The Mummy (Alex Kurtzman, 2017) ½ star out of 4.
There have certainly been worse films than The Mummy to come out of the Hollywood system, yet even in a year that saw the release of the dismal The Fate of the Furious, Tom Cruise’s latest action vehicle stands apart in its grotesque combination of derivative plot and mercenary motivation. Directed by Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us) from a screenplay – such as it is – by multiple writers, including David Koepp (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow), The Mummy is meant to launch a new franchise for parent company Universal Pictures, entitled the “Dark Universe,” where we will revisit the classic monster characters that Universal debuted in the 1930s, one by one. Tentpoles (those franchises that prop up a studio’s fortunes) rule the cinemaverse today, so who can begrudge Universal one of its own. Still, does it have to be as cynical and dispiriting as this?
Pretending as if the 1999 movie of the same name never happened (a wise choice, since that film actually entertained), Kurtzman and company start their story in 1127 A.D., during the Crusades, when Egyptian and Middle-Eastern artifacts were first brought back to Europe. They then leap forward to our present, where we briefly meet a mysterious Russell Crowe (The Nice Guys) at the newly unearthed tombs of those same Crusaders, before jumping over to Iraq (formerly known as Mesopotamia) to join forces with Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) and his sidekick Jake Johnson (Jurassic World) as they prepare to launch a full-scale firefight for the sole purpose of stealing treasure (a perfect metaphor for this film). Before we get there, however, we listen to Crowe narrate, in voiceover, a history of an ancient Egyptian princess, Ahmanet, who, back in her day, made a deal for eternal life with the god of death, Set, before being disarmed and embalmed as a living mummy, buried far away from her homeland … in Mesopotamia. So here we are, and we quickly guess that the selfish motivations of Cruise and friend will lead to much death and destruction. Indeed.
It is very hard, at any point, to feel an ounce of sympathy for Cruise’s character. So many people perish and suffer as a result of an act of pure greed that no amount of later redemption can make him palatable. As much as I now view one of my favorite childhood films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, through the prism of an adult understanding of the legacy of colonial imperialism, I appreciate that the main character’s actions are in ostensible service of the greater good. Not so here, where it’s all about money, though that doesn’t stop the filmmakers from cribbing liberally from that earlier film. Other clear cinematic thefts come from An American Werewolf in London, where a dead friend similarly haunts the hero; every Japanese horror film of the past two decades, featuring those lurching, twisted bodies; and Interview with a Vampire, which also starred Cruise, referenced here at the end when today’s Cruise, now bearing the weight of the world, lurks in the shadows as a haunted soul. There are more. The worst sin however, is not even the lack of originality, but the complete and utter dullness of the affair. Who’s your Mummy now? I don’t care.
Thank God (or Set) for Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond), who plays Ahmanet. She brings an intensity to her performance as the enraged title character that enlivens every scene with her in it. Too bad that she is digitally disfigured for much of the narrative, her skin slowly rejuvenating with each soul she sucks from a victim. Crowe is also fun, but the usually reliable Cruise – now beginning to show enough age in his face that it is deeply problematic to see him as a seductor of much younger women – has trouble shining even with his usual movie-star charisma. Poor Annabelle Wallis (Annabelle), as an archaeologist (and that younger woman) struggling to contain the chaos, fares the worst of all, though that is largely a function of the non-existent script. The topper for me is the ending, however, which blatantly states everyone’s intentions to make a sequel, and more. Really? I, for one, have already had enough.