Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Writers: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
You have to give it to Hollywood, they know how to take a neat idea and keep screwing around with it until everyone hates it. This time it’s the ‘cinematic shared universe’ idea, the concept of producing several movies that inhabit the same reality and tie into each other. The MCU showed it could be done with only a few hiccups here and there, and now everyone wants to do it. The problem is that the studios are so focused on building these universes that they keep forgetting to make movies. The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel suffered because they spent far too much time on plot points, characters and tie-ins that had no bearing on their respective stories. Batman v. Superman was similarly overblown as part of DC’s effort to sprint ahead to The Justice League in as few steps as possible. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the MCU, and yet still these studios persist in their exorbitant franchise building. Thus we get the proposed Dark Universe which, after just one movie, I’ve already had enough of.
The movie kicks off with a flashback to Ancient Egypt where Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) falls to second in the line of succession when her father’s second wife gives birth to a son. She summons Set, god of violence, to help her claim the throne and kills her family but is caught before she can complete the ritual to transfer the deity’s spirit to corporeal form and is mummified. In present-day Iraq the American soldiers Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) discover Ahmanet’s tomb after calling in an airstrike. Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), a renowned archaeologist, investigates the tomb and finds Ahmanet’s sarcophagus within. As the sarcophagus is being transported to England however, Ahmanet’s spirit attacks the crew. Jenny escapes with her life when Nick parachutes her off the plane but everyone else is killed. Or so they think. Nick wakes up in an Oxford morgue and learns that he has been cursed by Ahmanet, who has decided that he shall be Set’s vessel.
I’m not sure how many different projects had to be merged in order to bring Tom Cruise and the Dark Universe together, but it plays out like a shambolic mixture of several different clashing ideas that has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be. On one side we get the supernatural monster movie that plays out more like a superhero thriller than a horror akin to those of the classic Universal monster films or the Hammer Horrors. On another side we get a Tom Cruise movie that, despite having him get killed and resurrected by an ancient Egyptian curse, is somehow as generically Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise gets. Then there’s the franchise building whereby we are introduced to the Prodigium, a secret society led by Russell Crowe dedicated towards combating supernatural threats, there to distract us from the story and to assure us that sequels are on the way. The movie also incorporates the English crusaders (because one historical backdrop wasn’t enough), a romance with less life than a 3500-year-old embalmed corpse, and the Iraq War (because that isn’t at all problematic for a silly horror/thriller blockbuster).
Naturally when an audience goes to see a monster movie, the thing they look forward to the most is the monster itself. People are so drawn to great monsters that iconic actors such as Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and Christopher Lee were able to build their careers playing them. The Mummy in this film is not one of the greats. It might not be fair to criticise this creature for not being scary because I’m not convinced that that was what the movie was going for, but she is not in any way an interesting or entertaining creature. Her design follows the example set by the Enchantress in Suicide Squad by being scanty and erotic to the point that it is impossible to find her at all threatening or intimidating. Her personality as well is a complete blank slate and, if she had a motivation, it escaped me. Tom Cruise meanwhile tries to do his usual thing the best he can, but the character he is given is a cosmic nonentity and there is only so much he can bring through star power alone.
This movie isn’t terrible or painful; it’s just depressingly dull. The story is tired and incoherent, the characters are bland and redundant and the moments between the action scenes are so relentlessly tedious and overstuffed with filler and exposition. Even when the action gets going, its mostly just a collection of moments lifted from better movies that I would rather have watched like An American Werewolf in London and Bride of Frankenstein. There were maybe one or two moments when the film went completely off the wall and delivered a moment that was crazy enough to hold my attention for a couple of minutes, as with Russell Crowe’s performance as a surprise character. Those moments were never good, but at least they were interesting. At the end of the day though, what really killed this movie for me was how blatantly transparent it was in its attempt to kickstart a franchise that has got nothing going for it and nowhere to go. I could not be less excited for the Dark Universe’s future.