The Mummy arrives on screens this week as a project filled with hope for Universal who hope to create a new cinematic universe out of the classic monsters that built the studio. It's also welcomed by immense scepticism from viewers because of that motivation, the fact that this is a remake of a Brendan Fraser movie, and general Tom Cruise fatigue. I went into the theatre expecting the worst. What I got wasn’t exactly great, but it was unapologetic hokey, silly, rollercoaster blockbuster fluff with some gothic horror elements that was surprisingly watchable. Sure, The Mummy isn’t art. It’s deeply flawed, and feels dragged down by desperate attempts to launch a franchise and confused mythology. However, there are some spectacular set pieces, the tone feels right, and it actually gave me hope for future Universal action/horror blockbusters as long as the next one isn’t about the damn mummy.
So, Tom Cruise stars as a Tom Cruise type. He’s an adventurer/thief with way too much confidence, and way too few flaws. Along with his tomb-raiding buddy Jake Johnson, Cruise stumbles upon an ancient Egyptian tomb that contains the rotting remains of an evil lady (Sofia Boutella) who was cursed on a path to world domination. After Cruise opens up her old bag of bones, Boutella chooses him to be her partner in taking over the world. He isn’t thrilled about that. Thankfully, a lovely lady (Annabelle Wallis playing a character with no real personality) introduces him to Russell Crowe, who runs a super-secret international monster hunting agency (he’s also named Dr. Jekyll, could he also be a monster?). They offer to help Cruise battle the mummy and yadda, yadda, yadda, there are a bunch of fights with rotting corpses covered in wraps on the way to saving the world.
As you may have gathered by now, The Mummy is trash. Thankfully, it embraces that fact. In a world where Anthony Hopkins has been hired to lend gravitas to Transformers exposition in an attempt to make that “mythology” feel grand and important, it’s refreshing to see that director Alex Kurtzman (who also wrote some of those Transformers movies, but I’ll try to forgive him) deliver an unapologetically dumb, silly, and fun blockbuster. Oh sure, The Mummy herself has a convoluted backstory that’s hard to follow (even though the same basic narrative served as the backbone of that Brendan Fraser franchise, and the old Boris Karloff movie), but Kurzman just races through it knowing that’s not what viewers really care about. There needs to be some sort of logic and set up to this nonsense, but we don’t need to dwell.
The focus of 2017’s edition of The Mummy is a set piece delivery system, and there are some great ones. Kurtzman shoves Tom Crusie into an amazing plane crash, and several glorious goopy and goofy attacks from rotting armies of the undead. It’s all done with humour and style. Even Tom Cruise doesn’t appear to be taking himself too seriously (well, by the standards of overly sincere Tom Cruise action flicks anyways). The pacing is relentless. Things rarely slow down long enough for viewers to think about how stupid every event and twist feels. Instead, you just let a goofball combination of gothic horror and massive blockbuster spectacle swoop over you. Sure, most of the characters are pointless, but at least Boutella (previously seen as the silent Sam Jackson sidekick in Kingsman) proves to be a creepy—if underwritten—baddie and Russell Crowe has all sorts of fun playing Dr. Jekyll and (OK, I’ll admit it) Mr. Hyde.
The big, sweeping, annoying flaws of The Mummy are pretty well all limited to the laborious set up of this particularly convoluted monster backstory. To be honest, The Mummy was always the weakest of the classic Universal monster movies, and never should have been the pilot project for this new cinematic universe (that only happened because those silly Brendan Fraser movies were so successful). However, Kurtzman at least milks all of the shadowy visuals and fun ideas into some delightful set pieces. The best stuff in The Mummy was the action/horror tone, and the set up for future monster mash blockbusters. This franchise may be two missteps deep already (provided that Dracula Untold still counts as part of the series, that’s unclear), but it’s actually starting to show promise. With a committed director, and a script that is actually completed before production, there could be some damn fine and fun monster blockbusters coming.
Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. The Mummy likely won’t light up the box office to the degree Universal hoped. But, if the studio is willing to commit to at least one more of these things, and takes the time to do it right, they just might be onto something silly, imaginative, and fun. If nothing else, if this franchise takes off the studio can deliver a crossover with their Fast & Furious franchise that has Vin Diesel and his family face off against this iconic family of monsters. That’s some schlock the world would pay good money to see. Let’s hope they get the next one of these right so that beautiful dream can become a reality.
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