THE MUMMY * *
Starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson and Russell Crowe. Screenplay by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman. Directed by Alex Kurtzman.
A film as misconceived and patched together out of corporate boardroom PowerPoint pitches as The Mummy was always going to be lousy, but it’s a particularly disheartening experience to watch Tom Cruise –our last superstar standing during an era in which #branding and pre-existing intellectual property have made marquee names obsolete– surrender to this kind of franchise dreck. I think it’s probably constitutionally impossible for go-getter Cruise to ever half-ass anything, but there’s a palpable “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sigh hanging over this entire enterprise.
Since nothing can just be a plain old movie anymore, The Mummy is supposed to be the kickoff of Universal Pictures’ “Dark Universe” – a terribly expensive exercise in Marvel mimicry bringing the studio’s iconic 1930s monsters back together under a modern umbrella. (It should by no means be confused with the last two times Universal attempted something similar, in 2004’s Van Helsing and 2014’s Dracula Untold.) Forthcoming “Dark Universe” installments are scheduled to star Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster and Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, with Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll as the Nick Fury figure presumably tying all the pictures together. Because nothing packs the kids into multiplexes these days quite like a bunch of guys in their fifties remaking movies that are almost ninety years old.
The extent to which The Mummy is interesting –and it’s not very– is in watching Cruise attempt to contort his patented Tom Cruise character and what he thinks the audience expects from A Tom Cruise Movie(TM) into the desultory structure of a modern franchise formula. He’s even brought along his regular writer, Christopher McQuarrie, to join the rugby scrum of scribes and help ease the transition – kicking off with the not-unpromising setup of Cruise as a callow, hotshot military contractor who spends most of his time in Iraq plundering the treasures of ancient Mesopotamia to sell on the black market.
Pinned down by machine gun fire from angry insurgents who don’t take kindly to looters, Cruise calls in a drone strike that accidently unleashes an ancient evil – a giant honking metaphor the movie depressingly does nothing whatsoever with. Instead there’s an awful lot of jibber-jabber about Ahmanet, an Egyptian princess entombed because of a forbidden love, and if I understand the gist of things properly she’s back now and really wants to fuck Tom Cruise to death.
Some movies feel like they’re made by a committee, The Mummy feels like it was made by a conference call during which nobody was listening to one another. Parts of it are a typical Cruise/McQuarrie stunt spectacular, boasting an especially hair-raising plane crash sequence and the star in his amusingly cocky asshole mode, eventually humbled by circumstances larger than his own selfishness. A lot of it is modern generic studio blockbuster filmmaking 101, with anonymous characters running down dark hallways pursued by weightless swarms of unremarkable CGI creatures in distended action sequences that have no consequence or bearing upon the story. (I haven’t mentioned the director yet because a lot of these things are so extensively pre-vized, focus grouped and over-produced it kinda doesn’t matter who sits in a chair calling the shots.)
But most of the movie is exposition. Insufferable sitcom star Jake Johnson is gratifyingly killed early on, only to reappear spouting plot points in various states of decomposition as a brazen ripoff of Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf In London. Luckily there’s also Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll, and we already know from Man Of Steel that this actor has a marvelously mellifluous way of enunciating elaborate horse-pucky. He’s in charge of something called Prodigium – a lavishly funded clandestine monster-hunting agency that I’m pretty sure does the exact same thing as that lavishly funded clandestine monster-hunting agency with a dopey name that John Goodman ran in Kong: Skull Island, because everybody in Hollywood is so creatively fucking bankrupt that they all keep ripping off S.H.I.E.L.D. over and over again, even though S.H.I.E.L.D. was so boring dull-ass Marvel blew it up six movies ago.
Crowe is in giddy, porcine self-delight mode – and I did get a big kick out of his concept of Mr. Hyde being to basically just play Bob Hoskins. But despite a couple of funny flourishes in which Cruise bends over backwards to remind us just how shallow this character really is, it’s a terrible waste to have our star spend most of the film looking on incredulously while people convey information. Cruise is an incredible man of action, and not one of the movies’ better listeners.
The Mummy seems to lose its own plot around the time it becomes an extended teaser for future Prodigium projects. I can understand how these sort of shared universes are irresistible promises to shareholders, but look back at Tron: Legacy or those Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man fiascoes and marvel (tee-hee) at the arrogance of presuming audiences already want to spend upwards of fifteen hours over the next few years in a world you haven’t even created yet. Movies used to have to earn their sequels by people going to see them in the first place.
Still, I can’t really fault Cruise for trying something like this, no matter how poor a fit it turned out to be. If I had to make a list of the best summer movies of the past decade (and I won’t because I’m probably the only critic who hates making lists) I’d put Edge Of Tomorrow and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation somewhere near or at the very top, so all those gloating clickbait articles about Tom’s three-decade career being over because this dopey flick underperformed can chill out a bit. I’m sure he’s already found something even taller and more amazing to dangle from in next year’s M:I-6 and then all will be forgiven.