The Mummy is an epic mess of a movie, but it was always going to be, considering all the ingredients which went into its making. There’s a male director (Alex Kurtzman) who has only made one movie before and is best known as one of the screenwriters behind some divisive and often outright terrible (as well as casually misognynistic) movies. There’s a motley crew of 6 credited screenwriters who range from longtime Hollywood hacks to credible writers who should have known better to newbies just happy to be there. There’s a horribly miscast leading man whose refusal to play to his actual age is bordering on sad at this point. There’s a supporting cast who have been given jack shit to do. And there’s a studio desperately trying to kickstart a cinematic universe, even if that means ruining their movie of the moment in the hopes of launching many more movies in the future. The result is an embarassing failure which doesn’t actually have a second act and never manages to settle on a tone, instead awkwardly alternating between Romancing the Stone adventure, Mission Impossible practical stunts, gothic horror, jump scares and sudden Iron Man 2 syndrome.
It’s disappointing because based on the first trailer The Mummy sure seemed to have everything you’d want/expect from a Tom Cruise blockbuster – a showcase practical stunt (this time an extended glimpse at the interior of a plane while it is in freefall and tossing its passengers around like ragdolls), strong female co-stars (Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis) who’ll probably upstage him ala Edge of Tomorrow and Rogue Nation, a surprise cameo from someone you wouldn’t expect to see in this kind of movie (Russell Crowe here, Anthony Hopkins in MI:2) and, most importantly, shots of Cruise running in that way where his arms cut through the air like swords. Sure, there is no obvious Scientology metaphor messaging, and this is actually a newish genre for Cruise, who hasn’t done anything remotely horror-related since Interview with the Vampire. But this still looks like Mummy Impossible: Mummy Protocol.
It’s not, though. This isn’t the Tom Cruise movie you’re expecting. In fact, Mummy is so impossibly busy setting up its bullshit cinematic universe that Cruise doesn’t show up until we’ve had to sit through nearly 10 minutes of prologue which zigs from ancient Eypgt and narration explaining the titular mummy’s background as a renegade Queen before zagging to mysterious Russell Crowe and his soldiers taking over a seemingly unrelated archeological site in present day London. Only then do we finally get to Cruise and his co-stars in Iraq, watching as his Nathan Drake-like character happens upon an ancient tomb and accidentally unleashes a curse. Before long, though, we’re already flashing back to every part of the prologue because modern movies like The Mummy all assume the worst of their audience and bend over backwards to spell everything out. So, if you show up late to Mummy you don’t need to worry. Everything you missed will be re-explained again (and again) because you’re watching a movie which thinks you’re an idiot.
THE PLOT: Military people find some mummy-related artifact which causes a plane crash. One specific victim somehow returns from the dead, but he doesn’t fall in line with the mummy who is hellbent on destroying national landmarks and claiming him as her eternal mate. Plus, there’s a MacGuffin everyone wants because of there is.
If you ignore all of that and focus on everything with Cruise and pals there’s around 40 minutes of a kind of okay B-grade monster movie here. It’s hokey, poorly acted, and often mockable, but some of the jump scares actually work, Jake Johnson lands a decent joke or two as the comic relief sidekick and Kurtzman works in a couple of Evil Dead/Shaun of the Dead-esque bits involving comically relentless zombies. Wallis is an instant dud as the take-charge hot lady scientist with a past romance with Cruise, but the fault lies in the script, not in her performance (it’s certainly not her fault that Kurtzman’s camera needlessly leers at her exposed midriff at one point). Courtney B. Vance, as their boss, has the good sense to be killed off right away. Cruise does the modern day Tom Cruise thing – peforming impressive practical stunts while playing a despicable character placed on a redemptive arc – and Sofia Boutella is certainly watchable as the mummy.
But then the turn happens. We’re all familiar with this by now. It’s the shrug-inducing Iron Man 2/Batman v Superman turn when the plot of the actual movie you’re watching suddenly takes a back seat to the larger purpose of setting up a cinematic universe you may or may not care about. At least when Iron Man 2 sacrificed its entire second half to set up The Avengers we could take solace in the fact that we’d already had one full Iron Man movie and at least half of a good sequel. Not Mummy, though. Universal wants to spring Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and countless other monster movies out of this, and the last time they played the “let’s make a complete monster movie first, and then worry about sequels and spin-offs” game they ended up with the Dracula Untold. Screw that noise. We want our cinematic universe and we want it now, or so the Universal execs likely argued.
So, The Mummy screeches to a halt to allow its own Coulson/Nick Fury-figure, Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll, to more or less take the movie hostage, drop easter eggs (references to Dracula, Frankenstein and Creature from the Black Lagoon and others come flying at us) and set up all sorts of prequel and sequel possibilities, including perhaps an origin movie for himself. Because, spoiler-alert, Mr. Hyde does get to come out and play, acting as a mini-villain of sorts before he and Jekyll mercifully exit the movie. It’s actually quite hilarious. It almost literally goes like this:
Crowe: Hi, I’m Dr. Jekyll [pause for dramatic impact]
Cruise: Um, is that name supposed to mean something to me? Who the hell are you?
Crowe: Don’t worry, Tom. The audience gets it. Now, excuse me while I load this medical injection gun in front of you and inject myself with a special medicne to hold off my evil alter-ego. I can sense him coming any second now.
Cruise: Evil alter-ego? What? Should you really be waiting until the last second to do that?
Crowe: Probably not, but this way looks so much cooler.
[Cut to one scene later]
Crowe: Oh, rats. I already need another injection because someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to put a highly unstable person like me in charge of movie monster SHIELD. You know what? Let’s not get to the injection in time because, frankly, you don’t cast me to play a man with a short temper and not let me throw a phone at you. Plus, this way you can defeat me and get back to fighting the mummy we currently have chained up in that area where we do all of our evil experiments. See you in the sequel!
This section of the movie features Cruise at his most confused, but, really, he wears a look of near-constant befuddlement regardless of what’s happening. It’s supposed to reflect his character’s ongoing confusion over the quickly escalating set of events which have resulted in him somehow being chosen by an ancient mummy to be the vessel through which she will bring the Egyptian god of death into the world. In reality, though, it’s just as likely Cruise wasn’t so much acting as was simply trying to work through his own personal confusion as to how the hell he ended up in a Mummy movie directed by the guy who co-wrote the first two Transformers movies.
But maybe I’m projecting. Perhaps it’s foolish to assume Cruise would have enough self-awareness to realize what a poor choice this was. If he or anyone else responsible for making this movie was more self-aware they’d realize how impossibly silly it is to watch 55-year-old Cruise trying desperately to look like he’s 35 and romancing two female co-stars, Wallis and Boutella, who weren’t even alive when he made Risky Business. They woudn’t have forced one of those ladies to constantly tell Cruise’s character what a good person he is despite all evidence to the contrary. And they certainly wouldn’t have thought it was a good idea to build a plot that basically boils down to a female mummy just really wanting to bang Tom Cruise.
That last part actually bears repeating: the plot of this movie boils down to Sofia Boutella chasing after Tom Cruise so that she might mount him and have her way with him, in this case completing a ritual which will turn him into a god. It’s an ego stroke that Tom Cruise, a man in his fifties, felt like he needed, and it’s embarrassing to watch. Even without all of the Dark Universe crap in the second half The Mummy may never have been salvageable, not with that as its basic plot.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Mummy is as wrong-headed as they come, perfect fodder for those who love to watch bad movies but entirely skippable for anyone not given to such schadenfreude.