The Mummy review

Hubris, thy name is The Mummy.

What other word describes a film that kicks off a presumed franchise in the vein of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in spite of not gauging whether or not audiences want such a franchise? The ingredients for a compelling single movie exist within The Mummy, yet they never cohere into a genuinely exciting adventure. The pieces are here, but director Alex Kurtzman isn’t able to put them together; he’s too busy trying to make the so-called Dark Universe worth the effort.

Tom Cruise plays Army sergeant/soldier of fortune Nick Morton, who inadvertently stumbles upon the tomb of Egyptian princess-turned-mummy Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) underneath an Iraqi village. Though Nick explores the tomb with his cohort Chris (Jake Johnson) and a comely archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis), Ahmanet’s undead form gloms onto him as the new human vessel for Set, the god of death. Nick is thus forced to extremes to fend off Ahmanet and the curse she places upon him, eventually joining an unstable alliance with the head of a mysterious organization hell-bent on controlling and destroying evil forces.

Perhaps the most predictable part of The Mummy occurs during the end credits, where six writers get story or script credit. (Kurtzman, along with Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumet get story credit, the latter with her first writing credit since Rachel Getting Married. David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman receive script credit.) Some of these are very talented scribes, but it’s easy to imagine that each of them was brought into the project for specific scenes or subplots. Leaving aside the multitude of writers, The Mummy feels like six different films. There’s the Indiana Jones-style thrill ride, with Cruise and Johnson as a snarky duo of treasure hunters; there’s the Avengers-style franchise-building, personified by Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll (of course), the leader of Prodigium, the organization trying to stop Ahmanet from world domination; there’s the horror-movie-esque battle for Nick’s soul. And so on. To handle all of this in 107 minutes is a challenge the film cannot achieve. It’s a mess.

Cruise, as usual, is a fierce and intense presence here, though his penchant for doing his own stunts doesn’t lead to as many remarkable setpieces as in the Mission: Impossible films. The highlight for fans of his stuntwork is a sequence where a military plane spins out of control and crashes in England. Ironically, the scene is executed so well that it makes for astonishingly uncomfortable viewing. The action scenes are, in general, unremarkable; much of the film’s final two-thirds are set in such literally dark places as to be colorless (especially in 3D).

Cruise, for all his action prowess, stumbles hard when it comes to portraying Nick’s roguish nature with women, from an early joke about his stamina in bed to a late invocation of the old standby “It’s not you, it’s me.” Watching him fight off a CGI mummy is believable enough; flirtatious banter is something else. Though the way the script handles its female characters is equally rough, especially coming on the heels of the delightful Wonder Woman. It doesn’t help that Wallis is saddled with dialogue like “You know how I work with a group of archaeologists, right?” Of the male characters, only Johnson comes out unscathed, bringing the same raffish goofiness to the role that he does on New Girl.

Largely, The Mummy is much less invested in Nick’s story than it is in Universal Pictures getting the Dark Universe franchise off the ground. It’s likely why the film doesn’t open with Nick, but Crowe delivering some exposition-heavy narration about Ahmanet. This, in spite of the fact that the Ahmanet-focused flashback could easily have been held until the moment, roughly an hour into the film, where Nick and Jekyll first meet in person. (It’s always a good sign when a movie flashes back to moments that occurred on screen 30-45 minutes earlier. That happens a lot here. A lot.) Much of the second half of the film takes place in and around Prodigium, and Crowe takes center stage in a performance that at least suggests he’s aware of how cheesy this material is. His looseness can’t save scenes like the one where Nick faces off with Jekyll’s alter ego, but it’s better than nothing.

That is, in effect, as good as it gets for The Mummy: it’s better than nothing. If Universal has its way, of course, The Mummy will be the first of many movies in the Dark Universe, so they can only improve, or so you would hope. This film wants to be many things: an adventure, a horror film, a romance, an actioner, etc. It’s fitting for the beginning of a franchise that wants to be all of those things too, but maybe, just maybe, The Mummy and Universal Pictures should’ve focused on doing one thing well, instead of doing five things poorly.

/Film Rating: 4/10

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About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.