Every major movie studio is getting in on the “extended universe” bandwagon. Disney and Warner Bros. have their superhero ones. Paramount has GI Joe/Transformers crossovers planned. Now Universal has their “Dark Universe” – an interconnected franchise featuring classic movie monsters such as the Wolfman, Frankenstein and the Invisible Man, but in a modern setting. The lucky monster that gets to start things off is The Mummy, but if this movie is any indication, Universal may need to go back to the drawing board and rethink their approach.
When The Mummy was remade in 1999, the Brendan Fraser pic was a genuinely fun action adventure in the vein of a Indiana Jones. Its 2001 sequel was just as entertaining (and was the movie that made Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson into a movie star). Both films were massive successes, so I find it somewhat odd that Universal Studios chose to abandon much of the humour that worked so well and make this new reboot into an odd horror/adventure hybrid. While some of the action scenes and special effects are well done, the reason for the movie being so underwhelming surprisingly falls on the shoulder of non other than star Tom Cruise.
When one goes to a Tom Cruise action movie, there are a few things you can almost always expect. Mr. Cruise is one of the only actors working today that gives insurance adjusters heart attacks as he is insistent on doing his own stunts, and the ones he does are truly spectacular. You can also count on him running – there is always lots and lots of running. You can count on him flashing those pearly whites and using his charm to make even irredeemable characters into sympathetic ones. Most importantly, his presence basically guarantees no matter how dumb or bad a movie should be, it will be elevated to mostly watchable. While Cruise had made some questionable choices in his career, he has never made an outright bad movie. When the worst movie you’ve made in the last 20 years is a romantic action comedy co-starring Cameron Diaz, you’re obviosuly doing something right.
The biggest issue this time out isn’t that The Mummy is a bad movie (it’s not), it’s just that for the first time in a long time Cruise is totally miscast. If any other actor had been placed in the role of treasure hunter Nick Morton, I would have possibly said the movie was pretty good. When making a monster movie, the focus should be on the actual monster, not the main actor. Putting an actor of his caliber in the lead role shifts the focus onto him, and the rest of the movie suffers for it. Many entertainment websites have stated that The Mummy is the worst Tom Cruise movie ever – a fact I do not believe to be true. It is just the least Tom Cruise-iest to date.
As for the rest of the cast, they’re almost all secondary characters. Russell Crowe, who’s Dr. Henry Jekyll is apparently going to be the glue that links all these “Dark Universe” movies together, is more or less just there to explain things and growl when he’s angry. Sofia Boutella, who has been the best part of every movie I’ve seen her in, fares significantly better as Ahmanet (the titular Mummy). Unfortunately she spends half the movie in partial CGI form. I can’t say much about Jake Johnson‘s role without spoiling things, but he is his regular smart-ass self. Annabelle Wallis, who I was previously unfamiliar with, isn’t the typical love interest or woman that needs protecting – she’s easily the smartest person in the movie and gets in on almost all the action.
I should probably point out the positives as well. As stated above, Sofia Boutella is great as the Mummy. She is truly menacing, and definitely a better villain than the one from the previous remake. Also, the special effects are top notch. Every cent spent on the movie is seen on screen, whether it be on the CGI or action scenes. I also found the actual story somewhat interesting, though I feel I may be in the minority on that.
In closing, even though I didn’t think The Mummy was all that good, it was nowhere near the unwatchable mess that many claim it to be. At the very least, it did leave me interested to see where this “Dark Universe” is headed. I just hope the producers focus more on the story and not on starpower.
FINAL GRADE: C