,” she promises Nick. But... why can’t she be a powerful, wicked, awesomely destructive monster who also just happens to be female?
There are other problems with The Mummy, including the fact that the top-secret stronghold of Prodigium — the organisation run by the tweedy Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) that’s touted as a place designed to capture, study, and neutralise evil — seems very ill-equipped to deal with the very thing it’s obsessed with, if not outright dumb. For one thing, why would you chain the Mummy right next to the sacred dagger she needs to complete her dastardly plan? At least lock it up out of sight somewhere. Throw a little difficulty in there. On the other end of the spectrum — we all get why Jekyll is fixated on finding a cure for evil, but why are his apparently frequent injections, designed to keep Mr. Hyde at bay so needlessly complicated to administer? Could it be for the patently obvious reason that the movie wants at least one fumble, so Crowe can transform into a baddie for a few minutes?
Beyond that, there’s also the fact that The Mummy is very invested in the pairing of Nick and Prodigium’s resident archaeologist Jenny—which feels unearned and unbelievable, though it becomes a highly crucial part of the climax—and is very, very invested in making sure we know this is the first movie in an ever-expanding Dark Universe. The door is left wide open for Nick to return in future movies (yippee), and it goes without saying that Jekyll’s Prodigium will play an obvious part in everything going forward. Too bad Jenny is the only other Prodigium employee we meet, and she’s boring as hell. Beyond that, we don’t get much information on its history, how it operates, or much of anything that makes us care about its mission or further role in the Dark Universe.
I will say, however, that The Mummy — which at least has some nifty CG effects in its corner — does see fit to include a scene featuring zombie Templar Knights flailing around underwater, so that’s one thing to look forward to. There’s also a moment when Tom Cruise is pinned down by a swarm of rats, which offers a certain degree of satisfaction. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a movie with a superpowered female lead who kicks ass with aplomb, I’ve got five words for you: Go see Wonder Woman again.
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