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15 Jun 2017

Misguided 'Mummy': This Tom Cruise Flick Could Have Been Good—but Instead, Universal Tried to Set Up a Franchise

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Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson in The Mummy. Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson in The Mummy.

I don’t hate The Mummy because it’s a terrible movie; it’s not. I hate it because it could have, and should have, been good.

Actually, hate is a strong word; I just don’t like it. Opportunities abound for some real fun here, and they are all squandered.

Tom Cruise is fully committed for a gonzo performance as Nick Morton, a soldier moonlighting as a tomb raider in Iraq. After stumbling upon the tomb of an ancient nasty named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), he winds up on a plane with the mummy, some soldiers and a mysterious woman named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis).

The plane crashes, and then the weirdness begins, with Nick surviving the crash—because he’s possessed by Ahmanet. Post-crash, Ahmanet starts sucking face with cops and dead guys, turning them into a zombie army as she marches on London. Along the way, Nick meets Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) in a subplot so freaking unnecessary that it’s maddening.

Jekyll is here, because he’s part of Universal’s new “Dark Universe” scheme, an attempt to Marvel-size classic Universal monsters into some sort of connected, ongoing series. What a seriously stupid mistake this is: Nothing connects these monsters other than their original gothic origins, so trying to make them modern stand-ins for Iron Man and The Hulk is a joke. Take it from me: Dr. Henry Jekyll is no Nick Fury.

Cruise is stuck laboring in this convoluted yet sometimes-almost-entertaining mess. The film starts with a blast as Nick and his sidekick, Chris (Jake Johnson), uncover the tomb and then run into trouble on that plane. The subsequent plane crash is thrilling, scary stuff, and the attempt to turn Jake Johnson into something akin to Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London has potential.

Alas, the movie cheeses out, and becomes more concerned with being the start of a franchise than being an achievement unto itself. Director Alex Kurtzman plays it safe with the scares—scares that have potential, but reek of PG-13 confinement. Had he gone for something more in the spirit of the Evil Dead series by increasing the scares, gore and raunchy laughs, this could’ve been a lot more fun. What we wind up with is a film that is afraid of itself—and so unfocused that you’ll check out in the second half.

Too bad. Ahmanet makes for a compelling monster; I prefer her Mummy to the one running around in those hackneyed Brendan Fraser efforts. Wallis is equally good as a woman with a few secrets, and Johnson is funny when he’s allowed to be.

Cruise is Cruise … and if you are a fan, that’s a good thing. He holds his own for most of the flick, but the script lets him down with a finale that is terrible. It’s as if Kurtzman and his screenwriters had something nice and bleak, and then they had to re-shoot to make something happier. The final moments feel tacked on.

Seriously … Universal wants this to be a universe like those created by Marvel and DC? Maybe the sympathetic vampires of Twilight have studio execs thinking audiences will accept Dracula as a hero? I doubt it. First off … Dracula will always be nasty, and many movie goers frown upon bloodsuckers, even the Twilight ones. Johnny Depp is supposed to play the Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem is signed on for Frankenstein’s Monster. What … are they going to join hands and solve crimes together? Universal needs to pull the plug on this plan now, and simply make good, standalone monster movies. Kurtzman has made a messy film, but he’s not totally to blame: This is a movie in service of a franchise idea, and it feels like it’s being forced down our throats.

Abandon the Dark Universe, and, please, no more of that Russell Crowe Jekyll-and-Hyde act. It’s nonsense.

The Mummy is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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