Since 1923 with the release of The Hunchback of Notre Dame audiences have been intrigued and delighted by The Universal Monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf-Man, The Bride, and The Creature, etc. This summer fans once again are treated to a new version of one of the monsters’ oldest founding members: The Mummy. Along for the ride this time is superstar Tom Cruise. Together they make a pretty fun and entertaining monster movie that lays the groundwork for a whole new monster universe.
Universal Studios basically created the horror genre by bringing wonderful literary characters to the silver screen, making pop icons that still resonate to this day. So it’s no surprise that filmmakers still want to make movies about them. Coming off of Universal’s announcement of their Dark Universe series, a universe where their entire monster IP exists together and causes all sorts of problems for the people who live there. To start this new universe is The Mummy. In this version of the story the filmmakers added new elements, different from the many previous installments but keeping some original concepts for hardcore fans to enjoy as well.
Ushering The Mummy into this new Dark Universe is one of the world’s biggest stars: Tom Cruise, who does bring a certain amount of clout to a film. You as the audience know what type of movie you’ll be getting: action, humor and entertainment. The joke will be made that it should be called Mission Impossible: The Mummy. And if you have to scale it down to bare bones, it is kind of true. Cruise knows what he’s doing and knows how to make a movie of this size work. It also doesn’t hurt to have a world-wide star to bring in an audience that maybe normally wouldn’t see a monster movie; if it’s a Tom Cruise monster movie, that doesn’t hurt the box office.
In this new version we meet Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) who are soldiers of fortune. They plunder ancient sites for timeless artifacts and sell them to the highest bidder. But when they come under attack in the Middle East, the ensuing battle accidentally unearths Ahmanet, a betrayed ancient Egyptian princess who was entombed under the desert for thousands of years. Morton must now stop the resurrected monster as she embarks on a furious rampage through the streets of London seeking to resurrect the Egyptian God Set and remake the world in their image.
Along the way Nick meets Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an Egyptologist who works for a secret organization that hunts down the monsters we’ll see in this Universal shared universe. Heading the organization is a modern version of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). He keeps the things that go bump in the night in check around the world.
The new Mummy is Sofia Boutella. She is beautiful and deadly. Growing up as the only child of the pharaoh, she was groomed to be queen of all. But when a new baby brother is born and she loses her throne she turns to the God Set. Making a deal with him to gain power, she kills her father and brother. As she is trying to transfer Set’s essence into a human host she is stopped and placed in a sarcophagus for the next few thousand years. When released she once again begins her task, setting sight on Nick as her new human host for Set. Sofia plays the monster wonderfully. She’s just the right amount of evil and sympathy. The design for her is great and the special effects around her are awesome. At many times she looks like she could just fall part, but then of course kills you instead. She’s pretty evil and you could see Boutella was having the time of her life playing this role.
Cruise is of course having a good time. But in all his action flicks he always looks like that. He comes in super hot with action and the movie really never lets up. One of the few flaws with the flick is that it’s kind of all action and thrills, but no depth. Being this is a monster movie, depth isn’t always the main focus, but when you’re trying to start a universe to expand to several films you need to have a solid foundation to build upon. There’s a foundation being laid here, it’s unfortunate that it’s not as solid as it should be. Could have used more substance and less flash in certain places.
The biggest issue with the movie is that we meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, showing the audience that there is a bigger world we’re stepping into, but it’s not enough. Granted it’s a Mummy movie, so we will spend the most time with her. But a lot of the movie takes place in the hidden lair of the organization Dr. Jekyll runs, so to not have as many nods to other monsters was a little disappointing. Sure, we see some vampire skulls and some creature arms but it’s not enough. As such a huge fan of the Universal Monsters films, I was left wanting more of the little things to flush out their universe. It’s the first movie and maybe I’m having a “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” moment. Hopefully there will be more monster movies to fulfill my need.
Another issue I had were the amount of nods to the Brendan Fraser Mummy series. Yes, it happened. It was fun/good for 1999, but this is a whole new series. So for director Alex Kurtzman to keep going back to the well of things we’ve seen before became derivative. We’ve seen a mummy suck the life out of people before, or the sand having a face in it. It’s been done. And here it doesn’t feel new; just like a bad repeat. There were opportunities here to make things fresh and unique. And there are places were that happens, it’s unfortunate none of those scenes are with the mummy.
Overall this isn’t a bad movie, the best word to describe it would be entertaining. It’s fun and full of monster action, totally a summer popcorn flick, but it could have had so much more. With more experienced directors and writers I hope this new series of monster movies will soar. These movies could be great! And I want them to be. Just because the movies are about monsters doesn’t mean they can’t be taken seriously. These are the Universal Monsters for Christ sake; there’s a 100-year legacy to these cinematic icons that deserves to be treated with the respect it deserves. Hopefully this is the start of a great new Dark Universe with many films to come.