Universal’s The Mummy (2017) is a pale shadow of the 1999 hit of the same name. That movie, starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, is a fun family adventure flick that well deserved its 2001 sequel. (It did not deserve the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, but that’s another story.) The new film, with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, squanders its actors and subject matter to deliver a cheap horror feel with a shallow message. Early reports suggest it will fail at the box office, and it deserves to do so.
In keeping with the original films, the Tom Cruise version centers around an ancient evil being resurrected and sucking the life out of other people to live again. The stunning success of the original films was to take this grotesque premise and turn it into lighthearted fun. The new movie focuses on the darkness and the horror, straining to say something about the human condition.
Also in keeping with the original movies, the main character, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), is a treasure hunter who dives for ancient artifacts to sell on the black market. Morton is racing to stay ahead of the Islamic State (ISIS), as they destroy priceless ancient artifacts. Morton sleeps with and steals from Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), and together they investigate an ancient tomb.
The creepy Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) speaks to Morton, convincing him to set her free. From there, she wreaks havoc and threatens to unleash an even more dangerous ancient evil.
Morton and Halsey, hopelessly outmatched, must be saved by the mysterious Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde fame. He reveals a hidden truth and allows Morton to find the secret to defeating Ahmanet.
The story is intriguing, but the delivery falls flat. Morton and Halsey’s romance is at the center of the plot, but the chemistry between Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wallis is nonexistent. The introduction of Dr. Jekyll is a fascinating idea, but it only serves to justify a deeply unsatisfying ending which is almost screaming for a sequel. The evil power-hungry princess is underdeveloped — there is no explanation for why she would want to unleash the evil god Set just because she was denied the chance to succeed her father as pharaoh.
As the villain is weak, so the hero has little character development. Morton carries out acts of heroism, but his character never fundamentally changes. His moral darkness remains, and even in a victory made possible by love, he leaves his girlfriend alone. This may seem deep, but the film does not earn the message it is trying to convey.
Consider these problems, and then add zombies. While the original Mummy movies might have had some horror elements, none of them went as dark — or as “The Walking Dead” — as this film, both in themes and in color.
Scene after scene involves a skeletal Ahmanet grotesquely jerking bones into place, writhing forward in a ghastly haunting crawl, or lunging disgustingly at Morton and Halsey. Ahmanet raises the dead, and they shuffle forward in the zombie walk so familiar to modern audiences.
This zombie horror has its place — in limited doses in “Game of Thrones” or as the centerpiece in “The Walking Dead” — but The Mummy heavily invested in these scenes, dwelling on the zombie figures. The original films achieved a great deal more by showing the grotesque mummy only in brief snippets, hiding in the shadows for most of the scene and only then lunging at the characters. In this case, less is more, and the new film had way too much.
The Tom Cruise Mummy also fell flat on the humor front. A few jokes here and there served to lighten the mood of a dark and engrossing film, squandering what perhaps could have been a deep movie. On the flip-side, the jokes were too paltry to lighten the mood and make the film more enjoyable.
For these and many other reasons, The Mummy will leave audiences wishing for their time — and their money — back. Take this as a warning, and go spend the money on something else. Wonder Woman, perhaps?
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