It’s been a busy month for movies so far and for the second weekend in a row we have a big budget franchise entry making its debut on the big screen in hopes of setting a much larger universe on the right track. Universal Pictures were hoping for a home run with the first installment in their Dark Universe, and while the first entry in the series, “The Mummy”, is certainly nothing to write home about, I’ll admit I’m one of the few reviewers who believe it to be a fun start to what Universal hopes will be a years-long cash grab of remakes of their monster classics.
“The Mummy” stars Tom Cruise as soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton who discovers the long-buried tomb of Princess Ahmanet, the titular mummy who is awakened and wreaks havoc on London as she seeks to claim her place in royalty while using Morton as a vessel for the rebirth of the Egyptian God Set who granted her immortality. Cruise is joined by Annabelle Wallis as his love interest and historian Jenny Halsey who works alongside Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, to track down and put an end to evil entities in a world of “gods and monsters”. As the Mummy draws closer to her ultimate goal, Nick Morton must come to terms with his past and his own humanity or suffer a fate worse than death.
First an foremost I do admit “The Mummy” is a bit of a mess in many places, but it’s not the hopeless disaster other reviewers seems to believe it to be. All the same, the film stars off on rocky ground and proceeds to take almost the entire first act to recover. Filled with choppy, and frankly repetitive, flashbacks and a seemingly endless supply of pure expositional dialogue, the first quarter of this film is a true, unabashed and forced introduction to the titular mummy and the plan she will try to see completed throughout the bulk of the story. It also contains some very forced character motivations and even more forced character building to establish the main players in this adventure. The whole thing is actually very over the top, from Cruise presenting his character Nick Morton as a clear questionable male chauvinist with a heart to Jake Johnson’s side character, Chris Vail, who serves as forced comic relief as Nick Morton’s ally throughout the movie. We even get a lovely exchange between Morton and Jenny Halsey about their romantic encounters that is a little too on the nose, as delightfully comedic as this experience turns out to be.
The film is also much less of a spectacle than it clearly hoped to be. Princess Ahmanet is established as a very real threat, and at one point takes the entire city of London down with a sandstorm, but for the most part the film is very one dimensional with the conflict at hand being relatively condensed to one city, one location, and one set of characters with no real large-scale consequences outside of the sandstorm giving us any reason to think the world itself was ever under siege from this ancient evil. The mummy is presented to have all this power and these great abilities, but uses them very conservatively which seems very out-of-place considering she is quickly established to be this no-holds-barred being of relentless anger and power.
Now so far I’ve bashed this movie pretty heavily, but when you get past its choppy start and one-dimensional plot it’s actually a pretty fun experience, that is if you let yourself enjoy it. What action there is is very satisfying and once you get passed the horrendous character introductions the acting work takes a step in the right direction. Princess Ahmanet proves is a truly intimidating character whose motivations are well defined and whose character is delved into pretty deeply, even if only by exposition. Sofia Boutella portrays the villainess and proves to be a smooth and stylish antagonist proving once again that Boutella can be a legitimate force as an actress.
Russell Crowe is also memorable as Dr. Jekyll, and his alter ego Mr. Hyde, who bucks the trope of most series mentors being more kind hearted. Dr. Jekyll comes off as a breath of fresh air as a scientist who understands, through experience, the struggles evil can create in a single human, let alone the world, and he will do anything, even kill one man, to save a thousand. Crowe proves to be a surprisingly good fit for the role, exuding confidence and ego while balancing it with a bit of understanding and experienced-based determination,
While Tom Cruise’s performance as Nick Morton has been heavily criticized, I have to say I actually enjoyed it once the film found its footing. Morton is a confused, comedic, and in some ways selfish character. He’s not the hero we would expect, and he’s just as dumfounded about his newfound fate as we are. He doesn’t understand why he is in the position he is in, which makes for a rather human performance as he begins to realize he is a cursed being forever tied to an ultimate evil thanks to his own stupid actions. This helps Morton become not only a relatable hero, but one who we see evolve as the film progresses.
I also want to give the film credit for doing a fantastic job at world building, considering it is the hopefully start to a much larger universe. The titular mummy is said to be the most ancient of monsters that Dr. Jekyll and his crew at the Prodigium have come across and throughout the movie’s second act we get great easter eggs to other beings in this universe, including the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dracula. We also get a peak at Dr. Jekyll’s famed alter ego Mr. Hyde, presenting the audience with the darker side of the lead mentor in the Dark Universe’s larger story, and possibly a villain if this turns out to become a superhero-style team up affair. It sets the stage for a larger universe that appears to be well thought out and has a lot to offer and I must admit I was excited to see what was hidden within the deeper layers of this action-adventure film.
I realize my opinion on this film seems a bit off compared to what other reviewers have offered, but I have to be honest in admitting that for all its flaws “The Mummy” was an enjoyable, if imperfect, viewing experience. While certainly not the best product it could be, and definitely not the best product of Tom Cruise’s illustrious career, “The Mummy” offers a bit of fun escapism that hints at a much larger universe that, frankly, is more exciting than the plot of this standalone adventure. As another very unpopular opinion I felt this film was far superior than any of the Brendan Frasier “Mummy” films and took the concept in an interesting direction that I personally enjoyed seeing play out on the big screen. Here’s hoping that this film doesn’t destroy the possibility for more to come from the Dark Universe because even though there is a lot to be desired here, this adaptation of the classic Egyptian monster tale could have been a whole lot worse.