Ignoring all the warning signs, Universal have dug up a cursed comedy/horror franchise that should have been left in the tomb
Today’s 18-year-olds would have been newborns when Brendan Fraser first starred in The Mummy back in 1999. Set in 1926, that dated, roguish horror – itself a remake of a 1932 film – spawned a trilogy, a prequel and even an animated series, each of which followed the original’s lead as a fun piece of nonsense before the franchise collapsed in 2008.
2017’s reboot really isn’t really sure what it is. Part buddy movie, part body horror, part The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and part James Bond, it’s a jarring jumble of action and mythology that only makes you laugh when it’s not meant to.
Tom Cruise hams it up as treasure-hunting ex-soldier Nick Morton, who with his sassy partner Chris Vail (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) accidentally unearths the tomb of deadly Egyptian demigod Ahmanet (the movie-saving Sofia Boutella) after calling down an airstrike on a tiny village in Iraq. The filmmakers seem to think the latter is fine and not worth any further comment.
In between Morton’s deeply unfunny bickering matches with his sort-of love interest – the British archaeologist Jennifer Halsey (Peaky Blinders’ Annabelle Wallis) – he becomes unwittingly drawn to the super-powered Egyptian princess, because she’s cursed him and plans to possess him with the spirit of Set (aka Egyptian god of death and general nasty dude). Oh, and Russell Crowe reprises his dodgy British accent to play the temperamental Dr. Jekyll, because Universal is now arbitrarily connecting its horror films like Marvel does with its Cinematic Universe.
There isn’t an exact place The Mummy falls down – certainly not in the staggeringly good nose-diving plane-crash scene. It’s more a series of small, telling failings: take, for example, Wallis’ archaeologist character. To signpost her hieroglyph-reading intelligence, she puts on some boxy glasses. She has about 30 minutes of screentime before we learn her name, Jenny. She is saved at least three times by Cruise’s character. Try and act shocked when you learn the screenplay is by three middle-aged men.
The use of Jake Johnson’s Chris Vail is random and tone-deaf – he’s presented as a menace, but then employed as a high-pitched comedy device once the story lurches over to Britain for the second and third acts. Cruise himself brings nothing to the film other than his competence in the many action sequences; you wouldn’t buy his ‘goofy’ moments if they came with a free trip to Cairo.
Thank god, then, for Boutella’s Ahmanet – her thorny villain’s deal with the devil adds some welcome darkness to this custardy trifle of a film. It’s a shame her only goal is to resurrect a more powerful male deity – and that we spend so much time watching her faceless CGI zombie minions giving policemen their laughable kiss of death – but if The Mummy teaches you nothing else, it’s expectation management.