The Mummy – the first entry in what Universal Pictures is calling Dark Universe – gives the new universe a pretty shaky start.
Despite Alex Kurtzman showing some skill at juggling character and plot arcs, and keeping things moving forward at a good pace, he can’t overcome the clunky script (six writers involved at story and script levels), lack of genuinely witty banter and a horrendous misuse of Tom Cruise.
In an effort to bring the audience up to speed, The Mummy opens with an awkward, clunky prologue that gives us the short version of how and why Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) came to be mummified alive and buried under a lake of mercury – in Mesopotamia.
It involves killing her family and trying to bring Set, the God of Death, to the mortal world.
In the present, in Iraq (formerly known as Mesopotamia), Sgt. Nick Morton (Cruise) and fellow soldier Chris Vail (Jake Johnson, New Girl, Safety Not Guaranteed) are about a hundred miles from where they should be, treasure hunting – when they stumble upon insurgents destroying the remains of a temple.
To save their lives, Vail calls in an air strike and, in the aftermath, the two discover an ancient, manmade cavern with a huge, sculpted screaming face.
Enter Colonel Greenaway (Courtney B. Vance, American Crime Story) and his men – and beautiful archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis, The Tudors, Peaky Blinders) who is investigating an Egyptian burial that shouldn’t exist.
Long story short, they learn that the cavern isn’t a tomb, but a prison – and when a huge sandstorm threatens, Halsey makes sure the sarcophagus in the cavern (creepy, Giger-like design) flies back to England with them.
An unfortunate happenstance finds two parts of a sacred dagger in England (one buried in a just revealed Crusaders’ tomb. Soon Nick finds himself in the super-secret headquarters of Prodigium, an organization headed by Dr. Henry Jekyll (yup, that Dr. Jekyll – played by Russell Crowe as a kind of dramatic version of the Austin Powers movies’ Basil Exposition).
In between Iraq and Prodigium, though, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond) has gotten inside Nick’s head – and claimed him as her Chosen (chosen to provide the body for Set on Earth).
So, here’s the deal: The Mummy looks pretty good; moves pretty well and almost makes me want to see more of Universal’s Dark Universe – in spite of its flaws.
I’m so glad you asked.
First off, the story of Princess Ahmanet could have been unfolded over the first two thirds of the film instead of being awkwardly presented as prologue. Then, except for a couple of moments of weak banter when we meet our treasure-hunting soldiers (which work because of Johnson, more than Cruise), there’s virtually no place for Cruise to really turn on his charm (and let’s face it, he may be a good actor, but when he gets to exercise that charm, he’s occasionally brilliant).
Wallis, sadly, is there mostly as a pretty face and to reassure Nick that he’s ‘a good man.’ Wallis gives her some brass, but she really hasn’t got a lot to work with.
Then there’s Dr. Jekyll and Prodigium – although they are the unifying thread of the Dark Universe, they don’t really have anything to do with the story except for some exposition and setting up the universe.
What takes Universal a large chunk of The Mummy to set up, Marvel did with a two-minute tag at the end of Iron Man. The only really clever bits in the Prodigium arc are the way that it handles the Jekyll/Hyde relationship, and an Easter egg shout out to The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Where The Mummy doesn’t fail is with Ahmanet – mostly because of Boutella.
In the prologue – as clunky as it is – she gives the princess some soul. When the mummified Ahmanet comes back to life, I’d be willing to bet that its bizarre, spider-like movement was either motion captured or rotoscoped with her performing.
Given the sketchiness of all the characters, development-wise, Ahmanet is also the most developed character in the film and Boutella carries her off really well.
The final nail in the coffin, though, is that when Boutella is not onscreen, The Mummy is boring (I finished my drink twenty minutes before the credits began to roll).
And speaking of the end credits (which are looonnnng), there is no tag at the end, so if you want to leave after you’ve seen the cast list, feel free.
Final Grade: C-