Another week, another attempted cinematic universe. Since the MCU’s success popularised the idea of films existing as IOUs for future films that will allegedly be good, every well-known property under the sun has gotten its own origin story in an attempt to create the new Avengers. This time, it’s Universal’s attempt to dip their toe in the pool. Again.
Despite the modest profit made from reinventing the original bat-man as a brooding super-antihero for Dracula Untold, The Mummy is an entirely new attempt at crowbarring the classic Universal monster stable into a single franchise. No word yet on Abbot and Costello’s involvement, though.
Unlike the thoroughly enjoyable Stephen Sommers version from 1999, which was a perfect example of cheesy nineties action blockbusters, this Mummy copies the grim and grey trappings common to modern superhero cinema. Director Alex Kurtzmann, best known for writing The Amazing Spider-Man and Star Trek Into Darkness, has essentially taken the bare bones framework and beats of a Marvel film and attempted to graft some classic Mummy iconography onto it, with particularly embarrassing results.
This is most noticeable in how there is no reason The Mummy needs to be a mummy movie. Not once do the characters or plot go to Egypt, and there’s nothing particularly Egyptian about the Mummy herself, an off-brand version of Suicide Squad’s Enchantress.
What does happen is that Nick Morton – Tom Cruise seemingly auditioning to play Nathan Drake – is hunting for antiquities in Iraq to loot before ISIS blow them up. After an airstrike reveals an elaborate Egyptian tomb (in Iraq) him and Jenny Halsey, here playing Cruise’s character arc motivation, discover an ancient mercury-filled sarcophagus containing Rita Repulsa from the Power Rangers reboot.
Rita turns out to be an ancient princess, who turned wildly evil on a dime because of the Egyptian monarchy’s primogeniture (as that’s what women do, apparently) and makes a pact with Satan, who is apparently every god of death throughout history. But she was buried alive before she can bring him into the world and enact her feminazi dystopia.
While I exaggerate that last bit the film’s sexual politics are really quite disturbing. As well as her motivation, Rita’s method of killing is to suck out men’s souls by kissing them, presenting sexually forward women as literally evil. There’s even one moment where she tries to kill Cruise’s girlfriend this way and the movie tries to eroticise it. After being kidnapped midway through by Russell Crowe, playing the leader of not-SHIELD with an English (and at one point Cockney) accent that would embarrass Kevin Costner, she spends a good twenty minutes tied up in an elaborate BDSM position with the camera lingering on her body uncomfortably often.
But even that’s nothing compared to the ending. Without spoiling, I will just say that the climax is resolved with the most repugnant ‘heroic’ action I’ve seen committed by a blockbuster protagonist since Passengers.
The film is also shockingly poorly made. Kurtmann’s direction is flat and lifeless in a way that’s often strangely jarring. Attempted jokes and scares are often played as if nothing is happening, causing one hallucinatory sequence to come off as Cruise just happening to have a zombie friend working in the pub he’s in, who the camera just cuts to from time to time. The action is uniformly poorly-lit and, while it’s not just throwing zombies at the cast, consists largely of two people throwing each other around rooms like pinballs.
The Mummy is an origin story for Cruise’s character in the Dark Universe (a name decided upon by adults), but it has little point in existing except to establish him and it, which a better film could accomplish in fifteen minutes. There’s no real overall theme and Cruise’s character growth is vague at best, nothing is really different at the end (CG city destruction never counts for anything in these movies) and the world is back to square one.
Like every attempt to rip off the MCU, The Mummy is a masterful case of putting cart before the horse, in this case before you’ve even bought the latter. This is the core misunderstanding by studios of the MCU. No one cares about lore inherently. Audiences care about world and crossovers because they become attached to the characters in stories, and are then interested in the world they inhabit, that they experience through them. Many people read Lord of the Rings, and then pick up The Silmarillion. No one ever picked up The Silmarillion and was then inspired to read Lord of the Rings.