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The Dark Universe is Mummified on Arrival


          The Mummy is one of those classic monster stories that’s going to be rebooted and reshaped forever. This new film from writer turned director Alex Kurtzman and starring Tom Cruise has little in common with the 1932 Boris Karloff vehicle that began this long-running series. 
          Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), a reckless military officer, discovers an Egyptian tomb mysteriously buried in modern Iraq. When he and archaeologist Jenny Halsy (Annabelle Wallis) come upon a sarcophagus inside, they transport it back to London. But in unearthing this ancient prison they unintentionally release the cursed mummy of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a being determined to bring evil upon the world.
          Perhaps the most obvious problem with The Mummy is that it’s not set in Egypt. The tomb is found in Iraq and then most of the film after it takes place in England. Not only that, but there’s nothing in the films’ presentation style that suggests an Egyptian theme. It’s a very dark film, by which I mean the lighting is very low throughout. But in a way that’s fine, as this movie is trying to be at least in part, a horror film. The problem there is it’s not in the least bit frightening. Every jump scare you can see coming and even the grotesque imagery isn’t all that effective. The movie is completely lacking in suspense, and its attempts at horror aren’t helped by its’ array of comedic moments. This film has no idea what it wants its tone to be. Comedy and horror can meld well together but the comic relief here doesn’t feel natural, nor does it offset the fear factor. Also, it’s really bad comedy. Almost no jokes land and some are so corny not even Stephen Sommers would touch them. The writing just in general is very poor, with badly developed characters whose personalities are explained to us rather than shown, and plot points that have no bearing on the present story only there to set up sequels. 
          Tom Cruise’s character is a horrible person in this film, and in fairness, the filmmakers are to some degree, aware of this. They give him a temptation arc where he’s constantly in some kind of mental battle with the mummy, but it doesn’t work because there’s nothing about him you care about at this point. Say what you will about the Stephen Sommers Mummy films (I actually quite like the first one), but Brendan Fraser was likeable and charismatic. Cruise is lacking both. His love interest is a stock determined scientist with a touch of stubbornness, here played by Annabelle Wallis. Wallis is a good actress, but this character could have been played by anyone. And she’s remarkably inconsistent. In one scene she’s telling Nick how she believes a particular stone has supernatural powers and the gods are out to annihilate them, yet a few scenes later doesn’t believe Nick when he says he’s seen Ahmanet in a vision. Ahmanet (who might as well just be the actual goddess Amunet given the subject matter) is portrayed okay. Sofia Boutella definitely has the physical capabilities for the role, but isn’t allowed to make her more than just a generic evil villain. She had so much more character as a supporting role in Star Trek Beyond than as the antagonist of this film. Jake Johnson and Courtney B. Vance are essentially just playing themselves. And Russell Crowe is one of those set-up characters for a sequel.
          You see, The Mummy is the debut instalment of the Dark Universe, a cinematic universe plan that will bring together numerous monsters from classic Universal films. Many of these monsters and other characters actually began in Romantic and Victorian literature. So Crowe plays a modern incarnation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jeckyll, and while he could make for a good Hyde, he’s not a good fit for the meek doctor. But the idea is he’ll appear in a number of future movies. This film falls into the trap of putting the franchise ahead of the film, and in many instances it’s trying way too hard. The order Jeckyll is head of is clearly just a S.H.I.E.L.D. copy from the Marvel universe. And its ending is almost entirely dependant on future movies. It sets up a greater battle between humans and monsters, which with the idea of evil incarnate reminds me a lot of a show called Penny Dreadful, which essentially already did this premise -also with famous monsters. 
          There’s really not much to recommend in this movie. It has a really good plane crash scene, and the make-up on Ahmanet and her minions is pretty good; but apart from that, this is a lame start to what looks like a lame series. It both takes itself too seriously and not seriously enough. Universal already has plans to do reboots of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, Dracula, and even The Creature from the Black Lagoon as part of this Dark Universe series. And I’d rather just see a good reboot of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen instead.

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