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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Movie Review: #TheMummy

The competent but underwhelming The Mummy doesn't exactly woo us into Universal's Monster Universe.

Review by Matt Cummings

When news hit last year that Universal was building a Movie Monster Universe (we'll call it MMU), the idea didn't exactly wow audiences to get behind it. But things seemed to improve dramatically when we heard about the talent that was being assembled: Crowe, Cruise, Depp, Jolie, Bardem. Unfortunately, Universal's first (or perhaps second?) foray into this universe - that being The Mummy - arrives merely as a competent product, but lacks the glory of Iron Man and the power of Wonder Woman in terms of whetting our appetite for a larger story.

After 5,000 years of sleep in a mercury-filled burial tomb, the Egyptian Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) - who murdered her father in an attempt to become Egypt's Pharaoh - is accidentally reawakened by treasure hunters Nick (Tom Cruise) and Chris (Jake Johnson). At the same time, a secret organization is tracking their movements, spearheaded by Doctor Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). Jekyll suffers from his own issues: he must take medicine to keep his 'condition' from turning him into none other than Mr. Hyde, a murderous and hideous creature. But when Ahmanet brandishes Nick as her protector, he realizes that her goal is to murder him and incorporate her soul into his body. Forced to join sides with Dr. Jekyll, Nick must destroy Ahmanet before she can use an ancient weapon to murder him, or risk walking the earth as a servant of the maniacal princess.

Your reaction to this one are going to be based on whether you've seen the 1999 Brendan Fraser film, or if you're too young to have seen it. I thought I was the only one who loved the Fraser version, but it's clear that I'm not in the minority. That one has a special magic to it, a mix of Indiana Jones, National Treasure, and just enough horror to balance the comedy. This Mummy is trying for something bigger: a connected monster universe where the titular character will join Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and others in an Avengers-style response team. Crowe's Hyde is supposed to be Nick Fury, but that's as far as we get. His condition keeps him locked up...for what? To coordinate a response team behind a wall because he himself can't be trusted? Where's the logic in that?

Cruise, for all his appeal and work ethic (the guy doing all his own stunts continues to make him THE action hero of our time), portrays Nick as unlikable-figure-with-a-heart-of-gold. His affection for Jenny isn't really established, so when he makes the ultimate sacrifice (more than once), we're left wondering if anyone's death here means anything. Surely, this ability is meant to mean something and will later come in handy when Team Monsters battles...a vortex? An alien invasion? But it gives no weight to any of the threats of danger because he can clearly hit reset on this game console. Director Alex Kurtzman doesn't really push the visual boundaries as much as he could to bring out the horror element, nor does the writing team headed by David Keopp and Chirstopher McQuarrie get into the heart of his characters' motives. I'm particularly surprised McQuarrie lend his talents to this one, because his normally intelligent dialogue is replaced here by too much explanation by Crowe and comedic interludes that whipsaw the story. True, Universal is trying to build an MMU here, but we didn't need as much as what occurs here.

There are things to like about Mummy. Boutella is pretty good as the antagonist, a sultry and unremorseful evil that must be stopped. The action is also excellent, as Cruise and Wallis floated around on a zero-g jet to shoot one sequence and another in which Cruise and Johnson fall off a collapsing building. The design aesthetic here is also superb, and the overall product feels competent. But it's also a standard Summer film, devoid of heart with Wallis' Jenny and Johnson's Chris being interchangeable and therefore nothing more than plot devices for Kurtzman to maneuver on the chess board. Crowe is fine as Jekyll, but I really wanted to see him "Hulk Out" or at least arrive to save the day. Neither happens, and the movie concludes as merely a meh chapter in this larger story than a wallop that demands you to read on.

Your reaction to The Mummy will depend as much on whether you've seen the Brendan Fraser version as what movie you've last seen. If that happens to be Baywatch or Pirates of the Caribbean, then you might like the horror elements and universe building. But if that answer is Wonder Woman, then you'll find this one to be all over the place in terms of tone, story, and heart. What absolutely cannot be denied is that Universal's first (or perhaps second? Anyone remember Dracula Untold?) foray into the monster universe isn't exactly a homerun, but a competent single into right field. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it's me hoping things will get better with the next installment.

The Mummy is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity and has a runtime of 110 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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