Intended as a tentpole to kick off Universal’s DARK UNIVERSE franchise, THE MUMMY is kind of a captivating debacle. Thinking about this 2017 picture in terms of what might’ve been is disappointing, but what is on screen is at turns ludicrous, idiotic, strangely entertaining, and almost always absurd.
Helmed by Alex Kurtzman, THE MUMMY is reportedly the project of its star more than its director. It shows, as the movie feels like several different things fused together. The screenplay by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman goes through the motions of establishing some foundational aspects, but nothing sticks.
Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, U.S. Army soldier and treasure hunter. He and his pal Chris (Jake Johnson) inadvertently unearth an ancient Egyptian tomb. Together with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), they investigate the mystery of the ancient Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). The adventure carries on as Nick is possessed and Ahmanet seeks her return to the world of the living.
As the planned first outing for the DARK UNIVERSE, THE MUMMY’s prime directive is creating a larger world. This makes things feel more like a superhero picture and less like a horror movie. That’s fine in and of itself, but THE MUMMY more a vehicle for Cruise doing Cruise things than it is for Boutella’s Mummy doing Mummy things.
And because THE MUMMY lacks the precision of other Cruise vehicles, the result is chaotic. This is apparent from the outset, as Cruise and Johnson get all shouty during the first garish action sequence. Other scenes are likewise bizarre, like when a plane is tumbling to the ground but the audience watches Cruise and Wallis roll around for what seems like an eternity.
Perhaps the oddest thing of all is the acting, which finds the star plunging deep into a role that should’ve gone to someone like Nicolas Cage. There’s a certain puerile subtext to Morton, especially as he starts to feel the presence of the titular character, and Cruise doesn’t pull it off. The surrounding cast is similarly strange, even when Russell Crowe shows up as a certain doctor.
But more than just being messy and not effectively introducing a universe, THE MUMMY is perhaps most conspicuously a vanity project. This is made clear through both the details and the overview. Crowe’s character effectively refers to Morton as a young man, for instance, and the relationship between Jenny and the lead is basically a case of extreme cheerleading – sometimes literally so.
THE MUMMY could have been an irrational little piece of popcorn cinema, something to feast on when things slow down. But instead, it’s a coarse attempt at shoehorning classic monsters into the teeming superhero field. And to make matters worse, the monster in question in this case plays second fiddle to a mystifying and mystified star