Universal Studios are now heralding a new era for their famed ‘Classic Monsters’ strand – initially made famous by iconic portrayals of Dracula (Bela Lugosi), Frankenstein (Boris Karloff), The Wolfman and The Mummy (Lon Chaney Jr.). With a remit of bringing something new to the table under their expanded ‘Dark Universe’ banner, Universal hopes to emulate the success Disney & Marvel have enjoyed by telling stories in a shared universe, with characters that will appear across their slate. First up is The Mummy, a perfectly watchable summer matinee featuring the biggest movie star in the world – Tom Cruise.
In a rare outing playing against type, Cruise stars as a deceptive chancer named Nick Morton – a soldier and opportunist who’s looking for hidden treasures to sell on the black market whilst stationed in Iraq. His friend Chris Vail (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) helps with the scavenging, and the two inadvertently stumble upon a hidden tomb buried deep underground. Having stolen a map from archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), Nick, Chris and Jenny are forced to work together to transport one of the relics back home for examination, an Egyptian tomb.
So far so good then. The film introduces us to the principal characters well and sets up its first (and frankly best) set-piece early on in the film as a real statement of intent. Whatever is in that tomb really wants out, so it conjures up a biblical storm to send the plane nose-diving to earth. This is a spectacular stunt involving Cruise and Wallis in zero gravity being thrown around the plane as it hurtles to crash. Cruise came up with the idea for a Mission: Impossible film but asked director Alex Kurtzman if he could use it here instead. It’s fantastic and further laments Tom Cruise as the biggest movie star on the planet and a man who always takes huge risks to deliver something memorable onscreen. It goes without saying that Cruise is brilliant here and he delivers his usual brand of quality to make The Mummy a worthwhile watch.
After crashing, it seems Jenny is the only survivor until Nick comes miraculously back to life. It seems that the Mummy encased in the tomb is an ancient princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who made a pact with a death demon and has now earmarked Nick to be her reincarnated companion. With the tomb having now crash-landed in rural England, Nick and Jenny – under the guidance of a mysterious Doctor named Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), must race against time to find it before the wrath of the Mummy lays waste to the entire world.
The Dark Universe logo plays straight after the classic Universal ident at the start of the film and it really does raise anticipation for what they are trying to do. The inclusion of Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll is a great nod towards what’s to come, and Crowe clearly has fun chewing up the scenery here. Then there are the visual nods to Dracula and The Creature from the Black Lagoon scattered throughout Jekyll’s office. With Johnny Depp already announced as The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster, Universal are targeting A-Listers for their Universe and it looks to be investing heavily in this endeavour.
In many ways, starting out with The Mummy was a good way to go – they still have every major trump card to play, with the as-yet uncast Dracula surely being their Ace in the hole. But in order to do this, The Mummy has to deliver on a lot of different fronts and it does stumble a bit in places, especially towards the end. There’s no set-piece that rivals the plane sequence, the finale doesn’t utilise London effectively enough and the entire film isn’t very scary which is a crying shame. Whilst this is trying to capture a slightly different audience, a Universal Monsters film needs to have a decent amount of scares in place and The Mummy feels like it’s only testing out the waters. There’s a lot of opportunity here, hopefully the next few films will be braver in their approach. Also, highlighting Boutella and Wallis in more substantial roles was welcome news, but at the end, neither character does much over the 110min runtime which is a real shame. Both actresses are great here and deserved more to do.
But for all of the tweaks, there’s lots of good stuff to enjoy here too. The sequence when the local police uncover the wreckage of the plane is perfectly paced and features some amazing Mummified walking that really freaks you out. There are some nice jumpy moments in the underground tunnels of London and the tombs buried beneath the Thames.
The Mummy comes in as a solid first effort that could have been better in places, but has done just about enough to guarantee the franchise doesn’t fall at the first hurdle. With plenty of hints dropped as to where the story will go next, The Mummy ushers in an exciting new era for Universal’s Monsters. If they are willing to be a little braver in the scares department and a little more ambitious in their stories, this Dark Universe could be one we’ll happily revisit every year.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari Director: Alex Kurtzman Writer: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman (screenplay), Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet (screen story by) Released By: Universal Certificate: 15 Duration: 110 mins Release Date: 9th June 2017