The Dark Universe franchise is off to a rough start.
Universal went all out for its new “monsters” shared universe film series by forking out the big bucks for megastars Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe in the first entry, The Mummy. The hope was that the film would kick off a lucrative Avengers-style franchise that would later feature the likes of Johnny Depp’s The Invisible Man, Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster, and possibly Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the Wolfman.
Unfortunately, and to be honest, not to my complete surprise, The Mummy turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. Not even Tom Cruise’s usual energy and Russell Crowe’s deep voice could save this ambitious but ultimately dull and inconsistent affair that compares unfavourably to Brendan Fraser’s adventure-packed 1999 version of The Mummy .
In this film, directed by Alex Kurtzman, Tom Cruise plays a soldier who stumbles across the tomb of an ancient Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella) and unleashes a powerful curse that proceeds to wreak havoc on the world. Annabelle Wallis (from Annabelle) plays a frighteningly attractive archaeologist and Jake Johnson is the sidekick, while Russell Crowe makes a pivotal appearance as Dr. Henry Jekyll (you know, Jekyll and Hyde).
It’s clear, with Mission: Impossible‘s Christopher McQuarrie as a co-writer, The Mummy was aiming to be a similar action spectacular with a Tom Cruise doing crazy stunts plus a mix of genuine horror elements and a dash of humour. And to be fair, the film does have each of those things, but they never fit together comfortably or transition from one tone to the other with the smoothness it required. The action is pretty good but nothing I would call awesome. The centerpiece is the zero gravity stunt Tom Cruise has been selling, but the majority of it is sadly spoiled by the trailers, along with most of the other decent action sequences. If you’ve seen a trailer or two for this movie like I had then chances are there won’t be anything that comes close to wowing you.
On the other hand, there were some solid horror moments featuring grotesque creatures, but you wouldn’t really classify them as legitimately scary. It’s certainly not at the same level as a “proper” horror film in terms of generating scares. And the humour littered throughout is sporadic and mostly cheesy. Together, the three elements failed to mesh, and it was hard to get a good feel of exactly what the film was trying to be.
The film’s biggest problem is the pains it goes to in order to set up this new extended universe. The plot is steered towards creating this world of evil and monsters, and it’s not done with much of subtlety. The result is a lot of forced dialogue and exposition, which sagged the pace and the sense of adventure I hoped the film could have had. I actually guessed the ending before I even stepped into the cinema, and it’s really not that hard to do if you think about where they are going with this franchise. I will say though that it didn’t make much sense either.
I don’t put any of the blame on Tom Cruise, who clearly did everything he could for the film. Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson and Russell Crowe were all actually very solid too. Ultimately, I fault the script, which was heavily hampered by the need to lay the foundations for the future of the franchise. The story started off quite well and was exciting up to a point, but there was a lengthy middle section after Dr. Jekyll appeared that stagnated the plot to do a lot of unnecessary explaining. It’s cool they got a female mummy and all, though Sofia Boutella’s character isn’t particularly memorable and even comes across as similar to Patricia Velasquez’s Anck-su-Namun from the 1999 version.
In the end, I wouldn’t say The Mummy was horrible — it just wasn’t very good or as good as it needed to be. I wish Universal could have worked on The Mummy as a standalone first and ensured that it was a success before planning out all the later installments. They should have learned their lesson from the DCEU, which produced the similarly disappointing Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. It seems unlikely that Universal will pull the plug on the Dark Universe franchise because Tom Cruise movies typically do gangbusters in overseas markets (I saw it in a packed house on a Wednesday afternoon during work hours) — and as we’ve seen with Wonder Woman, the ship can be straightened — but it’s going to be an uphill battle after this disappointing first entry.
2.75 stars out of 5