REVIEW — “The Mummy”
Universal’s shared universe of monster movies is off to a solid start with Tom Cruise starrer The Mummy.
In ancient Egypt, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), would-be heiress to the Pharaoh, commits heinous crimes to reclaim her stolen birthright — and the power that comes with it. Lusting for ultimate power, Ahmanet attempts to unleash Set, the Egyptian god of Death. With her loyal chosen one acting as a sacrificial tribute, Ahmanet nearly frees Set when she’s captured, mummified, and entombed, seemingly for eternity.
In present day Iraq, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Vail (Jake Johnson), soldiers who moonlight as raiders and thieves of ancient relics (it’s just “antiquing,” insists Nick), stumble upon Ahmanet’s long-forgotten prison. The discovery prompts the appearance of Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), archaeologist and spurned former lover of Nick’s. Valuing treasure above all else, Nick unearths Ahmanet’s sarcophagus, inadvertently cursing himself as Ahmanet’s new “chosen one.” Ahmanet’s wrath causes Nick’s death in a plane crash, only for the tomb raider to wake up — alive — in the morgue. Now plagued by ghastly visions only he can see and pursued by a revived Ahmanet, Nick and Jenny go in search of a pair of MacGuffins: an ancient blade and its accompanying stone that, when combined in sacrifice, have the power to resurrect Set — damning the world.
Directed by Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us) and scripted by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man), Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation), and Dylan Kussman (The Steps), from a story by Kurtzman and Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange) & Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married), The Mummy is a reboot of both Universal’s iconic 1932 The Mummy (starring Boris Karloff as the titular mummified monster) and its 1999 remake, the Brendan Fraser starrer The Mummy, though all three productions share little in the way of similarities outside of the name and heroes having to combat ancient Egyptian evils and curses.
2017’s The Mummy is the best of the trio, a CGI-fueled action adventure heavily inspired by the Indiana Jones franchise (co-writer Koepp provided the screenplay for the last Jones installment, 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Despite all of its advertised frights coming as cheap and predictable jump scares, The Mummy is darker, creepier, and more serious than any of the preceding trilogy of films, with a major standout being zombie mummies — mindless packs of the rotting undead, their lives literally sucked from their bodies, now ravenous foot soldiers for Ahmanet (and cannon fodder for Cruise, who makes action hero-ing look effortless). A healthy sense of humor never lets The Mummy take itself too seriously; call it a Marvel Studios wannabe, but even when half the humor doesn’t land, The Mummy is a hell of a lot of fun.
The first installment of Universal’s Dark Universe, a shared cinematic universe of blockbuster monster movies — all of Universal’s iconic monsters are planned for reboots, including Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and the Invisible Man — The Mummy largely manages to avoid the trap that trips up so many blockbusters taking place in shared universes: there’s not too much world-building — removing focus from the film and the characters at hand — and this premiere installment isn’t saddled with setting up a slate of a dozen movies, many of which may never come to pass. (Both The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice suffered from bloat and were bogged down by setups for spinoffs and future tie-ins, sequels, and payoffs. Kurtzman, who co-wrote The Amazing Spider-Man 2, mercifully avoids that trap with The Mummy.)
The Mummy is only guilty of shoehorned-in universe building by the inclusion of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who oversees the shadowy, monster-hunting organization Prodigium. It can’t resist teasing Jekyll’s monstrous transformations, making Jekyll feel displaced from another movie into this one (probably because he is). Crowe plays Jekyll well (as if there were any doubt) and I want to see more of him, but his inclusion and his character will leave the audience with one too many questions. It’s the only time The Mummy sidesteps into a setup detour, even if it does give us a mid-movie action scene, and the movie is at its strongest when it’s focused on the now — and not the future.
While it’s no Iron Man — the premiere Marvel Studios production that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe in spectacular fashion — The Mummy is an entertaining thrill ride, and readies steady ground to build a universe on. With an ending ripe for sequel and crossover potential — it’s wholly earned by the movie come time for credits — The Mummy left me excited for whatever it is Universal has in-store for their Dark Universe. It would be dipping too far into spoiler territory to say who (and what) I hope returns for future appearances, but the ending scenes tease an exciting future for Universal’s shared monster movie-verse. Bring on the monsters. (PS: Don’t stick around for any credits scenes — there aren’t any.)
Starring Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, and Russell Crowe, The Mummy opens Friday.
The Mummy: 3.5/5
★★★ ½ / ★ ★ ★ ★ ★