The Mummy (Universal Pictures, PG-13)

The Mummy’s potential value as entertainment is never fully reached.

The Mummy shows promise and delivers some entertaining moments, but it more often than not embraces its more generic blockbuster aspects, keeping it from truly standing out in the crowded summer season.

Back in the days of pharaohs and tombs, one princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), was destined to rule over Egypt as Pharaoh. However, she is double-crossed by her father when his son is born, who threatens to take what is rightfully hers. Hungry for power, Ahmanet calls upon Set, the god of death, to give her the power she needs. This turns her into a monster. She later kills her father and his son. For her actions, she is captured and mummified, locked away in a tomb deep beneath the surface. Her tomb is discovered in present day thanks to the actions of soldier of fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), who hunts for treasure and sells his findings on the black market. However, his latest discovery awakens Ahmanet and releases her from her tomb. She wants what was taken from her, and Nick’s destiny becomes unwittingly intertwined with hers. His paths also cross with a clandestine monster-hunting organization, Prodigium, led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

This is the first film in Universal’s new Dark Universe, which will reintroduce and bring together many of the famous monsters in the studio’s backlog. We live in a film world of shared universes, and one featuring some of Universal’s best in beasts seemed appealing. There are moments of great inspiration in this film (e.g. the titular character is female), but it also falls to tropes we’ve come to expect out of these big blockbusters. In many ways, it is designed to be this way. You have Tom Cruise in the starring role. You have Alex Kurtzman in the director’s chair. While not as experienced in directing, Kurtzman has scripted several big-budget films such as Transformers and Star Trek with Robert Orci. On the script side, you have names like David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie contributing, and both have experience in blockbusters. While this combination is bound to deliver thrills viscerally, it just cannot help but feel like the “same old, same old.”

It is definitely a technically accomplished film. Kurtzman’s time in the industry has seemed to rub off on him, with many of the effects and shots handled well. Ben Seresin does deliver some deliciously dark imagery and Brian Tyler creates a score that harkens back to the Jerry Goldsmith days. The makeup, done by a whole team of people, is also well done. Boutella’s character is given a unique and grimy design that helps her stand out on a visceral level. When she sucks the life out of those who cross her path, the looks of those victims are gnarly. The sets are also brought to impressive life and help transport you back to ancient Egypt.

The problem is that, beyond the superficial, there is really not much more I can say about The Mummy. The characters are pretty stock, with Cruise stuck in the relatable rogue role that has come to define his career. While Cruise has charisma in spades, this role is just too similar to previous work to be memorable. Annabelle Wallis plays a headstrong architect that is unfortunately reduced to the girlfriend role as the film goes on. Jake Johnson does not make a big impression as Cruise’s fellow operative. Courtney B. Vance plays a generic military colonel type. Russell Crowe does fine in his limited role as Jekyll. It is only when he takes on his other personality as Hyde that he lets loose and has some playful fun.

Truly, the standout is Boutella. Not only is she an interesting performer, but she has a presence that hooks you as an audience member. The most emotional and entertaining moments in the film come from her. If she continues on in this role, color me excited.

Her moments of life help to almost push this film past its generic foundations. Almost. The plot is both trying to be its own thing while also trying to set up the next films to follow. The horror elements are weak, with much of it coming from expected jump scares. The set pieces are not anything too magnificent, jumping between shootouts and fisticuffs. This film, for being about an ancient evil, has a surprising lack of atmosphere and suspense. Even its more action-friendly adventure elements are too similar to what we have seen in films like the Indiana Jones series. There just is not a lot of creativity beyond the superficial level.

The Mummy’s potential value as entertainment is never fully reached. Whenever it shoots for creativity, it comes back down to Earth to tick as many blockbuster boxes as possible and showcase a franchise in the making. This could have been something more. | Bill Loellke

 

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