A film review by Craig J. Koban June 17, 2017

THE MUMMY (2017) jj

2017, PG-13, 120 mins.


Tom Cruise as Nick Morton  /  Sofia Boutella as Princess Ahmanet / The Mummy  /  Annabelle Wallis as Jenny Halsey  /  Jake Johnson as Sgt. Vail  /  Courtney B. Vance as Colonel Gideon Forster  /  Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyell  /  

Directed by Alex Kurtzman  /  Written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman


Tom Cruise hardly needs defending.  

He's one of the most dependably and consistently bankable movie stars on the planet and, as far as his peers are concerned, is one of the pre-eminent cinematic showman of his generation.  He puts his body and life on the limb for his art in incalculably crazy ways that has to be commended.  At a ripe, yet super humanly youthful looking 54-years old, Cruise has demonstrated a feverous performance commitment to even the most outlandish of films.  If you exclude his personal off-camera politics and beliefs, the man deserves respect.

Yet, no amount of stalwart performance dedication and good will from the Cruise-ian one can help save THE MUMMY, a sluggishly paced, tonally bizarre, and mostly scares-free supernatural horror thriller based on the iconic Universal Studios monster film property.  Neither a remake of the pre-Code 1932 Boris Karloff starring vehicle of the same name nor a sequel (for obvious reasons) to the delectably guilty pleasured 1999 Brendan Fraser vehicle, this latest iteration is more of a modern day set re-imagining of the franchise in hopes of being a franchise starter to the "Dark Universe", a new Universal produced series of films featuring a connective mythology with multiple monsters.  My main issue with this latest MUMMY is that it never drums up the ominous creepiness of the black and white original or the Indiana Jones adventure serial thrills of the '99 installment.  Mournfully, this Cruise led MUMMY can't ultimately decide on what it wants to be, which has the negative whiplash side effect on viewers. 



In actuality, the only similarity between this Alex Kurtzman helmed effort (making his directorial debut after penning scripts for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 and STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS) and the previous two well known MUMMY films is that they all, yes, deal with reanimated corpses of the ancient dead.  The $125 million film begins with multiple flashbacks, the first being in 1127 England regarding a group of crusaders returning to London after a holy war in Egypt.  The second flashback goes way, way back to ancient Egypt and introduces us the titular character, Princess Ahmanet (the exotically gorgeous Sofia Boutella) as she plots and murders her way to the throne, but is then captured, incarcerated, and then mummified and buried in a sarcophagus alive as punishment for her multiple crimes.   All in all, it's a really lousy way to go. 

This entire epilogue is narrated with unintentionally humorous solemnity by Dr. Henry Jekyell (yes...that one...played by a semi-hammy Russell Crowe), who informs us that Ahmanet has been buried for centuries, only waiting to find a way of resurrecting herself to unleash her supernatural powers and revenge on the world (she's also waiting for, of course, a "chosen one" mate that will assist her on her bloody plan of ultimate comeuppance).  This leads us to modern day Iraq as we're introduced to Cruise's character, a military man and "liberator of precious antiquities" (or thief), Nick, who journeys to hostile war zones with his partner Chris (resident comic relief sidekick Jake Johnson) in hopes of making huge scores and then selling the artifacts on the black market.  The would-be funny banter between Nick and Chris during one particularly violent standoff with Iraqi rebels strongly hints that the script (the product of three writers) barely went past the rough first draft phase. 

Anyhoo', a radioed in air strike on their position inadvertently opens up a - wouldn't ya know it - burial site that contains Ahmanet's tomb.  Rushing in to ensure that Nick doesn't claim all the glory of this centuries-old Egyptian discovery is archaeologist Jenny (the fetching Annabelle Wallis), a scorned ex-lover of Nick's that makes matters between them all the more awkward.   Unfortunately, Nick becomes possessed by the spirit of Ahmanet and is plagued by haunting visions, which culminates in the former Egyptian princess returning to semi-human form to command an army of undead soldiers.  Desperate for answers and a means of defending the world from her unstoppable might, Nick and Jenny seek out Dr. Jekyell, whom is revealed to have a few of his own dark secrets. 

One thing that THE MUMMY has going for it is the nifty gender role reversal of the mummy herself.  Typically played by male actors, it's a swift and welcome change of pace to have a woman play the omnipotently powerful creature, and Sophia Boutella's dual irised, tattoo adorned, and sinewy beast makes for some impactful visuals.  The role doesn't particularly require much from the actress, but she brings a sinister and intimidating physicality to the role that works (even though that she has perhaps become cursed into playing role after role that requires ample practical and CGI makeup to cover up her luminous face, as was previously the case with STAR TREK: BEYOND).  For as striking of a presence as she is in the film, Boutella's character - which should be front and center in the plot - feels strangely underwritten and marginalized in her own film, playing second fiddle to Nick and the better known star that plays him.   

Speaking of Cruise, for the first time in any of his recent films he serves as a weird distraction here, even though he does reliably give 110 per cent in the film and immerses himself in some of the film's audaciously crafted and exciting sequences with the reckless throw-caution-to-the-wind bravado that he has become known for (like, for instance, the most thrilling moment in the film that involves a jumbo plane freefalling to the ground with Cruise and company being knocked around the cargo bay walls in zero gravity).  Cruise brings a veteran authority to the film, but he's unfortunately saddled with a character that's (a) not very likeable and (b) isn't really worthy of our rooting interest.  Remember how genuinely amiable Fraser's rascally rogue was in the 1999 MUMMY flick?  He had matinee idol charm and flare.  Cruise's Nick, on the other hand, is such a intellectually vacant and conceited d-bag that it makes it extremely hard to care about his fate as the film races towards an overcooked climax where his life hangs in the balance.  THE MUMMY proves that you can have a seasoned pro like Cruise and still squander his skill set as a performer with a flimsily written character.   

Cruise also shares very little, if any, tangible chemistry with his co-stars, especially Wallis' Jenny, whose character seems like it was written with the misogynistic gender profiling Hollywood norms of centuries ago (she's a limitlessly intelligent archaeologist, but idiotically allows herself to be placed in dire predicaments that requires the male hero to swoop in and save her).  That, and these characters are essentially wooden action figure-like props trapped in a film without a cohesive tone throughout.  Within the first 15 or so minutes of THE MUMMY I couldn't tell whether Kurtzman wanted his film to be a frightening horror thriller or a light hearted adventure romp or a buddy action comedy or a combination of all three.  There are so many disparaging elements thrown into the chaotic cocktail that is this film's script that they struggle to coalesce smoothly with each other throughout, which leads to THE MUMMY feeling disorganized and messy. 

One last thing: THE MUMMY commits the unpardonable recent movie sin of disappointingly wasting its running time on establishing the expositional particulars of more films to come.   It feels so rushed out of the gate to lay the groundwork for a cinematic universe that it forgets to simply be a good solo movie with a definitive beginning, middle, and end that hints at more entries in the Dark Universe.  Kutzman's film doesn't so much have a conclusion with reasonable closure; it just abruptly...stops.  All in all, THE MUMMY fails to deliver on the hopes of its monster-movie premise; it's not scary, nor exciting, nor does it convince me that I want to see more from this re-tooled universe.  It's not Cruise's worst film - as many have pained to tell you - but it's certainly his dullest.  And in terms of being a vast cinematic universe franchise launcher, THE MUMMY is better left re-sealed in a tomb and buried away from consumption.  



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