The Mummy (2017) Director: Alex Kurtzman
Writers: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 107 Minutes
Release Date: June 9, 2017
“Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters.”
If you’re a moviegoer in the year 2017, odds are you’re familiar with the concept of a “shared cinematic universe.” Whether it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s The Avengers or the DC Extended Universe’s upcoming Justice League, we understand that these franchises are built on standalone stories set within the same continuity, leading to crossover events and team-up films.
The idea of a shared cinematic universe came into being over 70 years ago with the emergence of Universal Monsters. Following their popular silent films, 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera, Universal Studios began developing talkies based on other classic horror characters. 1931’s Dracula and Frankenstein got things started, followed by The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man (1941).
In 1943, we got the first of a series of ensemble movies combining characters from the already established Universal Monsters series. Starring Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr., Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is both the fifth film in the Frankenstein series, directly after The Ghost of Frankenstein, and a sequel to The Wolf Man. The movie laid the groundwork for all kinds of kooky crossovers, including House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and a series of comedy films in which Abbott and Costello meet the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy.
Fast-forward to 2017 and Universal Pictures is hoping lightning strikes twice with the Dark Universe, a reboot of the classic Universal Monsters shared universe. The first film in this new continuity is Alex Kurtzman‘s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe. Kurtzman, known as a producer and writer of films like Transformers, Star Trek (2009), and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is one of the “core creatives” at the helm of this Dark Universe, steering the ship alongside Chris Morgan, who wrote the last sixFast and the Furious films.
The Mummy (2017) tells the story of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond), an ancient Egyptian princess who was promised by her father, the Pharaoh, that she would one day become queen of Egypt. Unfortunately, her father had a son with a new wife, denying her the power she sought. Fueled by his betrayal, Ahmanet makes a pact with Set — the Egyptian god of war, chaos, and storms — to unleash darkness upon the Earth. Before she can summon Set in his physical form, Ahmanet is mummified and buried alive, entombed within an ornate sarcophagus, where she remains for millennia, until excavated by soldier of fortune Nick Morton (Cruise) in present-day Iraq.
Morton, an Army sergeant, steals ancient artifacts from conflict sites with his partner, Corporal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), and sells them to the highest bidder. When the thieves are attacked by insurgents in an Iraqi village, Ahmanet’s tomb is unearthed by an airstrike. Joined by British Egyptologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Morton and Vail enter the tomb and unwittingly unleash the Mummy, who sets out to resurrect Set and ascend to her rightful place as queen.
Written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park), Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) and Dylan Kussman, from a screen story by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus), Kurtzman, and Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married), The Mummy is more like Frankenstein’s monster, an abomination built in a crude laboratory from the rotting remains of what came before. It’s part campy action-adventure, like Stephen Sommers’ 1999 The Mummy, and part dark romance, reminiscent of Karl Freund’s 1932 film, where Boris Karloff’s Imhotep is mummified alive for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, the princess Ankh-es-en-amon.
It’s also trying to be a horror comedy, à la An American Werewolf in London, a globe-trotting thriller like The Da Vinci Code, and your typical Tom Cruise Stunt Spectacular™, complete with a zero-gravity sequence in which Cruise and Wallis tumble through turbulence as their cargo plane takes a nosedive. Essentially, it’s Mummy: Impossible, with Cruise playing Nathan Drake, the charismatic treasure hunter from the Uncharted video game series. As a result, the movie never really gels – it just feels like bits and pieces sewed together, mimicking something alive, but dead nevertheless. And that’s too bad, because everything with the Mummy itself is great; I love Boutella’s performance, the mythology behind her character, and the special effects used to bring her desiccated corpse back to life, but the human side of the story is dull and lifeless.
And then there’s the world-building. These Dark Universe films will be connected by a mysterious multi-national organization known as Prodigium. Led by the enigmatic Dr. Henry Jekyll (Crowe), Prodigium’s mission is to track, study and — when necessary — destroy evil embodied in the form of monsters in our world. It’s Hellboy‘s B.P.R.D. meets the Avengers Initiative, with Jekyll serving as Bruce Banner while his alter ego, the rowdy Mr. Hyde, will no doubt smash it up like The Incredible Hulk in a future installment. It’s a cool idea, but one that needs more focus lest it feel tacked on. Jekyll’s lab is filled with allusions to Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and even Sommers’ Mummy movie, with The Book of the Living making a cameo. It’s hard to imagine the Dark Universe ever making good on these theoretical standalone films, though.
The Mummy is another false start for Universal’s shared universe of monsters. Remember, 2014’s Dracula Untold was supposed to kickstart the Dark Universe, but its failure to find critical acclaim or box office success made the studio reassess their burgeoning franchise and re-position Kurtzman’s film as its new beginning. Unfortunately, that decision has made little difference. When you’re dealing with iconic characters that have been adapted countless times over the past 200 years, it’s going to take more than the guy who co-wrote Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Cowboys and Aliens to breathe new life into them.