There’s a moment in Karl Freund’s original 1932 The Mummy – a then original feature designed to replicate the themes and successes of Universal’s contemporary horror films: Dracula, Frankenstein etc. – in which the Mummy himself (Boris Karloff playing Imhotep) is awoken from his sarcophagus slumber behind an unaware Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher). It’s a scene that’s not quite as effective as it might have been but one that works by virtue of the brilliant tension of expectation that comes with viewers knowing exactly what is coming.
There’s a similar feeling that arises in watching the opening act of Alex Kurtzman’s 2017 reboot of the franchise. A series last realised with Brendan Fraiser in the Stephen Sommers trilogy of a decade ago. It’s a sense of foreboding dread that is in this case stirred by the audience’s gradual understanding of what is unfolding before our eyes. That is: a desperately dull exercise in blockbusting commercialism so focused on setting up yet another extended universe that it completely forgets to build one worth spending time in.
Tom Cruise stars in The Mummy as Tom Cruise, working undercover here as a character called Nick Morton. He’s a loosely defined rogue with rugged good looks, an arrogant personality and a penchant for sleeping with women, before robbing and ditching them in the morning. Yes, Nick nicks things.
It is Nick’s theft of a map from Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), an archeologist with a secret of her own, which kicks the excrement into the fan for the film to get going. Along with his (disposable) friend Sergeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), Nick uses the map to track down the tomb of Ahmanet in present day Iraq. In a Sommers-like campy prologue, Ahmanet (Kingsman‘s Sofia Boutella) is explained to have been the expectant heir of her Pharaoh father. A future cut short by the birth of a son who replaces her in the line of succession. Rather peeved and deeply ambitious, Ahmanet’s intention to take the throne all the same thus sees her summon the Ancient god Set, murder her nuclear family and attempt to sacrifice her lover in order to give Set a physical form of his own. It is only the intervention of her father’s priests, who kill the lover themselves and mummify Ahmanet alive, that saves the day…until sodding Nick sticks his oar in 5000 years later.
A zombie, shoot out and plane crash later, Nick wakes in a mortuary to find himself impossibly alive and unharmed from the crash. It is then that he learns, from the ghost of Vail of all people, that he has been cursed by Ahmanet and has no hope of survival. She’s chosen him as her new lamb for sacrifice to have a second stab at bringing Set into the mortal world. Enter, Russell Crowe as Dr [Spoiler], the leader of Prodigium, a monster-busting secret organisation based in the British Museum, and the long awaited (by nobody) return of his dubious attempts at various English accents. Once again, Crowe seems almost incapable of acting and accenting in tandem. His expression of constapated concentration throughout is often painful to watch. Clearly intended as the future Samuel L Jackson of the Dark Universe, here Crowe plays Basil Exposition meets Professor Xavier via, at one point, Fagin from Oliver!
The worst thing about The Mummy is that it is a film doesn’t even have the decency to be entertainingly dreadful. It’s just seriously dull. Crowe’s part in the persistent exposition dumping across the script is nothing to that forced upon Johnson and Wallis. Examples of their ‘direlogue’ (if you will) includes stinkers like ‘Colonel, this is a significant find’ and ‘The translator said haram means hidden treasure, i.e. a curse’. Never mind three dimentions, these are characters not even in two. Exchanges literally explain what is going on at every point, whilst halfway through Wallis is given a deeply patronising recap. Presumably for the benefit of all those who failed to stay awake through the forty preceding minutes.
Jenny is an individual whose personality is established on the sole initial feature of her having slept with Nick. She’s a generic smart arse who knows everything that the plot requires her to – from archealogy to the internal workings of aircraft – and is forced to make a journey of orbital progression around Cruise, resulting in her inevitable swooning for his rugged attitudes and ‘good man inside’ shtick. She’s not even likeable. ‘Do you ever think of anyone but yourself?’ She asks Nick at one point before saying: ‘My life’s work and you were going to steal it.’ Someone find the woman a sense of perspective for pity’s sake! Wallis earned goodwill as an actress with Peaky Blinders but that’s sadly sacrificed like an Ancient Egyptian extra in this work.
Nick may well be the Earth to Jenny’s Moon but don’t mistake that for a greater sense of character depth. If Alien: Covenant was a greatest hits compilation of the Alien franchise, The Mummy is entirely that of the ‘Tom Cruise franchise’. He’s a bland action hero of little distinction. A little bit Mission Impossible, a little bit Edge of Tomorrow and a lottle bit Tom Cruise. That’s neither critique nor compliment. He’s been better, he’s done worse.
To justify claims that The Mummy isn’t totally irredeemable, it must be said that there is at least some good design work here, particularly in the construction of Boutella’s titular Mummy. With the exception of the odd dodgy effect and poor use of a green screen, solid CGI fills the screen throughout. Likewise, there are moments in which Brian Tyler’s score manages a fun Williams-esque joviality. These two qualities come together nicely in a sequence and stunt involving an ambulance – the best of the film – climaxing with the well-deployed, if cheap, line: ‘kick her arse!’
‘Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters’ is the signature line of The Mummy, surely making this one of the longest trailers of all time. The only problem with the declaration being that there’s really nothing new here. Don’t bother with the cinema experience, this’ll be much more fun when watched at home with mates, pizza and only partial concentration.