Courtesy of Universal Pictures

July 1, 2017

A Dim Start to The Dark Universe

Print More

The onslaught of reviews towards Universal’s newest monster flick The Mummy are as malicious as they are creative. “The Mummy should have stayed buried” and “It’s a movie best kept under wraps” are some of the insults in a series of horrendous comments that have given Alex Kurtzman’s picture a 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is quite clear why the film was critically panned. With the release of Wonder Woman the week prior and audience fatigue for shared cinematic universes, The Mummy’s by-the-book execution of its characters and obvious attempts to world-build, instead of telling a cohesive stand-alone story, represented everything wrong with the “traditional” summer blockbuster. And, the best action sequences were revealed in the trailers. But, The Mummy is not quite the “nail in the coffin” that the critics have been saying it is. Even at its most absurd, it is anchored by a consistent performance from Tom Cruise and a handful of impressive action sequences. If nothing else, The Mummy leaves viewers in anticipation for what’s to follow.

The Mummy takes place in modern day, where U.S. military officer Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) discover a hidden tomb that holds Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess who killed her father in order to become the Pharaoh and gained supernatural powers through Set, an Egyptian god. After Nick accidentally releases her from captivity, he must work with archaeologist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and the mysterious Mr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) to stop Ahmanet before she destroys the world.

Before one critiques The Mummy for being a subpar stand-alone picture, suffering from a stuffed plot and exposition overload, understand that it was designed to be a puzzle piece and launchpad for Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe, a shared consortium of cinematic monster films that will feature the likes of Frankenstein’s monster, the Invisible Man, creature from the black lagoon and the Wolfman. It is interesting how Kurtzman slowly introduces monster mythology into a contemporary setting. Kurtzman is able to make the laconic and double-pupiled Egyptian antagonist terrifying and spooky, rather than cartoonish. The sandstorms in Iraq are captured in all their power and splendor, and it’s fascinating to see the intricate detail of Ahmanet’s burial place, from the aged hieroglyphics to the towering Anubis statues.

Unfortunately, similar to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, so much work was put into making the cinematic universe that the characters were largely left underdeveloped. Tom Cruise plays his role of Nick Morton with an Ethan Hunt audacity coupled with the witty charm of Indiana Jones, though it is nothing that viewers have not seen before. Jake Johnson’s character is meant to provide comic relief, but the humor misses more often than it hits. Russell Crowe gives a standout dual performance as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although Crowe’s Henry Jekyll was less enigmatic and more of an exposition tool, his brief appearance as Mr. Hyde was devilish and appropriately terrifying. And though Annabelle Wallis got a promising start — being witty and headstrong — she, unfortunately, ended up being a side piece to Tom Cruise’s character. Ironically, while Sofia Boutella channels a macabre aura as the mummy, this incarnation of the character lacks any reason to stay (and is grievously over-sexualized.)

This lack of charisma is The Mummy’s chief issue and a problem that Universal must rectify for the Dark Universe to succeed. In The Mummy, Universal was relying too much on its star power, instead of crafting a compelling villain and supporting cast. The story would have been much more cohesive had a backstory been given to Princess Ahmanet, but Alex Kurtzman put the camera on Tom Cruise every time. Universal casted notable A-listers like Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp and Dwayne Johnson for Frankenstein’s monster, the Invisible Man and the Wolfman respectively. But, those actors should be just one component of the films’ success, not the sole reason like Tom Cruise. Despite these shortcomings, The Mummy is enjoyable. It is a predictable blockbuster that requires a forgiving heart, especially if seen as a sacrificial lamb for Universal’s shared universe.

Zachary Lee is a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].