Director: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe
Run Time: 110 mins
‘The Mummy’, a timeless Universal monsters property with Tom Cruise. Yes, such a film actually exists and this pairing of material and action star really doesn’t fit together. This rendition of ‘The Mummy’ is envisaged as the first part of a cinematic universe of Universal Monsters titled ‘Dark Universe’ with many more entries from other lucrative horror icons yet to come. Originally, the film that was meant to kick this cinematic universe off was 2014’s ‘Dracula Untold’ but it recieved poor reviews and has pretty much been wiped from existence. In the director’s chair here is Alex Kurtzman for which this is a big leap from him after having directed one feature which was 2012’s ‘People Like Us’ but has a been big contributor in producing and screenwrtiting for some big films such as the first two ‘Transformers’ films and the first two ‘Star Trek’ reboots. Again, this material seems a poor match for Kurtzman. Kurtzman updates this horror material by setting the film in London and having the titular villain as an ancient female princess who brings death and destruction once she has been awoken. The film also tries to interweave this material and set itself up for future installments by including Russell Crowe who portrays Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde, a scientist who leads a an organization called Prodigium, dedicated to researching and containing these classic monsters. Think of him as a Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe like-character for example. This is a very ambitious film with a strange mix of talent that needs to balance being a quality film first and foremost to entice filmgoers and then perhaps including some subtle nods towards future installments to further spark interest.
‘The Mummy’ woefully falls short of these promises. Kurtzman seems to have had a couple of good ideas but the way that this film has been put together is abominable. Tom Cruise is also woeful in a role he should never have been cast in and the film is not scary in the slightest and any attempts the film makes at injecting humour are aggressively unfunny. It’s such a shame because some of the titles we have been promised in the future have the potential to be great but if they’re going to be in the vein of this, the Dark Universe could be over before it’s even started. Whilst ‘Dracula Untold’ was forcefully pushed aside and despite that also being a disappointing film, it is a far more enriching experience than this film is. It doesn’t quite achieve a 1-star rating as there are a couple of nicely choreographed action sequences and the film does have a few hints of momentum in its mid-section but the film constantly stumbles and falls apart. At times, the film is even laughable which is always a poor sign.
The performances in this film, bar one exception, are atrocious. As mentioned, Tom Cruise did himself no favours by associating himself with this project and whilst I must admit, I am not normally a fan, here he really shows why I have a low opinion of him. Cruise is famously known to get extremely involved with his projects and particularly working with a largely inexperienced director has exacerbated the problem. There are no stakes in this film with his character and no emotional connection – he is just bland, humourless and annoying. Annabelle Wallis is also poor in the film, her main purpose for existing in it purely for exposition. Russell Crowe hams it up as Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde and his big scene is bordering on pantomime-like but he too largely is in the film to tell the audience the story. Perhaps most offensive is Jake Johnson’s performance as Tom Cruise’ corporal ally who has a recurring role in the film with some equally dodgy visuals. The only cast member who has any sense of credibility here is Sofia Boutella who gives it her all as the titular Mummy and despite her character being poorly written, does a solid job.
It is genuinely shocking how many of the typical traps a film can have in a cinematic universe ‘The Mummy’ falls into. Although Marvel films are generally of good quality, it’s quite easy to point fingers at the films which are too focussed on setting up future installments whilst forgetting that the film needs to stand alone in its own right (I’m looking right at you ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron‘!). The other problem is failing to have a director’s stamp and Kurtzman’s direction just feels as if he’s a studio executive working through a checklist. At least, the next entry in this franchise is to be directed by Bill Condon, more of an auetur director so that film should at least avoid this problem.
Although it is a matter of personal taste, in my opinion if you have a score by Brian Tyler, you’re not doing yourself any favours and that is largely true here too. His music is just not memorable and does not fit the events that are being portrayed on-screen. Please, Hollywood, stop hiring him! The cinematography by Ben Seresin is serviceable and there a couple of nice shots and particularly the aircraft crash sequence which has been heavily shown in the trailers is well-captured.
It’s such a shame that ‘The Mummy’ is as big a let-down as it is and my low expectations unfortunately turned out correct. The film is squandered by poor direction, a poor lead in Tom Cruise, mostly poor performances across the board, ropey visual effects, illogical pacing, aggressively unfunny humour and an uninspired score to name just a few of its problems. Kurtzman, in his response to the negative reception of his film of course uses the age-old excuse of “it’s a film for the fans.” Well, if even the so-called ‘fans’ aren’t particularly warm to the film, the guy must be deluded. Hopefully the quality of this franchise improves with Bill Condon’s 2019 film, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’.