The problem isn’t the ingredients, but the overall final dish.
After the Brendan Fraser version of The Mummy became a surprise hit in 1999, Universal spent the better part of the next two decades trying to resurrect the rest of their stable of classic monsters. Unfortunately, Van Helsing (2004), The Wolfman (2010), and Dracula Untold (2014) all bombed with audiences and critics alike. So, apparently, the idea is start over yet again. This latest iteration of The Mummy is to be the first in a multi-movie series entitled Dark Universe which will eventually bring in everyone from The Frankenstein Monster to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Good luck with that.
It’s not that there’s anything blatantly wrong with The Mummy. It starts like any good mummy movie should, with a voice-over explaining what this particular bandaged menace did back in ancient Egypt to earn an eternal curse. This time around it’s Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who murders her entire family to gain magical powers and ensure herself the throne. She also intends to ritually sacrifice her lover so that his body can be possessed by Set, the Egyptian god of disorder and violence. The local priests don’t think that’s such a good idea, so they manage to mummify Ahmanet before she can complete the ritual, and seal her in a tomb for all eternity.
Right, like that ever works. Cut to modern day Iraq where capable but cowardly lunkhead Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) spends his time searching for treasure instead of reconnoitering the enemy forces like he’s supposed to. This being a mummy movie, it isn’t long before Nick, along with his best pal Chris (Jake Johnson) and his spurned lover, archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), stumble upon Ahmanet’s tomb and promptly ignore every warning in plain sight.
Once free, Ahmanet immediately resumes her plans to release Set upon the world, this time using Nick’s body as the god’s host. Fortunately, Jenny just happens to work for a super-secret monster fighting organization known as Prodigium, which is led by the one and only Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). With Prodigium at his back (and sometimes his throat), Nick searches for a way to defeat Ahmanet and her undead forces before ultimate evil can be unleashed upon the world.
Obviously, this Mummy takes its cue from the Brendan Fraser series rather than the Karloff led original. That’s understandable given the popularity of Fraser’s movies, but will perhaps come as a disappointment to those fans longing for a return to the more somber, expressionistic days of Universal’s golden age of monsters. Regardless, all the elements needed for a summer blockbuster are there on the screen. A title with a recognizable brand, a bankable marquee name in Cruise, and a set-up ripe for plenty of action scenes.
So, why doesn’t it quite work?
It’s not the actors. Cruise is Cruise, and he seems to be having fun playing against type as an avaricious a-hole who will leave a woman behind at the drop of a hat if it means saving his own skin. Russell Crowe is his usual dependable self, hamming it up nicely as both Jekyll and Hyde. And as for Boutella as the titular villain, she’s slimy when she needs to be slimy and slinky when she needs to be slinky. No problems there.
As for the story, it’s a mummy movie, so there’s no reason for it to be overly complicated. Even so, there is some clumsy conflating of religions as it is insinuated that Set might be Satan. That’s not problematic in and of itself. After all, the belief that demons would sometimes take advantage of the worship of non-existent pagan deities for their own purposes goes back to at least the middle ages. But if Set and Satan are one and the same in the Dark Universe, then the film’s conclusion doesn’t make a lot of sense. We’ll just have to see how things play out in later installments. Other than that, though, the story moves along fine.
No, the problem with The Mummy isn’t the ingredients, but the overall final dish. It’s one of those intangible instances where everything needed is there, but the end result just has no flavor. The attempts at humor, especially the bits lifted from An American Werewolf in London in which the corpse of Nick’s best friend keeps popping up to offer advice, don’t always elicit laughs. And the many action scenes, the noisiest so far this summer (at least until the next Transformers movie gets here), often end in shrugs rather than cheers or gasps. For whatever reason, The Mummy simply feels lifeless. Which, given its subject matter, is kind of ironic.