Universes are becoming the next big thing in cinema; no longer is the word 'franchise' enough, instead a ‘cinematic universe’ is where it’s now at. Arguably spurred on by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its continued success, the trend continues as the DCEU (this year receiving its best entry in the glorious Wonder Woman), The Conjuring universe and Legendary’s Monster-verse (which has gone from strength to strength thanks to the brilliant Kong: Skull Island) are all expanding. And so the original universe now returns – Universal Monsters! However, the studio is starting afresh and Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy is the first instalment in what Universal are calling ‘The Dark Universe’, so how is it? In a word… disjointed.
The Mummy sees military man – and black market dealer on the side – Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), happen across the tomb of an ancient long-forgotten Egyptian Princess (Sofia Boutella) in present day Iraq. However, if he and archaeologist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) are correct in thinking this is the same lost princess Ahmanet that legends speak of, then there is a very good reason she was cursed to a fate worse than death all those centuries ago… as they will soon find.
A far cry from the Boris Karloff pictures and likewise a completely different take on mummified mythos to the Brendan Fraser-led Mummy trilogy, this film looks to blend dark horror with action. Sadly, despite admirable intentions, the tonal shifts that come with this genre-blending sit uneasily alongside too much worldbuilding for the movie to comfortably – and coherently – translate to the screen. Reminding at points of a mad mix between Marc Forster’s energetic World War Z and Stephen Norrington’s The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, alas, the film doesn’t maintain the former’s pace or even the latter’s watchable mayhem and the third act especially falls into forgettable pandemonium, with Sofia Boutella’s villain getting ultimately wasted in a special effects sandstorm.
The opening is filled with dark myth and there are touches of that throughout, but sadly hints at darkness are clobbered senseless not much sooner with 12A style action sequences. Undeniably there are some effective moments but most of them were in the trailers and released clips (indeed, if you haven't seen any footage, you may want to boost our score up a point) and the story feels haphazardly assembled, with too much franchise-building work for one film to handle and questionable editing that leaves transitions feeling confusingly absent of any sense of time or structure; this all results in a messy blockbuster that compensates for its plethora of shortcomings with an overload of CG action. It is a real tragedy that the moments of horror are not more regular, as these sequences are far stronger and more engaging, and so it would have been great to see Kurtzman go for broke in that dark direction.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of popcorn-munching fun, mind, and this movie may service that ambition for some, but in that ballpark it cannot maintain the knowingly giddy energy (and graphic darkness in the first film's case) of Sommers’ Mummy films, the charm of Van Helsing, the atmosphere of the rather underrated The Wolfman or, most importantly, the mythical thrill and chill of the studio’s classics. This being said, it is not all a loss, as we say there are some darkly efficient horror beats, Russell Crowe is game as Dr. Jekyll (this universe’s Nick Fury figure) and the references to Universal’s monster lineage are a treat. Additionally, while the characters and humour often fail to hit the mark, but Cruise does sell some of the comedy moments (one bar scene in particular).
Not terribly terrible or terribly good, it is a terribly all over the place start to the Dark Universe; the ideas are there, they just needed coherently forming rather than throwing together. That being said, we hope to see it, oddly, do well enough not to kill this universe, because with some thought, care and learning from the mistakes here, this could be a thoroughly interesting world (plus they went and spent money, prematurely perhaps, on an admittedly cool ‘Dark Universe’ ident at the start of the movie). If they recruited directors like Guillermo Del Toro, Tim Burton or J. A. Bayona, they would seriously knock it out of the park and we hope they get the chance to in the future! Sadly, such is not the case here in this untidy and very unmemorable offering. Very disappointing.
THE MUMMY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ALEX KURTZMAN / SCREENPLAY: DAVID KOEPP, CHRISTOPHER MCQUARRIE, DYLAN KUSSMAN / STARRING: TOM CRUISE, ANNABELLE WALLIS, SOFIA BOUTELLA, JAKE JOHNSON, RUSSELL CROWE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 7/10