A reboot of Brendan Fraser’s oft-forgotten blockbuster-ish franchise, The Mummy, is the planned first installment in Universal Studio’s “Dark Universe” crossover film series. Regardless of whether The Mummy is a massive hit or (more than likely) a failure, classic movie monsters Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster and so on are getting action-centric updates in a shared movie universe. No matter what. Hell, The Mummy already lays fairly substantial groundwork for a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde spin-off. The Dark Universe expects us to trudge through this film series for roughly 10 hours, across years of our lives, but just a few moments into The Mummy, I realized something is already very wrong.
First, the Dark Universe logo looks stupid. Not that any movie can be blamed for an ugly studio logo, but it’s certainly an awkward note to start on in the context of branding what we’re supposed to expect in the coming film series. Next, a neatly packaged prologue, with a bad narrator, fully explains all the mythology we need to know about ancient Egyptian witch Princess Ahmenet (Sofia Boutella). She’s a racist trope as old as Western storytelling: an inherently evil woman of color lusting after a white guy. The Mummy’s white guy is soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton, a sarcastic Chris Pratt “type” played by Tom Cruise for some reason. Nick incurs Ahmenet’s ancient mummy wrath after he blows up a secret underground prison and shoots her tomb open.
With help from an agent of the Dark Universe’s cheap knock-off the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s S.H.I.E.L.D. (Annabelle Wallis) and a woefully misplaced comic relief sidekick (Jake Johnson), Nick makes objectively the worst decision of his life; he flies Ahmenet’s obviously cursed sarcophagus to England. Naturally, Ahmenet’s mummy chooses Nick to be sacrificed in an ancient ritual and promptly crashes the plane. This plane crash sequence went viral for the wrong reasons when it featured prominently in The Mummy’s first teaser trailer. Somehow, it’s even goofier in the actual movie. Cruise and his cohorts bounce around the plane in zero-gravity for what seems like forever. I’m almost embarrassed for filmmakers who thought such a silly scene should be the centerpiece action sequence in a big summer movie.
Nick dies in the plane crash but he’s resurrected a few hours later when a zombified Jake Johnson tells him he’s been cursed by Ahmenet until the ceremony is complete. From there, The Mummy stumbles through the bare essentials of a genre-blending “action horror” film. Nick shoots and explodes his way through armies of the undead and magic sandstorms in downtown London, but none of the sequences are ever exciting or tense. He even takes time to trade fisticuffs with Mr. Hyde, the murderous alter-ego of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russel Crowe), in one of the most unintentionally funny fight scenes I’ve watched in ages. Aside from a few jump-scare explosions, so far the Dark Universe is mostly dropping the horror origins of its all-star movie monsters. So what exactly is the point of using these characters at all if the Dark Universe wants to scrap what sets them apart from other shared universe movie franchises?
The idea of sitting through numerous other films and their possible sequels in this world and with these characters is the only part of The Mummy that’s actually scary. Usually, I’d wait until we’re three or four movies deep to declare a crossover franchise dead, but the Dark Universe is dead on arrival. I don’t need to see Frankenstein’s monster throwing a tank through the air or Van Helsing trying to stab Dracula using a stake with a heat laser tip to know this painfully personality-less action “horror” franchise isn’t going to work for me. After spending 15 minutes in the Dark Universe, I was over it. By the end of The Mummy, I resented it.
Grade = D-