Release date: 9th June 2017/Watch the trailer here
If last month’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword didn’t act as a warning for studios to stop announcing huge franchises and cinematic universes before the first film in the series has even been released, perhaps The Mummy will. Rather than being a reboot of the 1999 Brendan Fraser film of the same name, The Mummy is intended to kick off Universal’s recently-announced ‘Dark Universe’. Inspired by the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and (to a slightly lesser extent) the DC Extended Universe, the Dark Universe will be a classic monster movie series, with plans to follow up The Mummy with Frankenstein’s monster (to be played by Javier Bardem), the Invisible Man (Johnny Depp), Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and so on.
It’s certainly an intriguing concept, but unfortunately The Mummy does very little to build on that intrigue, falling into the all-too-common trap of spending too much time setting up a future franchise and not enough concentrating on making a good, standalone film. The protagonist is mercenary Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), who accidentally stumbles upon an ancient tomb while in Iraq with friend and fellow mercenary Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). The tomb belongs to the ancient Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was buried alive as punishment for killing her family and selling her soul to Set, the god of death, in a failed plot to usurp the throne. By discovering the tomb and bringing the sarcophagus bearing Ahmanet back to England with them, Nick and his team unwittingly awaken her and her supernatural powers, which leads Nick to a secret organisation known as Prodigium, led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and dedicated to hunting down evil forces.
Dr. Jekyll (and with him, of course, comes Mr. Hyde) is supposed to act as the Nick Fury of the Dark Universe, which comes as a slight relief since he’s far and away the most interesting character (aside from Ahmanet) in the entire film, but there’s also the issue that Crowe is severely miscast in the role. So, too, is Cruise, but therein lies the main problem with The Mummy: that it could have actually been a very good horror movie if it wasn’t so determined to be a typical Tom Cruise action movie instead. In both actors’ defence, neither of them phone it in, and they still do the best they can with such an abysmal script.
It truly is staggering to think that it took six (six!) people to write The Mummy when the screenplay is little more than Jenny shouting ‘NICK!’ over and over again, and much of the rest of it is exposition. No one needs to be concerned about The Mummy overtaking Wonder Woman at the box office this weekend; for this movie to be released the week after a film which saw one of the very best female protagonists to ever grace our cinema screens would be almost laughable if it wasn’t so depressing. Annabelle Wallis may be reduced to little more than a vessel to remind the audience of Tom Cruise’s character’s name (and someone for them to ogle at, too – by the end of the film she’s actually wearing a wet white T-shirt), but Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet doesn’t fare much better, either. She’s utterly captivating each time she’s on screen (once again proving the point that The Mummy could have been a pretty terrifying horror movie if it had allowed itself to be one), but the film’s too preoccupied with trying to make Ahmanet into something attractive and desirable, rather than letting her be every bit as creepy and repulsive as what Boutella was clearly striving for – exactly as the titular mummy should be.
Despite all this, however, The Mummy isn’t so terrible as to completely destroy any hopes for the Dark Universe. After all, they’ve got some decent effects and a real knack for casting their villains under their belt (although they still need to work on their heroes), and for all its faults, The Mummy is never boring. If the future films hire better writers (and really, there doesn’t need to be six of them) and choose to focus on the more monstrous elements of the characters at their centre, there’s still the potential for some very good monster movies to come out of this cinematic universe, once it finds its feet after a rather shaky beginning.