Warning: The following review contains minor spoilers for 2017’s The Mummy.
So what do you do when you’ve been cursed by a resurrected Egyptian princess, and she chooses you as the vessel that will bring the literal embodiment of Set (read: Satan) into the world?
You try to get out of it.
That’s the kind of day treasure hunter Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) has in 2017’s The Mummy reboot, and I’ll go a little against the grain, here: It’s mostly an okay watch.
Two major, major problems, though: It’s tonally inconsistent, and I’m not convinced it knows exactly what it wants to be. It’s not really given much of a chance to be its own thing, anyway.
Universal’s so-called Dark Universe casts its shadow throughout the entire film. In fact, its logo is the first thing you see as the movie begins, immediately (and perhaps boldly) reminding you that, yes, The Mummy is meant to be part of a larger series.
Even so, I don’t think it’s quite as terrible as it’s made out to be. My main gripes really boil down to the clunky storyline.
A New World of Gods and Monsters
Tom Cruise as Nick Morton is, well, Tom Cruise. I don’t think that’s such a problem, but The Mummy does feel a bit too much like a standard Cruise action flick. Mission Impossible Meets the Universal Monsters, if you want. It’s helmed by Alex Kurtzman, whose previous director credit includes 2012’s People Like Us. He also co-wrote Transformers, Cowboys & Aliens, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Sofia Boutella plays our new mummy, Ahmanet, who’s not just a rehash of either iteration of Imhotep — she has her own tragic backstory and motivation. I liked her quite a bit, actually.
She, like the mummies before her, is a somewhat sympathetic character. I say somewhat because, let’s face it — while she may feel slighted for being passed over for the throne, and thus her “birthright,” any given commoner could have had the very same grievance, if you think about it.
You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ‘cause some watery tart threw a sword at you, and so on. Bringing Set into the world so she can forever rule by his side as Queen seems more than a little excessive, as far as revenge goes.
But she’s just as aware of this as anyone.
Immobilized and chained within Prodigium — the monster-hunting facility that will likely play a large role in future Dark Universe films — she attempts to explain her point of view to Nick. And yet, she betrays her innocence when Nick questions her about the murders she committed. He asks about her father. “I only wanted his love in return,” she says. “You killed his wife…their child,” he replies.
And that’s the thing: There are brief flashes of a compelling story throughout The Mummy. Unfortunately, they’re buried in a mess of competing elements, especially when the Dark Universe rears its head.
I’m not completely down on the idea, though. When Henry Jekyll first introduces Prodigium, I actually thought it was pretty interesting, though not exactly novel. It’s not a bad concept: The idea of our ragtag band of heroes crossing paths with a powerful, ancient mummy, only for a secret society to drop in to take care of things. There’s a way to make that work.
At the same time, the mingling of two creatures of horror, the Mummy and Jekyll/Hyde, only reminds me of two previous attempts at mixing worlds: Stephen Sommer’s Van Helsing and the poorly received film adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The Word of the Old Gods
Speaking of which, there’s a little Van Helsing moment in the middle of the film (or a Dr. Muller moment, if you want. Same difference). Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) approaches the weakened Ahmanet, who is cast in chains with mercury pouring through her body.
Jenny has “studied the word of the old gods,” she says, and just for that tiniest instant I thought, here it is, the scholar vs. the monster, where an unnatural evil meets its match in the scientific method and unwavering will. Two equal opponents in a dance between the modern and the ancient. But the scene ends before that dynamic can be explored, because IT’S TIME TO THROW DOWN WITH MR. HYDE.
There’s a relevant quote in one of the bonus featurettes I found unintentionally hilarious: “Can you believe this?” someone asks, “In the middle of the movie?” The mummy pukes up mercury while Nick beats the living hell out of Mr. Hyde, and it’s very, very weird.
It’s also the perfect metaphor for 2017’s The Mummy as a whole.
Ahmanet, in chains and alone, should be the focus of our movie. But here we are, with yet another action scene, watching two characters in another room go at it for no particular reason.
I did not hate The Mummy. I don’t feel it deserves quite as much negativity as it received — despite some supremely cheesy and on-the-nose dialogue and narration. As I said, it’s a watchable film. But there’s no doubt: Something is missing here.