By Esosa Omo-Usoh
With Marvel Studios having achieved multi-billion-dollar success with its Marvel Cinematic Universe, and DC Films following suit with its Extended Cinematic Universe (unarguably to a lesser degree of success), it was only a matter of time before another big film studio jumped aboard the multi-franchise cinematic universe gravy train. The latest big studio to do that is Universal Studio. Instead of going the usual super hero route, Universal Studio’s Dark Universe is going the monster movies route. The first movie in the Dark Universe movie franchise is The Mummy starring Tom Cruise.
The Mummy starts out with a trio of expository scenes one of which was set to the gravely baritone voice over of Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jerkyll. The first scene, set in 1127AD, sees a band of Crusader Knights steal a ruby stone from ancient Egypt only to later entomb it. The next scene is set in modern day London where the ancient tomb of the Crusader Knights has been uncovered. This segues into the third scene with voice-over narrative by Crowe’s Dr. Jerkyll.
The narrative tells the story of an Egyptian Princess, Ahmanet (played by Sofia Boutella), the Pharoah’s only child and sole heir to the Egyptian throne. When her birthright is threatened with the birth of a son by the Pharoah’s wife, she enters a pact with the Set, the god of death, unleashes a patricidal/fratricidal rage that claims the lives of the pharaoh and his infant child. Just before she fulfills her pact with Set, she is captured and mummified alive somewhere away from Egypt.
The preceding events eventually lead us to present day Iraq where a couple of soldier antique raiders, Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton and Jake Johnson’s Chris Vail, in their quest for ancient treasures to plunder accidentally discover Ahmanet’s tomb. This discovery eventually sets off the movie’s storyline.
The Mummy may, arguably, be a remake of the 1932 original and the 1999 remake, but it owes much of its shtick to the unarguably quintessential action/adventure movie – Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, try as hard as it did, The Mummy failed to achieve the kind of excitement and memorability of the movie it so shamelessly tried to mirror.
The Mummy was chock full of the usual genre tropes. The wise-cracking and daredevil leading man and his whinny sidekick engaging in heated histrionic verbal sparring exchanges under heavy fire from turbaned bad guys who manage to hit everything but their intended targets. The blonde-haired female archaeologist love interest of the leading man smarting from the betrayal after a tryst. The mysterious head of some secret organization with secrets of his own.
In terms of storyline, The Mummy was all over the place much like everything else about the movie. But nowhere was this more obvious than in the implausible stretch of attempting a tie-in between an Egyptian Mummy story and the iconic character of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde from the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. Movies are allowed liberties even in story timelines (Wonder Woman’s timeline was set during War War I even though in the comic books, it was during World War II) but attempting a connection between totally unrelated stories/characters and timelines in history is stretching it a tad too far.
In terms of acting, The Mummy tried too hard and fell even harder. As Nick Norton, Cruise channeled the tough-guy Ethan Hawke from the Mission Impossible Franchise, flirty and playful Brian Flanagan from Cocktail, rambunctious daredevil Pete “Maverick” Mitchell from Top Gun all into one overly-excited but totally unimpressive imitation of an Indiana Jones Wannabe.
As Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Russell Crowe (much like Gerald Butler) was a sad reminder of how a once promising career as a leading man in Hollywood has inexplicably floundered to a bit role of playing meaningless characters in pointless remakes of unremarkable franchises.
As main villain, Ahmanet, Algerian actress; Sofia Boutella, was saddled with the burden of trying to make remarkable an unremarkable villain. It cannot be said that it was for want of trying but her efforts could not surmount the unimpressive ambience that pervaded the movie.
But by far the worst performance in the movie was Annabelle Wallis as Jennifer Halsey. There was this one-dimensional look that was calcified on her face like the mask of a mummy (perhaps, they should have cast her as the Mummy casket). Her acting (?) carried as much thespian pizazz as an undertaker applying make up to a corpse. Her lines tumbled off her lips as if she was reciting rather than acting the script. The chemistry between her and Cruise was more put on than effortless. Wallis’ Halsey was as believable an architect as Dennis Richard’s Dr. Christmas Jones was as a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough
For a movie like The Mummy, there is nothing cinematically profound about its predecessors to justify a remake or a reboot. So, if you choose to go that route, you have to bring something cinematically profound to the new iteration to engage and win over audience interest. Sadly, there was nothing profound or even near profound about The Mummy. In fact, the closest profound thing the movie inspires is the question: what was Tom Cruise thinking when he agreed to do this movie?
Tom Cruise is one of those few actors whose body of work suggests deliberateness in the choice of movie projects they get involved in. Given the stellar body of works he has built over the years, it is a mystery how he agreed to take on The Mummy. Sure, an actor (including the best of them) is allowed one sore-finger movie project in his career but The Mummy is so blandly unimpressive and pointlessly unimaginative that not even a career allowance of one sore-finger movie can justify Tom Cruise’s association with this tasteless cinematic misadventure.
In a twist of sad irony, a line from the movie aptly captures the verdict on this lackluster movie: “There are worse fate than death”. Sitting through The Mummy’s almost two hour running time ranks way up there.