Already lambasted, dismissed and wiped under the nether regions by pretty much every critic with access to a keyboard, ‘The Mummy’ actually isn’t that bad under the right set of expectations (i.e. low ones). Sure, this monster movie universe pilot, Brendan Fraser remake, and excuse for Tom to cruise is daft, convoluted, idiotic and pointless, but it’s also never boring. In the summer movie season, this quality matters above all others.
The movie begins about three times, so I’ll stick with generalities. Essentially, Tom Cruise plays a very Tom Cruise-style (cocky, ballsy, ready to learn a lesson, etc.) adventurer/thief. His Nick Morton has been bouncing around ancient ruins and stealing treasures for years. Unfortunately, this time Nick and his buddy (Jake Johnson) stumble into trouble. They’ve found the tomb of an evil ancient Egyptian (Sofia Boutella) who was mummified alive for being a big ol’ jerk and is now a spirit waiting to be released. (Well, it’s more complicated than that, but doesn’t make any more sense.) Nick is dumb and lets her loose, so the evil mummy focuses her energies on partnering up with him for some sort of world domination plot or whatever. The important thing is that the pair are bound together now and that’s bad. Good news, though: Nick also meets a lovely lady (Annabelle Wallis) who introduces him to Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Jekyll runs an international monster hunting crew or something. So he’s gonna help out Nicky and maybe set up a whole Universal monster mash universe in the process. Sounds about right.
The film’s script is credited to the writers behind ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘The Usual Suspects’, ‘Alias’ and more, yet feels like none of them have ever told a story before. It’s more of a series of incidents vaguely pulled from previous renditions of Universal’s mummy franchise, along with a collection of pointless MacGuffins, and some decent world-building baked in. The story is easy to follow, but hard to make sense of. You can almost see the different colored pages of the endlessly rewritten script on the screen and that gets irritating.
However, this is a big expensive summer movie that we’re talking about, one that’s supposed to kick off a tentpole franchise no less. This sort of overcooked and over-authored writing is to be expected. The good news is that the movie has a handful of clever ideas that relate to the larger universe at hand. More importantly, it’s more than willing to be hokey. Director/co-writer Alex Kurtzman is at least aware he’s making goofy hogwash and doesn’t try to hide behind faux gravitas or needless pretentions. He lets the stupid flow and has fun.
And what wondrously stupid delights there are. Cruise fends of mummified zombies underwater and while driving a truck (sadly not simultaneously, gotta save something for the sequel). There’s a spectacular plane crash with gloriously silly 3D gags. Crowe gets to Hulk-out (or Hyde-out in a non-spoiler spoiler) and is a body-slamming Cockney delight. An iconic ‘An American Werewolf in London’ recurring gag gets a decent reprise. Despite all the endless mounds of exposition flung at the screen, the film rarely slows down, especially not for narrative clarity or logic. The tone, pitched somewhere between a rollercoaster blockbuster and Gothic horror, is damned amusing, far better than in the colossal wasted opportunity that was 2004’s ‘Van Helsing’.
The big problems are that of franchise-kickstarting storytelling glut, the fatigue facing Tom Cruise’s persona in general, and the fact that the Universal brass chose the weakest mythology of all the classic monsters to hinge this story around. Although the original Boris Karloff mummy is iconic, it’s also easily the worst of the original Universal monster movies. The Brendan Fraser remake owes much more of its success to the elements stolen from Indiana Jones than those taken from its namesake. This was a poor place to start a cinematic universe. The title monster might actually be the weakest part of this massive monster movie, even though the writers do have a pretty great twist in mind to end it all. That’s not good, but thankfully the dumb fun rarely slows down long enough for boredom.
What we have in ‘The Mummy’ is a deeply mediocre Tom Cruise movie with a helplessly convoluted script but enough entertaining set-pieces to somehow breeze by in a satisfyingly stupid manner. There’s a decent setup for a monster movie action franchise buried within a story that wasn’t worth telling. Whether that franchise actually rights its course and develops into something worth watching remains to be seen. There’s a damn good chance that this flick won’t make enough money to justify another one, never mind the 87 sequels that the studio has planned. Still, somehow I walked out of ‘The Mummy’ more excited for the so-called Dark Universe than ever before while still feeling let down by the first chapter. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but at least this is better than ‘Dracula Untold’, any ‘Transformers’ movie, or ‘Jack Reacher’. That’s a baby step in the right direction for the star, studio, and franchise. It could have been worse. It should have been worse. But it still ain’t great.