Underneath the Bandages, ‘The Mummy’ is Pretty Hollow

Can we talk about how weird this movie is for a minute? That’s not referring to the film’s content, but to how strange it is that we’ve had three (or four, depending on what you think of 1940’s The Mummy’s Hand) reboots of The Mummy (1932). The Mummy isn’t even the most popular or iconic monster of the Universal horror cycle, but by God, will Hollywood studios try anything to milk a franchise and build a cinematic universe. That’s not even mentioning the fact that this whole “Universal Cinematic Universe” was supposed to kick off with 2014’s Dracula Untold.

Directed by Alex Kurtzman (the writer of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), with a screenplay by David Koepp (Jurassic Park), Christopher McQuarrie (Edge of Tomorrow) and Dylan Kussman, the film follows swindler/recon man Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), as he unwittingly releases the ancient evil of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) and unleashes her mummy curse on himself and London. Assisting him in his battle against the mummified menace are his army buddy Chris Vail (Jack Johnson), generic scientist lady Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and the mysterious Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell “I’ll-Beat-You-Up-With-A-Hotel-Phone” Crowe).

The biggest problem The Mummy faces is a crisis of identity. The film can’t decide whether it’s trying to be a re-imagining of the original black and white films or a successor to the 1999 blockbuster. There’s a tonal balancing act of creepy atmosphere and action-adventure spectacle that it never manages to reconcile.

The Mummy Ahmanet (Universal Pictures)

Some of this disjointedness arises from the performances. Tom “Blues” Cruise is clearly doing his best Brendan Fraser impression. While initially charming, his performance slowly grows tiresome as any tension with his character is diffused by an ill-placed quip. Wallis tries to act as if every line she says has some profound importance, even when pointing out the obvious. Crowe is clearly having the most fun with his dual role as both Jekyll and Hyde, and his performance is probably the most consistent with the classic horror cycle (even if Universal never actually released a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie). Boutella tries her best with what she’s given, but she has so little screen time that any impression she leaves is lost in the punishing 110-minute runtime.

The editing in this film is atrocious. Not a single shot seemed to last longer than 45 seconds, meaning character moments never get a chance to breathe, and action sequences are often headache inducing. The film cuts to the exact same footage from the opening 15 minutes of the movie at least three times, padding out the already gruelling runtime. The cinematography ranges from serviceable, to flat, to ugly, constantly breaking the 30-degree rule of shot-reverse-shot and having dozens of shots out of focus. It can’t even be said that the action set-pieces, make-up and creature effects were decent, because you can blatantly tell which shots use CGI and which stick to practical effects. The initial look of the titular monster is neat, only it slowly evolves into the generic, faux-edgy, Suicide Squad-looking design seen in the trailers. Even the henchmen-zombies look the same as those in Squad.

A “thrilling escape” (Universal Pictures).

Plot wise, this film takes more inspiration from An American Werewolf in London and Iron Man 2 than The Mummy. We’re constantly bombarded with reminders that the film takes place within the “Dark Universe,” with nods to the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dracula and whatever their rip-off of SHIELD is supposed to be. There could be something interesting to be said about the flipped gender dynamics between Cruise and Boutella, but any chemistry is ruined by CGI sand-faces or indistinguishable creepy crawlies. Every scare found in the film is of the jump-scare variety, so anyone who’s seen more than five horror films in their life won’t be shocked or frightened in the slightest. Finally, the film suffers the same problems of all Kurtzman projects, that being the unnecessary killing off and resurrection of characters via poorly defined plot device. “You Snooze, You” Cruise and his pals go through the exact same narrative arc as  Optimus Prime, Shia Labeouf, Captain Kirk, and everyone in those garbage Amazing Spider-Man movies, and it’s just as convoluted and contrived here as it was in those films.

Honestly, this movie is of a disappointment than anything else. For fans of the old Universal Monsters, it’s sad to see the Mummy devolve into generic popcorn-schlock. It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good like Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, just dull. Some twofold advice for the team developing these movies: keep moving forward and look back to the source. If Wonder Woman has taught us anything it’s that you’re bound to make something good eventually, even if your foundation is more than a little shaky. And while it may be tempting to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, if you put in the work to make something true to the originals, people will come. Interesting and atmospheric is better than trashy and hackish.

Grade: D+

(Featured image: The Mummy, Universal Pictures)

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