In this day and age, franchises are money makers. Walt Disney Studios has the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros has the DC Extended Universe, and now Universal is kicking off its “Dark Universe” with the release of The Mummy, a remake of the 1999 Brendan Fraser-led The Mummy. Unfortunately for Universal, the film is as clunky and thin as the idea of a studio creating its own franchise by cobbling together a bunch of monster movies to try and rake in cash.
Tom Cruise stars as soldier/looter Nick Morton. After he unintentionally awakens an evil Egyptian princess, he must stop the monster from destroying the world — and stop her from completing her ancient quest to turn a “Chosen One” (that would be him) into the god of death, Set. On his side is the beautiful archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and his best friend and fellow soldier/looter Chris Vail (Jake Johnson). As Nick races against the clock to destroy Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), he uncovers a secret private company that specializes in monsters, run by the mysterious Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). JEKYLL, GET IT?
Whereas 1999’s The Mummy was a silly action-packed romp filled with humor and excitement, The Mummy feels like it plods along with zero enthusiasm. It sinks under the weight of trying to cover too many bases. Not only does it have to explain Ahmanet’s backstory and her stakes, it also has to serve as the first installment for a series, setting up plot lines for future installments, like introducing Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll.
With a title as blunt as The Mummy, you know you’ll expect some ancient Egyptian royal to come to life, wreck havoc, have to be stopped, etc. etc. But here they seem to give little thought to the “etc.” part. The action sequences feel predictable and fly by with breakneck speed, hardly giving the audience time to digest anything close to character development. Sticking to the monster theme, it was surprising to learn that Ahmanet’s victims (after sucking their life force out of them), become reanimated and bend to her will. Wait, no one told me this was a zombie movie! Is it 2013 again?!
On top of thin plots and near-constant action scenes, the cast never seems to quite hit their marks. Tom Cruise is ever himself, but fails to sell the jokier dialogue meant to lighten up scenes. Jake Johnson, comedic gold on New Girl, seems out of place, like his character was shoved in during reshoots. Annabelle Wallis does all she can with the hapless Jenny Halsey, who follows Cruise around wide-eyed and drenched in a white top. Sofia Boutella is perhaps the brightest spot as the seductive and evil Egyptian princess, but she never gets enough backstory to move her out of “generic villain” territory.
It’s not like The Mummy isn’t watchable, it’s a perfectly serviceable if lackluster action flick. But as the kickoff to a huge franchise, it’s absolutely disappointing. Films featuring the Invisible Man (Johnny Depp), Frankenstein (Javier Bardem), Bride of Frankstein, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Creature From the Black Lagoon, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame have already been announced or speculated. But with a lackluster first film like this, “Dark Universe” is certainly starting from behind, especially against juggernauts like Marvel and DC.