There are quotes that once you read are etched in your mind forever. Sitting through The Mummy reminds me of a quote from the father of modern filmmaking, D. W. Griffith: “Movies are written in sand; applauded today, forgotten tomorrow.” The Mummy has all the foundation and substance of sand, but when combined with the hot air bravado of Tom Cruise just creates a recipe for self-destruction. This film won’t be garnering any applause, but it will be forgotten by the next day.
Reading the title of the film is enough to give you an idea what the film is about, or so that’s what we thought. The Mummy surprises us early on, delivering something other than what we were promised, and being all the worst for it. The focus of the film shifts so much from what/who it should be (the mummy, duh) that it completely changes the film’s genre from horror to something more horrific that I call Cruise-control. Director Alex Kurtzman, whose previous directing credits include the melodrama People Like Us and an episode of Alias, seems to be overwhelmed when it comes to Tom Cruise. So much so that the camera rarely deviates its attention from him, sacrificing any chance to showcase the other actors/characters in the film. What we end up is a movie about Cruise’s greatest hits, mostly stunts we’ve seen in much better films than this one.
The story is one as old as time. There is a great evil that gets set on the world after human greed unknowingly sets it free. I’m not talking about Tom Cruise this time, but the mummy that is so hollowly developed, it would have had the same on screen impact if it remained the human husk it started the film as. The truly unfathomable aspect of this film is that it took three story creators and three screenplay writers to create one film that is essentially a vehicle to showcase Tom Cruise’s viability as an action star at any age. Cruise may be the human sacrifice in the film, but every other character is sacrificed for him. His much younger love interest, Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), only exists to help develop Cruise’s character through her role as damsel in distress. The forced love story between them feels like we are either missing a huge chunk of their intimate history or that like her character, it was never competently developed. Instead, we are left with untapped potential for creating a strong female in Jenny, who ends up on more than one occasion being forced to assure the audience of Nick’s sexual prowess.
She is hardly the first female treated poorly in this film because unlike the title suggests, this movie isn’t about the mummy and that is one of its biggest problems. Historically, the mummy has always been a male character, but this updated film promised to change that. Instead, it uses the mummy-like Jenny and sexualizes her rather than trying to develop her past her initial premise. Her backstory and pain is instead hijacked by Cruise and co-opted into his story. Sofia Boutella, one of Hollywood’s most promising actresses of color, deserves better than having a film taken from her by a white man. Even Brendan Fraser knew when to step back and let the film breathe, or when to give up the spotlight to the fantastic Rachel Weisz in their Mummy remake. The sad part is that the 90’s Mummy films gave their female mummy, Anck Su Namun (Patricia Velasquez) more thought and exposition than they allowed Boutella’s to have. Not to mention the 90’s ones, with their glorious camp, had much more diversity in them.
The Mummy commits so many crimes against itself, but the one that stands out the most is the underwhelming use of Jake Johnson. Johnson is the ever charismatic comic relief we never know we need until we see him. From his role in New Girl to his surprising part in Jurassic World, Johnson brings much-needed levity to situations that have the potential to get too serious for their own good. He is another character who suffers from Cruise’s supremacy over the film and he tries to battle the writing, obviously meant to make Cruise a funny everyman, with his natural charisma and the few comical anecdotes he’s allowed. The only character to rival Cruise Control in both character development and screen time is Russell Crowe, and he technically played two characters (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).
Saying this film has an identity crisis would be an oversimplification. It should be an action/horror but thinks it needs to be an action Tom Cruise movie but ends up as some kind of unholy amalgam that doesn’t even know if it wants to be about mummies or zombies. The only good thing to come from the emphasis on the action elements is the brisk pace it keeps throughout, as Tom Cruise races from action sequence to action sequence, with intermittent sprinkles of scenes where he shows us the good shape he’s physically in for a 50-year-old. As an introduction to Universal’s connected monster world, Dark Universe, it serves its purpose. We get it, it’s going to be full of A-List celebrities fighting ill-developed monster characters that will eventually culminate in some Avengers-like team up with Russell Crowe leading them as some sort of Nick Fury knock-off. No amount of fan service or Easter eggs about vampires, black lagoon creatures or references to Brendan Fraser’s superior Mummy can come close to redeeming this horror show. If the future films are as monstrous as this one, it will be a dark universe indeed.