One of the funnier jokes in last year’s superhero breakout Deadpool was the main character’s comment on the ubiquitous “hero pose”; In The Mummy, starring mega-celebrity and probable cultist Tom Cruise, the titular character proves that there’s another, just as omnipresent villain pose: walking slowly into camera as destruction reigns around them, arms outstretched in exaltation of their own evil. This is one of the many hackneyed and ludicrous moments in a film so gloriously bad it might make my best of the year list.
The Mummy begins Universal’s attempt at the new Hollywood fad of cinematic universes: a bunch of franchises tied together that eventually coalesce into one uber-movie. Marvel did it first with The Avengers in 2012 and the experiment has wrought nothing but pale imitators since. Universal’s crack at it—dubbed the appropriately generic “Dark Universe”—plans to build franchises around their stable of classic horror icons like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and so on, though to what end I don’t think even Universal knows. If The Mummy is an indicator of quality I’m not sure the universe will make it to the assumed Avengers-esque team up, but damned if I won’t be there to watch it fail.
Tom Cruise plays thief and general louse Nick Morton who along with his comedic sidekick (played by Jake Johnson) masquerades as special ops in order to covertly smuggle precious artifacts out of war torn countries and sell them on the black market. As the movie begins Nick and company stumble across an ancient Egyptian tomb containing the mummy of Princess Ahmanet, played by Sofia Boutella—so evil in life that the Egyptians apparently crossed the Red Sea to bury her in Iraq. A series of predictable events ensue: turns out it’s cursed, cue action sequence.
The film commits the same sin that most of attempts at cinematic universes do (even based Marvel is guilty): it’s more concerned with setting up future films than it is with creating a cohesive, quality experience of it’s own. About halfway through the film Russell Crowe turns up playing Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, you read that right), leader of a shadowy, world-running organization that specializes in dealing with the paranormal. He and the film’s obligatory blonde, blue-eyed love interest Jenny (Annabelle Wallis, displaying questionable acting capability) serve mostly for exposition: you see, they mention frequently, there’s something darker about this universe. Find out what three movies from now.
The other major problem is that the film feels like it was shot from three different scripts (a horror, an action blockbuster, and a comedy) that were accidentally dropped on the floor and scooped up into a pile but never sorted out. All three elements work fine separately—a lot of the jokes land and there’s a particularly thrilling plane crash sequence at the end of the first act—but combined give The Mummy a dissident tone, varying almost from shot to shot. This eliminates both consistency and stakes—jokes are cracked right in the middle of dire moments and if the characters aren’t scared of a horde of mummies chasing them than why should we be?
Boutella as the mummy is an interesting choice—she’s very beautiful, even in death—but I have slight suspicion that casting a female in the role was a result of cynical boardroom “feminism”. Not that it had to be, there are actual female mummies, it just seems like the kind of thing a bunch of middle-aged male executives would do. If it is an attempt at empowerment, it’s a bad one given that a) she spends the last act of the movie in a gauze bikini with her breasts popping out as far as the PG-13 rating will let them and b) straight up murders a baby in the opening scene. She’s also barely in the movie, spending the first act as a shoddy special effect and the second act in bondage (someone out there please do a feminist reading of this movie, I’m not smart enough). Sofia Boutella is a good actress, I’d have liked to see an interpretation of the mummy that was worthy of both her performance and the monster’s horror icon status.
So, you’re probably asking, why did I say I enjoyed this movie? Because at about the halfway point the film descends into utter lunacy. Tom Cruise gets tossed around like a rag doll, hurled headlong into stone walls and oncoming buses and even indulges in one moment that plays out like a gag from Looney Tunes. In fact, all of the films insane moments mirror Hanna-Barbara cartoons; Crowe’s inevitable transformation from Dr. Jekyll into his evil counterpart Mr. Hyde has strong hints of the Tasmanian Devil. Crowe plays Hyde like a baby of the Hulk and Reagan from The Exorcist, employing a thick, cockney accent. Jake Johnson (who dies early on in the film) keeps reappearing as part of Tom Cruises mummy-induced fever dream but then Tom Cruise gets resurrection super powers and brings him back—a lot of people get brought back from the dead in this movie. And then there’s Princess Ahmanet, who has the ability to appear literally anywhere but always chooses to appear right behind one of the protagonists and is never not accompanied by a jump-scare sound. Like the tagline says: She is Real. She is Evil. She is Ridiculous.
One good thing about bringing Tom Cruise into a movie is that he always commits. Cruise is a big proponent of doing his own stunts, which I’ve always admired; it helps the action feel more perilous when you can tell the actor isn’t a CGI model added in post. A late scene of Cruise trapped underwater, desperately swimming away from a gaggle of undead (who are also practical effects; good on you, movie) is the only scare that I think worked as intended. The others are lackluster—again, always with the jump scares—the last thing one would expect from a film based off an iconic horror movie.
Verdict: The Mummy is the purest form of tripe, only entertaining in it’s levels of badness that run deeper than the layers of a Russian nesting doll. If you enjoy finely curated fail, this film is for you.