Now that every major studio in the film industry is trying to launch their own immersive franchise after the pioneering success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Universal has thrown its own hat into the ring with the first installment of the Dark Universe, which is based around modernized updates to the classic Universal monsters. It’s just a shame that its premiere movie had to be The Mummy.
To put it in metaphorical terms, imagine if a professor gave a student a list of requirements for a research paper. Now imagine that the student waited until 12 hours before the deadline to start working on it, and scrambled to include all the things the professor wants. It’s all there, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthy of an A.
Similarly, the makers of The Mummy knew that their movie had to set up a universe, include some Easter eggs and tell a story of its own. Given, the film does all that, but not well enough to merit anything better than a passing grade. But that’s among the least of the problems here.
The biggest issue is that the movie is having an identity crisis, and that’s mainly because of Tom Cruise. Not that he doesn’t do a fine job here, he plays the roguish Nick Morton to the best of his ability, but that’s because the character is written in the grand tradition of his legendary Maverick from Top Gun – a “type” that does not at all fit in a horror-inspired action movie. There’s a reason that the MCU doesn’t choose major talent for its protagonists: it’s hard for the average audience to look past an A-lister’s persona.
It’s telling, then, that the best part of The Mummy is rising star Sofia Boutella as the title character. Much like her mostly mute performance in Kingsman: The Secret Service, she excels when it comes to purely physical acting, and was a great choice. The movie might have been redeemed if the whole thing was restructured around her, with her character, the vengeful Princess Ahmanet, framed as an antihero rather than a villain. But no; this is a Tom Cruise movie and had to be written as such.
Not that the film forgets its horror roots – on the contrary, it copies and pastes elements from some terrific scary media. The victims of Ahmanet’s deadly kiss turn into zombies that look like the Crypt Keeper from Tales from the Crypt. There’s a battle with the skeletons of knights from the Crusades that is straight out of Army of Darkness, minus the comedy. But the most rage-inducing of these thefts is a subplot where Morton’s right-hand man Vail (New Girl’s Jake Johnson) is shot after being “infected” by the princess, and spends the rest of the movie in various states of undead decay, urging his friend to end the monster’s curse through self-sacrifice. Horror fans may recognize this as a plot thread directly lifted from the 1981 movie An American Werewolf in London.
Despite these issues, in all honesty, I’m still eager to see what else the Dark Universe has to offer. Maybe, like the DC Extended Universe, it just needs a while to find its footing. As for its first installment, I think it’s best to skip The Mummy. But I’m not giving up on this franchise yet.