A Worthy "Mummy" for a New Generation
Universal Pictures has a great deal riding on Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy. Having witnessed the global success of Marvel Films interconnected superhero movies; the powers that be at the studio have approved a series of crossover films featuring their stable of monster characters, to be known as the Dark Universe. Johnny Depp is on board to play the Invisible Man and Oscar-winner Javier Bardem is set to play Frankenstein’s Monster, while Angelina Jolie and Dwayne Johnson are rumored to in the running for the roles of the Bride of Frankenstein and the Wolfman, respectively. What with this roster of A-List stars as well as Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe’s participation in The Mummy, it’s obvious that Universal is going for broke on this venture.
Whether any of these other movies are made is dependent on the success of this new entry, and while there’s room for some improvement, Kurtzman delivers an entertaining beginning for this Monster-verse. Smart, self-aware and fun, this is a vast improvement over the schizophrenic Brendan Fraser features. No, this is an ambitious, world-building undertaking that, while it buckles at times under the weight of its own ambitions, succeeds in laying a firm foundation for creature features to come.
As the only child of the Pharaoh Menehptre, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Butella) longs to rule Egypt after her father’s passing. However, when he takes another wife, who gives birth to a son, she sees her line to succession hopelessly blocked. Intent on seizing power, she makes a pact with the God of Death Set, vowing to find a human body he can use to walk the Earth, in exchange for supernatural power and the will to kill the pharaoh and his offspring. She succeeds in doing this but is stopped short from finding Set a suitable host, instead sentenced to be mummified and buried alive in a tomb thousands of miles from her homeland.
Jump forward a thousand years and we meet one Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his partner Chris Vail (Joshua Johnson), mercenaries who seek ancient antiquities to sell on the black market. They inadvertently stumble upon a myriad of valuable trinkets when they discover Ahmanet’s tomb. Investigating it with the help of archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the trio comes to realize that this isn’t a crypt but rather a prison meant to contain the malevolent princess for all eternity. Morton’s greed gets the best of him, he opens the tomb and that’s just the beginning of his troubles.
The script by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie & Dylan Kussman effectively updates the origin story from the 1932 original, giving the creature additional powers, which makes Ahmanet a formidable foe. Her kiss sucks the life out of the living and turns them into undead who do her bidding while her ability to control certain elements in nature holds her in good stead. Butella is very good in the role. While given little in the way of character development to work with, she nonetheless manages a sense of strength as well as sex appeal as she lays waste to London. That we sympathize with her at times is an unexpected bonus.
Cruise effectively plays against type here as his Morton is a selfish, arrogant, none-to-bright hero who has no problem leaving a damsel in distress (one of the film’s funniest moments) when the chips are down. His transformation to reluctant savior is convincing and winning, making the sacrifice his character must make all the more meaningful.
Cruise isn’t the only big name on board as Russell Crowe appears as Dr. Henry Jekyll, head of Prodigium, a secret organization whose mission is to “recognize evil, examine it, contain it and destroy it.” On a tour of the facility he lords over, eagle-eyed monster fans will see allusions to other characters in the Universal Monster canon. It becomes obvious that Jekyll will be the linchpin in the Dark Universe, his agents gathering monsters from around the world, all in an effort for him to understand the evil he struggles to hide within.
The script wisely injects bits of dark humor throughout, lest anyone take this movie too seriously. Though it suffers from the predictable, bloated, action-laden third act, The Mummy succeeds in providing fun, smart scares in its effort to satisfy a cynical modern audience. Whether this film is embraced remains to be seen but Kurtzman can hold his head high as he’s delivered a worthy addition to the grand Universal Monster tradition and has admirably resurrected one of its most beloved properties.