Well before Nick Fury appeared at the end of Iron Man to announce the beginning of the MCU, cinema lovers saw the shared cinematic universes in the form of the ‘Universal’ monster movies, pairing Frankenstein Monster with the Wolfman and more. Now with dollar signs in their eyes, Universal has decided to reboot this cinematic universe in the form of the ‘Dark Universe’. Our first taste comes in the form of The Mummy – not the Brendan Fraser movies mind you – but a new adventure thriller featuring one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men in Tom Cruise. With a lot riding on this movie, can they get this new series off on the right foot?
The story of The Mummy begins as Nick Morton (Cruise) and his reliable sidekick Chris Vali (Jake Johnson) find an Ancient Egyptian Tomb despite being in Iraq. Along with Jenny Hasley (Annabelle Wallis) they remove the sarcophagus, and in doing so effectively free Ahmanet, who wants to unleash an evil on the world. Much of the movie then focuses on either trying to stop Ahmanet and just survive, while also introducing us to an secret society who hunt down supernatural creatures such as the Mummy. As a monster movie it follows the basic plot points you’d expect, with the main different being the universe building organisation that will effectively tie together all of the movies centred in the ‘Dark Universe’.
This is a movie that serves two masters: it has to be both a standalone film and an introduction to the ‘Dark Universe’ that will encase the various monsters of yesteryear. When it’s trying to be a standalone movie, it’s a decent little action adventure flick. But whenever the worldbuilding for a shared universe takes a hold, the movie grinds to a halt. Much of the second act is devoted to this, introducing a lot of exposition-heavy dialogue that doesn’t really have that much effect on the primary story. It’s probably only about fifteen minutes of the movie, but it feels a lot longer, especially when you consider the movie itself clocks in at a little over an hour and a half. It’s a shame because Russell Crowe’s character – who is at the heart of this – is quite interesting and works well alongside Cruise, it’s just that it’s feels so disjointed from the primary story and sticks out as a device for selling future movies.
Much of the movie relies on Tom Cruise to carry it, and he has a lot of experience in doing so. It won’t be a standout role for him but he’s naturally charismatic and engaging as he goes from slightly cocky protagonist to a man just trying to make sense of what’s going on and surviving. He was the perfect guy for this type of movie, and not only nails the intense action moments but also a lot of the comedy that is thrown his way. The rest of the main cast are just there. Annabelle Wallis is fine but her character could have been so much more interesting than a device to get Cruise from point A to point B, which is what she ends up being.
The mummy itself makes for a great antagonist. She has a fantastic design and is suitably creepy in her mannerisms, with Sofia Boutella doing a great job under all the makeup and without a lot of dialogue to sell herself. It’s not ‘classic’ mummy, but it works well as a modern interpretation of the character, and the backstory is streamlined enough to make its point and move forward.
The movie is at its best early on when it feels more like an adaptation of the Uncharted video game series as they discover the Mummy’s tomb. Cruise’s character has a definite Nathan Drake feel, and it’s not until they reach England that the movie really veers away from that adventure story into more of an action/thriller piece. The action does its job but it’s nothing exemplary. As you’d expect from a Tom Cruise movie there’s plenty of running around, with things exploding and general chaos. Most of it is pretty forgettable, and never gets as grand as what you’ve already seen in the trailers. That being said, when you’re watching the movie it’s interesting enough to keep you entertained.
There’s the potential for a really good movie here somewhere, but it feels like a story that has fallen victim to too many writers, lacking a cohesive and central vision. It’s a well shot and good looking movie, with a couple of genuinely interesting characters and enough basic action to carry it along. There is enjoyment to be had, but it just falls down in too many areas to be a must watch film, and feels better suited to something to have on in the background while chatting with friends instead of the first step of a wide stretching cinematic universe. It doesn’t stand out as a singular action adventure movie, and worse still it doesn’t sell the prospect of future movies within it’s universe.