“Utterly devoid of soul,” Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) notifies protagonist Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) as to what will become of the person that the titular creature has cursed. Soulless is also an applicable description for The Mummy, the inaugural entry of Universal’s Dark Universe, though not due to inactivity – noises and effects are bounteous here – but rather the inability to offer a straight answer for “What kind of film are you?”
Prior to meeting the doctor, which is at the halfway point, The Mummy exerts a firm hold on “adventure with horror.” After a chilling sequence detailing how the jealousy of one Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) leads her to a wrapped demise (and the first occasion where the Algerian actress exhibits her scene-stealing ability), the film switches to thoroughly cheeky antiquities retriever Nick and his gratingly over-cautious pal, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), eyeing a treasure cache in the middle of a war-torn desert village. A touch of current headlines abounds when the caption “Mesopotamia – The Cradle of Civilization” changes to “Currently Known as Iraq” right as bullets from insurgents’ guns defile a ruin near the guys’ final destination.
A dash, skirmish, an airstrike and one downed building later – all practically done – unearths an underground structure supervised by an imposing face of something sphinx-esque. As the inert archaeologist and Nick’s one night stand-ee Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) later deduces, what Nick and Chris have found isn’t a tomb but Ahmanet’s mercurial prison. Now recall the trailers for the grisly (and, again, practical) happenings after she gets one army-plane ticket to London.
Comparisons to a now-aged-18 The Mummy (1999) shouldn’t be made here for the sake of a fair viewing experience, but director Alex Kurtzman continually looks to it for reference. A resting place disturbed due to gunfire, a roguish hero – scholarly beauty – goofball sidekick trio, and a mummy bent on completing an interrupted ritual in the name of love – these are similarities that David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie & Dylan Kussman weave a narrative out of and hope they will sneak by through the bustle concocted by Kurtzman’s light-speed pacing or spectacle-on-spectacle filmmaking. The approach backfires, from both the standpoints of a solo film and starter of a cinematic universe. There are so many areas where The Mummy could add value to its own footing, chiefly the hunter-hunted trope’s gender reversal and commitment to in-camera effects, but the favouring of one creatively bereft cause deprives the notion from receiving proper attention.
As the film progresses, there is more concern with planting future seeds rather than reflecting on what is happening. In a reproduction of Batman v Superman’s (2016) worst flaw – developing the Justice League and delaying the gladiator match – The Mummy evicts its namesake from the spotlight to introduce the Dark Universe’s convergence point, Jekyll and his research hub The Prodigium. Remains of Dracula (maybe The Wolfman?) and Creature from the Black Lagoon all receive a dedicated shot, each entertaining the possibility of being in full form someday down the line. Sigh. Whereas time would be well-spent on Boutella and her lethal persona, Nick v Mr. Hyde eats up more frames and more choreography; their brutish athleticism courts yawns rather than surprises like whenever Ahmanet gives life to the dead by, well, snogging.
If it’s any consolation, Kurtzman’s hasty style makes the period where the film divorces its premise more tolerable. However, it afterward falls into an arguably deeper hole: The Mummy thinks that its frame can hold more than pulp and, thus, has space for a lecture on the good-evil dichotomy. While an ever-changing trait suggests Kurtzman and crew regularly bring a charge to the film and, by extension, Universal’s vision, not one component in this one film is completely realised, including being an adventure film, a creature feature, a laugh-filled dread trip, a consistent blend of all, and an awareness of purpose. Ahmanet, since her moment of “death,” knows what to do with a half-fulfilled destiny if resurrected; her film is torn between telling the story she is headlining and the one where she is part of an unnatural ensemble.
At least the Book of Amun-Ra has a cameo. Might have been a “just for fun” inclusion, but after watching this film it could absolutely be interpreted as a reminder to re-watch 1999’s The Mummy. Forget the sequels, though.
The Mummy is released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland tomorrow.