First off, make no mistake, Universal’s latest attempt at rebranding one of their many legendary classic horror movie franchises is a very inferior film. It didn’t necessarily need to be so, however. In fact, I dare say I had relatively high hopes the film would be at least halfway entertaining in a manner which didn’t involve shaking one’s head in disbelief every couple of minutes. Alas, the studio that brought us the legendary 1932 tale of undead romance starring Boris Karloff is now the same company responsible for a slew of increasingly ridiculous Fast and Furious movies, horrifically written Fifty Shades flicks, and whatever the heck that godawful Warcraft thing was.
Honestly, kids, just so we’re clear on this front, I had no absolutely no intention whatsoever of firing shots at Universal when I originally sat down to write this. But, as you may have heard from various sources following its less-than-stellar domestic box office debut two-and-a-half months before Universal dumped it to Digital, Alex Kurtzman’s majorly maligned reboot of The Mummy is one of those rare moving pictures where everyone ‒ from the critics to the public alike ‒ declared it as being “not so good.” Naturally, it was then and there that my morbid sense of cinematic curiosity officially piqued. Sure, everyone said how bad it was, but no one ever mentioned how uniquely interesting it is.
While the idiom comparing something to “watching a train wreck” has become just as clichéd as many of the motifs Kurtzman and his six (credited) writers (!) employed for The Mummy, it nevertheless still applies to this film in this particular instance. Granted, the sensation of watching The Mummy is closer to witnessing a train full of people you don’t actually like crashing into a beautifully chaotic mess ‒ as filmed in slow-motion by an inebriated and washed-out variation of David Lynch who had given up all hope of doing it for the sake of art long ago. Essentially, I found myself simultaneously perplexed and fascinated by the sheer shamelessness and utter incompetence of it all.
Originally, 2014’s Dracula Untold was intended to kick-off a new, dark side of Universal, which they mustered up a near-infinite amount of creativity for, but still called it “Dark Universe” anyway. In a nutshell, they want to mash all of Universal’s old horror movie properties into a series of new flicks. You know, like Marvel and DC Comics are currently doing with their many properties? Alas, Dracula Untold didn’t succeed in telling itself to audiences terribly well (although I personally found it to be surprisingly enjoyable, especially now that The Mummy has showed up late to the party). Thus, the whole Dark Universe thing was officially rescheduled to begin with The Mummy.
Ignoring the very notion there even was a 1932 version, Kurtzman’s Mummy is more like a bad reboot of Stephen Sommers’ 1999 film, which itself marked the beginning of an earlier attempt at mashing all of the old horror movie monsters into some sort of “Universal Dark” type of thing. Once Sommers’ increasingly old hat ideas started to collapse under the weight of their own egos, however (see: the dreadful Van Helsing, to say nothing of all of those increasingly awful Scorpion King offshoots), it quickly became more like Dark Universe Light. (And yes, these are things you will still have to answer for come the next great revolution in the film industry, Stephen.)
But at least Sommers’ first Mummy was fun and featured a few engaging characters. Kurtzman’s film, on the other hand, stars Tom Cruise. Not that I dislike Cruise as an actor, mind you (note: that read “as an actor,” and nothing else). In fact, when word reached me hit-and-miss performer was attached to this project, I said “Hey, why not? Let’s see what happens,” thinking he could just very well be the ideal person to breathe a little life into a tired old franchise. Of course, I think it goes without saying now that it was a bad move. Not necessarily because of the actor; rather, it’s a case against the ego, as it becomes quite clear Kurtzman’s The Mummy is set to “Cruise Control.”
Thus, Alex Kurtzman’s Tom Cruise’s The Mummy opens with a dull flashback prologue, wherein supporting actor Russell Crowe literally repeats himself within a four minute span. And while I fully realize his sleepy narration was (probably) supposed to bookend itself, it comes off as just plain dull and derivative, which is all the more painful when you recall there were six goddamned credited writers on this mess. This is followed by Tom Cruise’s big opening scene as an artifact-stealing military miscreant in the Middle East, where unnamed ISIS agents are busy blowing things up. Even as he and pal Jake Johnson fall under attack, he still laughs and jokes around an awful lot, just so we know he’s a go-with-the-flow fellow like that.
But it’s not the way the scene is handled by either cast or crew. Instead, the whole establishing sequence is out of place. Given the five-second character development our hero and his sidekick get ‒ to say nothing of the just plain awfulness of the situation ‒ I can’t help but wonder if the opening of The Mummy was lifted from Kurtzman’s abandoned third neo-Star Trek movie. Unsurprisingly, Kurtzman is one of the credited writers here, and his equally untalented neo-Trek rebooter buddy Roberto Orci ‒ who infamously insulted Trekkies by saying “…there is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don’t” when they trashed Star Trek into Darkness ‒ is one of this film’s executive producers.
It’s so nice to know the fate of the Universal’s classic monster franchises are in such capable, competent hands.
Frankly, I can’t help but wonder how much of the rest of The Mummy was lifted from abandoned projects. But you’ll stop pondering such things once you realize there isn’t a single lick of originality in the remainder of the story, which ‒ ultimately ‒ is little more than a bastardized, uncredited rip-off of John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (look at the undead apparition of Jake Johnson’s character), Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, and ‒ you may want to sit down for this one ‒ Neil Jordan’s High Spirits. Seriously, those are the movies The Mummy chooses to lift most of its material from. It’s a cinematic turducken made with one big-ass turkey, tenderly prepared to perfection and served with a smile by none other than Typhoid Mary herself.
A pity no one ordered the fish that day. Chances are, it would have been fresher.
Like the previous Mummy remake, the CGI effects used here are bad, to the point where even the eponymous monster’s tattoos shift with every passing, lamentable frame. It’s at least slightly better than the first time our mummy shows up on-screen, which is executed so poorly, you don’t even realize what actually happened. Or that the scene even featured any characters, for that matter. It matters not, however, since actress Sofia Boutella seems to have a hard time out-acting that of giant CGI sandstorm Arnold Vosloo faces. And yes, the mummy is female this time, kids. This is done for several reasons, such as gender equality. Mostly, however, the mummy is a lady because there’s only one other woman in the whole cast.
Also like the last version of the franchise, Alex Kurtzman’s Tom Cruise’s The Mummy relies on unnecessary CGI creepy crawly moments to portray terror. The first time it happens ‒ during the discovery of the mummy’s sarcophagus, which has all of the majestic cinematic epic grace of an A-list movie from a third world country ‒ it is played off as a red herring, apparently to inform us it’s not going to be that kind of a Mummy movie (wait, did they even see the Karloff film?). Mind you, these are the same folks who said Star Trek Into Darkness would not be a remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, so it probably won’t shock you once they start tossing flocks of CGI winged beasties into cockpits of moving planes.
Speaking of Kurtzman’s commitment to quality, how ’bout that scene where the film’s heroes fall to earth in a moving vehicle complete with stunning hyper-sensational Real3D shaky-cam? While the film version might actually feature the finished product (the notorious IMAX preview became a source of unintentional hilarity when viewers could not help but notice it was an awkward, unfinished version without any music or visual effects), it also features a smaller-scale moment of that same damn scene some 22 minutes later, kids. That’s what, the lifespan of a terminally-ill gnat? It’s a great way to drain your audience, to the point where not even a climactic explicit undead sex orgy would liven things up any.
Fortunately, like all of The Mummy‘s other flaws (and there are many), you’ll forget it all once they throw something even dumber at you. For it is then and there that sudden surprise unbilled cameo guest star Russell Crowe actually shows up to act. At first, I figured his lack of screen time within the first hour was due to his agent having enough sense to read the script before accepting. When he does finally drop in for good, we learn he’s been biding his time in unbridled anticipation of what could arguably be his worst role ever. Yes, just when I was beginning to accept the film for what it was (and what it was not), the writers transverse into yet another film universe; one where they have the nerve to run and Hyde on us.
That’s right, kids, Russell Crowe plays Robert Louis Stevenson’s Henry Jekyll here. Not classic old-school parable Jekyll, mind you. No siree. This time, the previously thought-to-be timeless creation is an eccentric scientist who is on a never-ending crusade to rid the world of evil. Even if he can’t pronounce his own last name correctly and tends to make people cringe by quoting far better Universal productions such as James Whale’s 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein and the superb 1998 biopic of Mr. Whale himself, Gods and Monsters. It’s at that point where everybody is pretty much ready to wrap up The Mummy for good, right along with its league of rather average gentlemen.
But not before that barely-noticeable moment where the safety seal security doors in Dr. Jekyll’s private cell (where hero Tom Cruise plays it straight even as a new bombshell addition to the cast ‒ Russell Crowe as Mr. Edward Hyde ‒ generously chews every ounce of fat around them as they fight to the not-near-death) automatically open once the power goes out. In a Kurtzman/Orci universe, an obstacle is only an obstacle until they decide it isn’t anymore. Honestly, the only moment of inspiration to be found throughout this disaster of a moving picture is the finale, in which I mistakenly thought Tom Cruise and Co. were riding off into the long-awaited remake of a motion picture experience even The Mummy cannot compare to, Ishtar.
Also starring Annabelle Wallis (whom I’m fairly certain was only cast due to her passing resemblance to Cameron Diaz, so Tom Cruise could finally make use of some discarded B-roll footage leftover from Knight and Day) and a thoroughly wasted Courtney B. Vance, The Mummy arrives on home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo pack. From a technical viewpoint, Universal’s 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer of The Mummy is flawless, even if the movie itself is the complete opposite of that. Aurally, we get English Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtracks, DTS 5.1 selections in Spanish and French, and a DVS option. English (SDH), French, and Spanish subtitles are included.
A heap of relics from The Mummy‘s tomb can be found in the illustrious special features section of this release. Among them are an audio commentary with Kurtzman and Tom Cruise’s three main co-stars, several deleted scenes, and numerous EPK featurettes delving into the making-of this big-screen fiasco. In all honesty, there are more interesting things going on in the bonus materials than in the movie itself, but I can’t discard Alex Kurtzman’s Tom Cruise’s The Mummy altogether. On the contrary, this film should be considered of extreme historical significance, required in all forms of film studies as a textbook example of how not to remake a classic Universal monster movie property.
All in all, this “official” beginning of the Dark Universe project is off to a really poor second start.