The Mummy is a welcome first act to Dark Universe (movie review)

The Mummy
With all the hype and money to be made around extended cinematic universes, is it any surprise that Universal decided to throw their hat into the ring with their new Dark Universe franchise? It may not have the cachet of DC or Marvel’s cavalcade of superheroes, but it does have a long history of characters and films. The first film in this new Monster Cinematic Universe is The Mummy, a remake of a remake of a 1930s film starring Boris Karloff. However, it shares almost no similarities with its predecessors, save for the titular big bad.

But rather than seeming like a rehash of mummies of movies past, this new Mummy carves some new territory in the action genre. And it’s thanks to some truly inspired action set pieces, a fearsome villain, and the charisma of Tom Cruise. If this movie serves as the introduction of a new series of films within the monsters universe, I consider it a pretty well-made first act.

The Mummy opens with a monologue from our narrator and future monster, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), as he recounts the story of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess. She killed her Pharaoh father and baby brother and makes a pact with Set, the Egyptian god of death. In turn he gives her limitless power in exchange for bringing him into the world in mortal form. But before she is able to complete this ritual, she is captured, mummified alive, and imprisoned in a secret tomb.

Fast forward to present day. Two American soldiers, Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), are scouting out an insurgent stronghold in Iraq. They are looking for a hidden treasure and discover Ahmanet’s burial site. With the help of archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), they recover the sarcophagus to bring back to the States.

Of course, the mummy has other plans as she summons a horde of crows to take down the cargo plane that’s transporting the sarcophagus and crash lands the now freed mummy in the heart of London. Nick is chosen by the mummy to be the mortal vessel for Set and must find a way to rid himself of this curse. He soon finds himself precariously allied with Dr. Jekyll, the leader of a mysterious shadow organization known as SHIELD – I mean, Prodigium – that seeks to “pinpoint evil and neutralize it.”

The Mummy takes a far different approach than the popular Brendan Fraser movie series from the early 2000s. Fraser’s Mummy films were lighthearted adventure romps. And they leaned heavily on screwball comedy tropes and “will they/won’t they” romantic interludes between its two leads. On the other hand, Cruise’s Mummy film plays out as more of an action/horror hybrid. It blends some excellent action sequences with obligatory jump scare moments. The story is darker, with a color palette to match, which adds a level of gravity to the proceedings.

The stakes feel more real and the characters are less broad caricatures of previous mummy films. That’s not to say that the film is completely devoid of humor. Johnson brings his top-notch comic persona to the proceedings, adding levity to nearly every scene he is in. He serves as the perfect counterpoint to the more serious Cruise. And he helps to keep the story from getting too weighed down by the stakes involved in the mummy’s curse.

Boutella is an absolute marvel as the mummy. She perfectly blends seductive beauty with an undercurrent of malevolence. It almost makes you want to fall under her spell and believe her promises of power.

Cruise, as usual, is an undeniably compelling figure. He’s one of the last true action stars who always manages to hold the audience’s attention in every scene he is in. His character of Nick is by no means unique (a thief with a hidden heart of gold). At the same time, Cruise somehow manages to infuse that trademark smarm. It’ll make you root for him, even as you know he’s conning you.

Crowe’s small but pivotal role as Nick Fury – I mean Dr. Jekyll – is solid, but really only sets the scene for future movies that he is sure to be a part of. The all too brief appearance of alter ego Mr. Hyde only serves to whet the audience’s appetite for what is sure to be a meatier role for Crowe in future films.

Director Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us) makes his big-budget directorial debut with The Mummy. And it’s clear that his long history as writer/producer for some big name franchises including Transformers, Spider-Man, and Star Trek have served him well. The plot moves along briskly and the action sequences are thrilling and well-conceived. About the only quibble I have is that the best scenes were shown in the film’s extended trailers, which does remove a bit of the surprise. But watching these same scenes on the big screen is truly breathtaking. The IMAX 3D version of this film in particular really pops off the screen. It adds an immersive element to an already pretty gripping action film.

The Mummy Final Reaction

Count me among the initial skeptics, who viewed this attempt to create a Monster Cinematic Universe as nothing short of an ill-conceived cash grab. After all, do we really need to see yet another attempt at a Frankenstein movie? But with The Mummy, I can now see the real and tangible benefits of creating such a universe. Rather than licensing out its various properties (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy) to different creators every few years, Universal has assembled a group of top tier producing, directing, and acting talent in hopes of creating a cohesive and coherent narrative thread between its disparate monsters.

Monster movies will no longer be one-off creations that reflect the whims of whoever happens to have control of the IP in any given year. Instead, each film will build towards something bigger. Something resembling, dare I say, a real universe. And although it is unlikely that this universe will be anything as big as the Marvel juggernaut, with The Mummy, this Dark Universe is off to an excellent start.

Rating: 4/5 Atoms

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Brian Chu
Brian Chu 221 posts

Brian Chu is a Staff Writer for Nerd Reactor and aspiring Jeopardy contestant. He thinks Picard is the best captain, Cumberbatch is the best Holmes, Bale is the best Batman, and Tennant is the best Doctor. Follow him @chumeister