The unimpressive big budget rebooting of The Mummy – which is set to kick off a “Dark Universe” franchise that brings together some of the silver screen’s most iconic movie monsters – is one of the laziest summer blockbusters in recent memory. It’s so uninspired that about halfway through the film I started wondering about the career of actor and filmmaker Ed Burns and what he’s been up to for the past couple of years (outside of publishing a candid memoir). I thought about Ed Burns because one of the characters exclaims “It Burns!” at a certain point, and I thought this person said “Ed Burns.” Then I started thinking about how the dreadfully wonky script – packed with stilted one-liners that no one could make funny and more exposition than development – would have been the kind of blockbuster Ed Burns would have been hired for circa 2004. You could have kept this same screenplay, hired Ed Burns as the lead instead of a megastar like Tom Cruise, and the film would be no better or worse. Then I started thinking about how I kinda missed Ed Burns. I was so bored by The Mummy that if I wasn’t questioning how bad it was or how little sense it made, I was probably thinking about Ed Burns. I pondered leaving the theatre to Google Ed Burns on my phone, but out of duty (and because I was seated in the centre of a lengthy IMAX auditorium row) I refrained. To say that this isn’t how one should jumpstart a franchise would be an understatement.
After an opening scene set in 1127 England, which sounds nothing like a location where a Mummy movie should take place, the action is transported to modern day Iraq, which, again, isn’t Egypt, but at least there’s sand. Roguish military analyst and black market antiquities smuggler Nick Morton (Cruise) and his partner-in-crime (Jake Johnson) have a hot tip about a secret underground tomb buried in insurgent occupied territory. Nick knows this because he stole the information from Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist in the employ of academic jack-of-all-trades Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Inside the tomb, they find the mercury submerged sarcophagus of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a former Egyptian princess who was embalmed alive after slaughtering her family in a power play and attempting to resurrect the dark lord Set. The trio attempt to exfiltrate their loot, but Ahmanet’s ark powers have already been awakened, crashing their plane and leaving Nick cursed until the princess can use his mortal body to become a vessel for Set and hell on Earth can be unleashed.
The Mummy never takes itself very seriously, which certainly counts for something, but it also doesn’t give anything back to the audience that could amuse them outside of empty explosions, jump scares, and corny dialogue, all of which can be fun on their own, but are painfully cynical here. On one hand, the second film to be directed by screenwriter Alex Kurtzman (following the even more unwatchable People Like Us) comes drenched in flop sweat, but on the other it’s so glossy that it looks like peering into a studio’s bottomless wallet. Every penny of the film’s massive budget is up there on screen, but it’s in service of absolutely nothing whatsoever and only exists to make more films at a later date that hopefully aren’t as soulless as this.
It took a total of six writers (three getting story credit and three getting writing credits) to come up with The Mummy, including Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible writer David Koepp, The Usual Suspects and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation scribe Christopher McQuarrie, Kurtzman, actor turned writer Dylan Kussman, Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Passengers), and Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married). I don’t know who came up with what, and I don’t know how any of them can claim any sort of ownership over this constantly contradictory, exposition laden hodgepodge, but I can see why none of them would be quick to take sole ownership over such barely functional material. There isn’t a line of dialogue for the first thirty minutes of the film that isn’t breathlessly trying to set up The Mummy’s needlessly convoluted world building, and the other ninety minutes are mostly people shouting or explaining why certain things can or can’t be done to stop Ahmanet or Nick’s curse.
The Mummy becomes so fixated on its overblown need to establish a franchise that it forgets to create any characters worth paying attention to. Forget about caring for these people, they aren’t even developed enough to encourage passing interest. Ahmanet and her motivations are explained in a single scene. Crowe’s two-sided doctor is only on hand to hint at future installments in the “Dark Universe,” and everyone else acts like they were given any direction at all.
Kurtzman seems to have simply pointed at pictures of other archetypes instead of providing actual direction. For Cruise, laying the forced charm on thicker here than he has since Cocktail, Kurtzman probably just pointed at a photo of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. For Wallis (who’s truly awful and can’t even display congenial chemistry with Cruise, let alone romantic sparks as required by the script), Kurtzman probably pointed to a picture of Emily Blunt from Edge of Tomorrow. Jake Johnson, trying desperately to make something out of his goofy role, probably studied the part of Evil Ed from Fright Night for his turn as Cruise’s undead buddy. They can’t make anything out of this, and why should they when they’re all going to play second fiddle to the bombast and spectacle, anyway?
Kurtzman awkwardly stages and edits dialogue scenes like he’s uncomfortable watching what’s happening, but to his credit, he does manage a few decent action sequences, all of them involving Ahmanet’s growing army of the undead. The zombie design throughout The Mummy and the look of Ahmanet are top notch, and scenes where a pack of baddies swarm a speeding ambulance careening through a forest and an escape from underwater zombies are the most fun moments The Mummy can offer up.
There’s something interesting that I’m sure will be forwarded in future installments (should this be successful) about evil acting as a pathogen-like disease, but that gets lost amid a lot of convenient plotting designed to keep the action going regardless of how little fun it is or how little it makes sense. At certain points, Ahmanet seems like a tactical genius, and at others like a buffoon who couldn’t trick a toddler. Sometimes she can teleport. Sometimes she can’t. Sometimes she’s super strong. Sometimes she can literally be shoved out of the way. Sometimes she can control the minds of others. Sometimes she either can’t, she forgets, or she can’t be bothered, even when it would make her evil plans come to fruition a lot sooner. Dr. Jekyll has found a way to suppress his devilish alter ego, but the only means of doing it is a convoluted device that will conveniently be out of reach at the worst possible time. If you think a character is going to die or get hurt, you’re right. Nothing is ever in question, nor are you to question it, and you’re told implicitly just to look at everyone’s pretty face and sit in awe of fireballs, dust storms, and steampunk looking laboratories that haven’t looked original or fresh on screen since the late 90s.
By the time The Mummy reached it’s almost pathetically weak and unexciting climax, I could admit that I have seen worse summer blockbusters than this – and indeed we all have – but I can think of few films that were as much of a safely played, ludicrous null set. Even the worst summer blockbusters have at least a trace of misguided or misplaced ambition, but The Mummy might as well come packaged in a nondescript manila envelope as a reward for collecting cereal box tops. It’s the cheapest feeling expensive movie I’ve seen in ages, and it has the potential to torpedo an entire intended franchise before it even fully begins. It fails at thrills, it fails at B-movie campiness, and it’s arguable if it improves on the sight of a blank screen.
The Mummy opens at theatres everywhere on Friday, June 9, 2017.
Check out the trailer for The Mummy: