(Yet) Another Cinematic Universe
A Film Review of The Mummy
Ask Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. Cinematic universes are big businesses these days, and if any major studio can secure the rights to produce a series of interwoven narratives featuring larger than life icons of fiction, you pull that trigger. Thus, Universal has gotten into the act with a reboot of The Mummy, the first of a series of Dark Universe films featuring “fresh” takes on classic movie monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. This sounds great on paper. As a fan of classic cinema, I’d love to see a modern revival of old school horror films that placed an emphasis on fear and suspense rather than jump scares and camp. Unfortunately, the global audience knew that this Mummy redux was going to have precious little to do with horror, suspense or anything resembling “the scary” because Tom Cruise is the leading man. He doesn’t “do” horror and there is minimal threat of his character being killed (although it HAS happened) in any film, but especially action films.
Make no mistake, The Mummy is an undeniable action film and for director Alex Kurtzman or Tom Cruise to get on the promotional circuit and bill this film as anything but, is disingenuous at best. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this genre mash-up as the Brendan Frasier Mummy trilogy was fairly successful in its substitution of “scares” with “action” via visual effects, spectacle and set pieces. Tom Cruise’s Mummy film follows suit well enough to the extent that this film’s pacing allows. Once the action really gets going, this movie starts generating the kind of exciting, emotional momentum that is reminiscent of a Mission Impossible film. This represents The Mummy’s only true strength as a form of entertainment.
The real problem is that the action isn’t the solitary, driving force of this film: establishing the “global effort to identify, contain and expel evil forces” situation gets in the way. This movie staggers every action sequence with dialogue heavy exposition scenes vital to understanding the rules of this world. This also breaks up all the exciting rhythm in the process. It is a bit confusing not just in terms of pacing, but in the basics of information sharing. While the dialogue and exposition do an adequate job at explaining the back story of the Mummy, it does a poor job developing characters and circumstances in the moment to moment of what the audience is seeing right now. We understand there’s a monster up to no good, so we have to run away and then we fight and then we jump out of planes, but how and why did we get from this scene to that scene right here and now? Two different films with two different agendas have been crammed into one with the hope that Tom Cruise’s shear presence will make it all go. That might work for Ethan Hunt, but not so much for Nick … did he even have a last name?
It remains to be seen how committed Universal is to this Dark Universe which would require follow up appearances from Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, etc. I wouldn’t be certain that anyone from this cast would be interested in reprisals when this first installment, as the foundation, is shaky at best. The connections to a larger, fictional universe where other amazing things happen and terrible creatures exist have to be nuanced if one is trying to sell an audience on the drama of one danger; in this case The Mummy. Since this film wants to do both things at once, the significance of the danger in the right here and now is instantly diminished and the cinematic adventure as a whole loses its teeth.
We have a short sequence in the beginning which makes this look like a military shooter which then transitions to something more along the lines of zombie survivor in terms of combat. Combined with a healthy amount of running and stunts, there’s a better than average variety of action on display here.
Standard fare action adventure camera work with the added exception of the airplane sequence which we’ve all tasted through trailers.
Tom Cruise plays Tom Cruise in yet another Tom Cruise film which is exactly what you think. His performance isn’t bad, but it is predictable. Sofia Boutella as the antagonist Ahmanet provides a textbook performance of a femme fatale that is no darker or sexier than any that has been seen before.
I didn’t understand if Jake Johnson’s performance as the funny sidekick was appropriate for this film, but since it wasn’t that dark in the first place, a few light laughs couldn’t hurt. Annabelle Wallis is a relative newcomer I remember from Peaky Blinders (good show, btw) who is an adequate love interest with a tendency of breaking her English accent frequently for some reason. Russell Crowe has won his Academy Award, now he’s just chasing paychecks.
A better film would have yielded more memorable moments for music to enhance, which would in turn, make the music more memorable. The original music doesn’t take anything away from scenes, but it certainly does not stand apart.
Any film that features a strong, supernatural aspect to it affords the sound effects department to really go wild, so long as the rest of the Foley track is clean and on point. The latter is certainly true, but I would dare say the previous Mummy franchise was much more creative with its sound effects.
“Moving” = 18/33
The visual effects and CGI is solid all around, but I have to give 2 big point deductions for shamelessly ripping off the exact same concepts from 18 years ago: Mummy life-sucking and the giant face in a cloud of (glass) sand to hunt the heroes.
I do believe the only thing more enjoyable than watching the airplane sequence would be participating in it while it was being filmed. There are several more examples of practical effects in stunts and combat to have the official Tom Cruise seal of practical effect approval.
Typical tactical clothing for our heroes with effective period ensembles of ancient Egypt. I honestly didn’t care very much for the Mummy’s costume, nor did I care for the ancient rags of her resurrected minions. All of these costumes looked like they were picked up at a Halloween store’s clearance bin.
Hair & Makeup
Our heroes look beautiful, but also a bit immune to damage of any variety. Half rotten zombies have the right amount of fleshy-ness to them and I really liked the ancient writing all over the Mummy’s skin.
Beautiful, varied and effective in every scene that features them. Location shoots in and around the South Africa area paid off.
Actually quite disappointing in how plain the interiors are throughout. Ostensibly, Russell Crowe’s character represents an organization akin to what Hellboy was associated with. Those production designers could teach these folks a thing or two about designing and dressing a set.
“Picture” = 23/33
Military rogues pull an Indiana Jones and knowingly free an ancient evil without understanding it. Why is it that fictional characters don’t realize how obviously bad, certain bad ideas are? Oh yes, it’s a horror trope in a non-horror film, never mind.
The Mummy may have been naughty as a human back in the day, but she is evil because she wants to do something today she was stopped from doing when she was alive. Yet, that certain something was never actually identified as evil per say and when it kind of actually happens anyway, did anyone need to go on this journey in the first place?
If by “resolution” one requires the end of hostilities, then yes, this film resolves quite well. If one requires surprising or satisfying, you might get one, but certainly not the other. Also, there’s way too much left up in the air without explanation or supposition that building a cinematic universe off of this slippery slope will require the next film to sacrifice major screen time to settling affairs here.
Dialogue attempts to develop character, but splits major time relaying information to and from the main characters and when vital information is being discussed; it is incomplete and unnecessarily cryptic. I didn’t buy any of the camaraderie amongst any of the characters, but the Mummy herself did have a few interesting things to say.
Decent for explaining what The Mummy’s history is all about, but gives the audience absolutely nothing regarding the conflict, the circumstances and the characters not named Ahmanet.
Tom Cruise doesn’t play many characters outside of the boyishly handsome leading man who men want to be and women want to be with (aside from Tropic Thunder’s Les Grossman – pure genius). Everyone else is simply playing a character type, and not a character they’ve made their own.
Nope. There is no level of relation to any of these characters because there is no understanding to what any of them do.
“Story” = 9/34
Overall MPS Rating: 50/100
The Mummy is a film that is as average as Hollywood, blockbuster filmmaking can produce; the creation of which can only be attributed to the association with Mr. Tom Cruise. Without him, this film doesn’t even get placed on the table of some studio executive’s script reading, laundry delivering, assistant to even consider for production. We’ve all probably seen worse movies than this, but there’s no way this product could and should be recommended to anyone when there are simply better options for viewing pleasure at the theatres right now. Only the most extreme Tom Cruise fans will be drawn to this production, otherwise, wrap this one up tight and bury it deep in the memory banks of oblivion.