The Mummy - This Monster Mess Of A Movie Doesn't Really Rock. But Doesn't Completely Suck Either
Dir: Alex Kurtzman
Starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabella Wallis, Sophia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Coutney B Vance
Finally, Tom Cruise casts himself opposite an older woman. 5,000 years older in this case – but, hey, that’s progress.
Welcome to a whole new world of Gods and Monsters. And franchises. And ill-conceived notions of how to turn every one movie into ten. We’re back to the same old argument – Marvel did it by being smart; everyone else is doing it because they believe it makes fiscal sense, even if it engenders bad will amongst the paying public. DC have struggled and only just got their first home run in Wonder Woman – with absolutely no guarantee that this won’t be a one off.
Now Universal are here to unleash their “Dark Universe” a re-working of their great 1930s-plus monster movies. All the classics we know and love – “reimagined” for an audience they are desperate to capture, more than necessarily entertain. Whatever you think about Marvel, way back when (and “way back when” was less than ten years ago - remarkable) their approach to their own IP was to respect it, and to find interesting actors to play in it. Hard to remember, but the mainstream didn’t know who the hell Iron Man was in 2008, and Downey Jr (for the last several years, the highest earning actor on the planet) was barely out of rehab and practically still un-hireable. No one knew who Chris Hemsworth was before he was Thor. Chris Evans was up and coming – but nowhere near there before he became Cap. But Marvel had faith in their original material – and a reverence for it. Those who have followed – and now everything’s a fucking “universe” so they are legion – seem more intent on aping what once worked, without necessarily taking the time to work out how and why.
Welcome to Universal’s attempt to answer the question “Why make one movie when you can make a dozen?” They’ve even hedged their bets by betting their new world order on major movie stars, one and all – thus Johnny Depp will jump ship from the ailing Pirates fiasco to The Invisible Man, Angelina Jolie (TBC) will be the Bride of Frankenstein, Javier Bardem will be her mate/monster, and they’re really keen on making Dwayne The Rock into Dwayne The Wolfman.
But first, we have the man who may no longer be able to open a movie Stateside, but is still pound for dollar probably the biggest movie star in the world – and they give him a dead girlfriend??!!
If The Mummy, directed with little imagination and even less flair by screenwriter Alex Kurtzman, was a simple one-off standalone film, it would actually be fine. It’s entertaining enough, it’s relatively short (unusual these days), and it has Cruise – always the major asset in anything he lends his name to – working as hard as he always does, and here getting to offer a goofy comic side at times that, frankly, we don’t see enough of.
But the film is so concerned with world-building that it actually starts to become irritating, like a busker just passing the hat round and not really bothering to entertain you before asking for your money. The fist half is stronger, and there are some action sequences that work well – but work in isolation. Kurtzman directs his film with the beats of an action movie, rather than a horror or monster movie. Thus the impressive zero-G plane crash feels like it could have been lifted form a Mission Impossible outtake; the Tom-is-covered-in-rats moment feels like an abandoned Indiana Jones sequence. The ambulance chase, meanwhile, feels like it would’ve played well in a larger budget version of Shaun Of The Dead – then again, if Shaun Of The Dead had had a larger budget, it wouldn’t be Shaun Of The Dead. (And don't get us started on the whole American Werewolf in London lift.)
Plus, a fundamental thing that this Mummy gets wrong is the fact that all the original Universal monster movies had a quality of gothic romance and a genuine sense of tragedy to them. This has some nice gags and Russell Crowe.
And speaking of Crowe, he plays both Dr Jekyll and Basil Exposition (Mr Hyde briefly gets a look in as well.) As the designed linking tissue in this next decade of proposed movies, the man has an awful lot of explaining to do – too much as it turns out.
As a one-off, The Mummy would be quite a fun romp. It raises more than one smile. But there’s so much round the edges urging you to come back next time, that it makes you not want to. More monster mess than Monster Mash. No one wins.
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