Universal Studios’ latest ‘creature feature’, the Mummy, has been piloted as the first episode in their attempt to establish a Marvel-esque cinematic universe- recently entitled the Dark Universe. With big-budget stars like Tom Cruise, Star Trek: Beyond’s Sofia Boutella and Russell Crowe, the Mummy was all set to be the supernatural movie of the year. And yet, a slightly over-extended plot, and read-by-rote acting bring it down.
We begin the movie with an extremely detailed prologue depicting the highly, highly evil antics of ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet, who upon being deprived of her throne when her father’s second wife has a son, kills all three of them and attempts make her lover the embodiment of the God of Death by stabbing him with the Dagger of Set. She is caught before she can do so and mummified alive, her body dragged to Mesopotamia and imprisoned inside a tomb of mercury.
Back in present day, we are introduced to US Army recon scout Nick (Tom Cruise), a soldier of fortune who steals ancient relics to sell them on the black market with the help of his droll sidekick, Lt. Vail. They attempt to ransack Ahmanet’s tomb but are foiled by the vaguely undefined Jenny Halsey, an Egyptologist who wants to preserve it and its contents. Nick sets off the curse of the tomb in attempt to transport the sarcophagus- with Ahmanet’s mummified alive body inside- out of the war zone at Jenny’s insistence, and soon his friend Vail is possessed by one of Ahmanet’s minions. A plane crash, medieval dismantlement of said dagger and a sequence of awakening mummies later, Nick and Jenny (who have fallen in love by now) as well as Ahmanet- whose mummified body has recovered somewhat human form by sucking souls from living Brits- are captured by the shady organisation Prodigium. Upon escape, Nick must now continue evading both the Mummy and Prodigium in order to avoid death and/or the tempting offer of being a living God.
Plans have been unfolded by Universal to remake many of its older movie franchises, from the Bride of Frankenstein to the Phantom of the Opera, with each movie adding its own part to the Dark Universe and characters crossing over. The immense resources and forethought that have already gone into this Universe and its upcoming movies put a sort of unnecessary pressure on The Mummy to whet your appetite for the rest of its universe. We hear much about dark things ‘rising’ as we are introduced to the mysterious organisation Prodigium- which has a vague premise of capturing evil- and its founder, Russell Crowe’s Mr. Henry Jekyll (whom you might recognise from R.L Stevenson classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) that will presumably link the various franchises together. It would be presumptuous to assume that Jekyll is a Nick Fury rip-off and that Prodigium is highly reminiscent of S.H.I.E.L.D, but as Crowe intones that Tom Cruise’s Nick has “entered a world of new gods and monsters” one cannot help but be reminded of Fury defending S.H.I.E.L.D’s possession of the Tesseract: “our world is filling up with new things that can’t be matched, or controlled”.
We are treated to a lot of backstory about the Mummy herself, via flashback or Nick’s visions, where we see her resplendent as a princess but also dark as a patricidal murderer in turn. The movie doesn't forget that it is about the Mummy, not its finder or its enemies, and Ahmanet is definitely the best-rounded character: Nick, Jenny and Vail are paper-thin characters with no real personalities of their own. Desperate tries to establish Nick’s roguish charm and anti-heroical sentiment fail quite epically. Jenny’s bossiness and constant repetition of the fact that she sees the “good man struggling within” Nick, whom she has known for all of two weeks, make her a female action-movie stereotype as well. Vail- whose reappearance throughout as an undead messenger who guides Nick throughout the film- is similar to An American Werewolf in London, and the classic sidekick lines he delivers (We’re all gonna die! Goddamnit, Nick, you got us into this! Aww, man!) bog the character down despite Jake Johnson’s (New Girl) considerable talents and great comedic timing.
The action sequences are definitely well-shot, clean and clear, and the movie does provide the odd deadpan laugh: for example, when Jenny asserts Nick’s goodness in that he gave her the last parachute and he replies, with all seriousness, that he thought there was another. The special effects- perhaps the most important part of any creature film- are to be commended, with Ahmanet’s rise, soul-sucking and even the countless sandstorms she raises portrayed in realistic detail. Again borrowing from the original franchise with attacks by desert insects (thankfully not flesh-eating this time) and complex sacrifice rituals, Ahmanet’s attempts to seduce Nick over to her “side” are very reminiscent of the original Mummy movies, where the protagonist chose between a mundane love interest or a life of immense power. The Mummy, 2017 edition is like a gender-reverse version of the original with added salt and pepper in the form of mysterious Prodigium and comic relief via Vail. Not a bad movie all on its own, it gives viewers precisely what was expected from it: action, exotic locations, one-liners and lots of closeups of Tom Cruise’s face. Had it not been immensely pressured and advertised as the “gateway” to a new world and tried so hard to set-up its future counterparts, and perhaps gone a little easier on the action movie clichés, The Mummy would be a perfect movie to kill time with, or even enjoy- if you're a fan of the genre. Not that it’s not watchable now: it just might not be good enough to bear the weight of an entire universe on its shoulders.
- Devanshika Bajpai