The whole point of the undead is that they come back. In 2017, as part of the newly christened “Dark Universe”, Universal has bestowed upon us The Mummy. When a concept is as basic as this one, it doesn’t have to be a reboot. With Tom Cruise in the lead, we have a modern Mummy that does not invite comparison to Brendan Fraser’s work; instead we’ve got this weird sand and steampunk fusion that’s not without its charm and isn’t entirely hamstrung by being the start of a franchise.
Soldier of both war and fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher: Never Look Back) finds an ancient tomb in Iraq. After accidentally waking up the cursed Queen Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, Star Trek Beyond), their fates are linked, and Egyptologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) must take Morton to Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe, The Nice Guys) so that the world may be saved from drowning in sand.
Tom Cruise has developed a new line in playing antiheroes who discover their hearts of gold over the course of two hours of white knuckle action, and The Mummy continues this. When we meet Morton, he’s a jerk. It’s easy to square that, but harder to understand why 32-year-old Wallis’ character thought he was irresistibly sexy; Cruise remains charismatic, but has aged into more of a dynamo than a Lothario. Despite that, Cruise as Morton is a strong character to build a franchise around — even if you realise that ultimately the themes of a Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and potentially a reformed vampire (an Untold Dracula, if you will) are going to be very similar.
If you know any public domain literature, it’s hardly a spoiler to say that Jekyll is a dual role for Crowe. As Jekyll, Crowe is little more than an exposition machine; when he is given a chance to cut loose, it’s clear that he, the script, and potentially the audience, are having fun. The Mummy is earnest for a lot of its run, but when it allows itself to be silly it has the opportunity to shine. Jerk Cruise and Cockney Crowe are a great combination, and most of the scenes where Cruise and Wallis have to face legions of crumbly undead are entertaining. Boutella is not bad as the title monster, but she suffers for having to serve narrative purpose rather than being her own being; The Mummy‘s writers, David Koepp (Inferno), Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) and Dylan Kussman (TV’s The Steps), sometimes get in their own way in service of lofty ideals, and no one will ever believe that a high-tech facility’s security could be compromised so spectacularly in such a simple fashion
Director Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us), who also has a story credit and traditionally writes these sorts of blockbusters, appears to have osmotically come to understand how to make a film like The Mummy. Despite its lack of obvious set pieces, outside of the plane sequence that ends rather unconvincingly, the overall work looks and feels good. From an action perspective The Mummy is never overly ambitious, but it more than delivers on the brief of what one might expect from a Mummy film.
The Mummy is the start of something that we’re not even sure the world wants, but bitter experience tells us that when producers really want something to happen, box office is irrelevant. The Dark Universe is happening, and The Mummy is a decent enough start to it. Despite a few hiccups of self-seriousness, there is a certain goofy tone that gets struck throughout that speaks of promise for the works to come. In a world where you can cross anything over with just about anything else, movies that are able to recognise how silly they are are valuable. The Mummy isn’t quite there, but it almost makes it over that line.
The Mummy opened in Australian cinemas on June 8, 2017.
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson and Russell Crowe.