Directed by Alex Kurtzman
As a fan of the original Universal Monsters (I mean the ones from the 30s and 40s) as well as their flashier reboots throughout the 00s (well, The Mummy starring Brendan Frasier anyway, and I didn’t hate The Wolfman), I was really looking forward to The Mummy. I like Tom Cruise as an action-adventure guy, and director Alex Kurtzman usually comes through since he is a geek and lover of horror. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything based on ancient Egyptian ceremony and myth.
This is the first in a slate of films set in a shared universe of swashbuckling horror films based on Universal’s classic monster characters (including The Bride of Frankenstein coming next year from director Bill Condon – you may recall, he directed 1998’s glorious Gods and Monsters). So, it was with great expectations that I donned my 3D glasses, settled into my IMAX theater seat, and entered the Dark Universe.
The cold open, a dark, foreboding montage setting up the curse of the mummified Princess Ahmanet (Boutella), is stylish, slick, and even stirs some suspense and a bit of romance. Then – bam! – here we are plunked in modern times, as a cache of caskets is found in the London Underground. Seems some Crusaders from the Dark Ages have been lying about, undiscovered, for centuries. Clear across the globe, another tomb, that of the menacing Mummy herself, has also been unearthed.
Cruise plays Nick Morton, a swashbuckling soldier of fortune with questionable morals. He’s a bit of a rake, too, as he steals a treasure map belonging to pulchritudinous archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Wallis) shortly after bedding her, then nearly beats her to prize. All Morton sees is the jewels and gold on the long-buried sarcophagus, while Jenny wants to study the long-lost mummy inside. Thus begins their battle of wile and wit.
Along for the wild ride is Nick’s long-suffering sidekick, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), and at their heels is Dr. Henry Jekyll (Crowe). Everyone is in danger of death – and worse – when Princess Ahmanet wakes up and realizes she’s been plundered. The Mummy isn’t the only monster; we’ve also got hordes of undead, a bothersome ghost, and of course, Dr. Jekyll’s furry flipside, Mr. Hyde.
Those are the players. The playing field stretches from Iraq to the UK and even above and below ground. In fact, some of the most impressive sequences include a harrowing plane crash and an escape through an underwater kingdom. The look of the Dark Universe is well-wrought. I was especially dazzled by Dr. Jekyll’s lair/lab, in which he studies the creatures of the night. Here, we geeks get peeks at possibilities to come: a creature’s flipper and a vampire’s skull in glass specimen jars.
The action sequences are beyond reproach. Though we’ve all seen Cruise’s signature sprint-and-tumble and we’ve all heard his deadpan 90s throwback one-liners, more of the same is fine. Wallis, while lacking the fire of, say, Rachel Weitz in the first Mummy reboot, offers up cool blonde beauty while still being believably brainy. Crowe chomps the considerable scenery, and it’s appropriate enough in the context.
My favorite character and actor in the film is Boutella as Ahmanet. She goes above and beyond the confines of the screenplay, embodying evil and seething rage with gorgeous villainy. She’s got a lot of screen presence, which helps when there is so much competing for our eyeballs. Speaking of which, she’s got the double-iris thing going on, but it’s not nearly as eerie as it was last year in “The Exorcist” TV series. Another nod, riff (or rip-off) is the undead version of simpering sidekick Vail, who decomposes and pops in and out too much the same as Griffin Dunne’s Goodman in An American Werewolf in London. Unfortunately for us, Johnson is an insufferably annoying actor playing a paper-thin character who is given the weakest dialogue imaginable. He’s not funny or entertaining as living and breathing Vail, and he’s even less so when resurrected and rotting.
The Mummy is overall a fun movie, doing what it says it’s going to do: mildly entertain. But in the end, it’s just “the meh-my.”