Having a cinematic universe is the latest fad in Hollywood. Apparently, a studio isn’t relevant unless they have a full “universe” of films slated for the upcoming decade(s). It’s incredibly pretentious to lay claim to a full universe with the first film that exists within it, and yet, that’s exactly what Universal does in the opening seconds of “The Mummy.” An ominous title card reveals that we are watching a part of the “DARK UNIVERSE” Ooh, this should be good…but, is it?
Since the relative success of “Van Helsing” and the Brendan Fraser Mummy series, Universal has been trying to resurrect what was at one time their most popular IP, the Classic Universal Monsters. Each attempt has been a misfire, in large part due to their over-serious nature. Joe Johnston’s 2010 “The Wolfman” is a perfect example of the source material being taken too seriously to the detriment of creating an enjoyable movie. This latest retelling of “The Mummy” has issues, but being too serious is certainly not one of them.
The film starts out with a handful of clunky, but good looking, flashbacks. The exposition goes a mile a minute doing it’s best to quickly explain why there are Egyptian artifacts in a Templar tomb beneath London, and a secret Egyptian tomb in Iraq (1,000 away from Egypt) We then suddenly find ourselves atop massive sand dunes with Nick(Tom Cruise) and Chris(Jake Johnson), two military scouts who dabble in tomb raiding. They somewhat inadvertently discover the resting place of the mummy herself, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). She’s been gifted with immortality by the Egyptian god of death, Set, but apparently, needs to suck the souls of mortals to re-moisturize her body. (2000 years in the desert can be hell on your skin) Through methods that aren’t fully understood, Nick becomes her “Chosen,” a nice name for the eventual flesh and blood vessel for Set to inhabit. Being the Chosen does have some perks which includes instant immortality (though you still feel pain) and the promise of potential sex with Ahmanet. At the beginning of the film, this last offer doesn’t sound very appealing, but by the final act we can understand Nick’s moments of contemplation. It’s reminiscent of Jack Benny’s old mugging gag. Thief: “I said your money or your life!” Jack Benny: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!”
The rest of the plot is rather inconsequential, as the best parts shouldn’t be spoiled, and the rest is just padding. A lot of complaints have been leveled at the lack of plot, but sometimes returning to a genre’s core mechanics can be a good thing. It worked for the latest “King Kong” and for the most part, it works here. What we’ve really come to see are monsters, action, and gags, which “The Mummy” does provide. The film also employs a surprising amount of practical effects and makeup, with a few exceptions. The much-hyped plane crash scene was filmed aboard an actual Zero-G “vomit comet” plane, and some of the early action is clearly using stuntmen of the flesh and blood,non-digital kind. While the later Zombie/Mummies (or whatever they are) are certainly CGI, it’s effective and at times creative. It should also be noted that the CGI characters in this film look far better than the cartoonish avatars in “Wonder Woman”
Another part of the enjoyment of this film is watching Tom Cruise playing against his typecast. Sure, the cockiness is still there, but his usual competence is not. He’s comically selfish, reckless, and the occasional attempts to be heroic leave him battered and bruised. It at times feels very similar to his cowardly Cage in “Edge of Tomorrow” only slightly more courageous.
But is this a good movie? Not really. Too much of it is just a tad too weird, the tone shifts at occasionally the wrong time, a moment of cliched cheesiness feels painfully out of place (but then earns a great laugh), and it blatantly borrows too much from other films. Besides an element stolen from “An American Werewolf in London”, multiple other shots replicate imagery from the Indiana Jones series (Particularly The Last Crusade) and an outrun-the-Sandstorm MI:4 scene. But, for a popcorn movie, you could do a lot worse. It’s entertaining, fun, PG-13 sexy, occasionally clever, and to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, “It made me laugh.”
Note: There’s a small reference that ties this into the Brendan Fraser series. Perhaps he will return in the sequel? We can only hope!