(NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS)
In ancient Egypt, a Pharaoh’s heiress is robbed of her status by the birth of a brother. She lashes out in a rage and unleashes mystical power but is eventually suppressed and mummified, only to be reawakened in the present day, and still eager to claim a position of all-encompassing power. Seeing ancient, magical forces wreak unsuspecting havoc on modern society is a tantalising prospect. But while there is some payoff, The Mummy often gets bogged down in exploring the unremarkable mythology of how and why its titular monster came to be. The cast of mostly one-note characters don’t add much to that, leaving the film’s brief teases of its expanded universe as the most notable thing about it.
The film begins focused on that lore, jumping between ancient eras in an effort to build anticipation and foreshadow the inevitable events of the film. Eventually, we join Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson from New Girl, who play a couple of unscrupulous American soldiers stationed in the present-day Middle East, and have a knack for getting themselves in hot water while hunting for ancient treasures. We encounter them facing unwinnable odds, but surviving mass destruction nonetheless through dumb luck as a goofy, buddy-cop duo. Jake Johnson is comfortably in his element here, though Cruise comes off worse because of him. Cruise’s humorous quips and supposed womanising personality feel insincere by comparison and his jokes never really land, making his lighthearted moments awkward at best, with only a couple of exceptions.
The buddy-cop dynamic doesn’t last long, though. When the mummy is finally released into the world, the film shifts to a more ominous tone. Tension becomes the film’s primary objective, and it succeeds for a brief time, during the period where characters are still oblivious to the threat at hand. But as the mummy continues to regain her strength away from the main cast, Cruise spends time trying to work out what the hell is going on and how to overcome it, with the help of Annabelle Wallis’ archeologist character. But the discovery of this information is given a lot of screentime for what is ultimately superfluous and could have easily been summarized by one of the film’s early punchlines: “It’s Egyptian.” Nevertheless, Wallis’ character is devoted to this exposition, guiding Cruise through his discovery of the film’s world-building beats, and acting as an emotional foil when necessary.
There is some value that comes out of this, and it revolves around the introduction of Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who leads a mysterious paramilitary organisation devoted to locating and acquiring creatures of ancient and mystic origin. The influences taken from Marvel’s Nick Fury character and his SHIELD organisation are unmistakable, but from the pseudo-scientific methods they use to keep the mummy contained, to the teases of possible monsters to come, to Dr. Jekyll himself, the promise of seeing mysticism go up against modern warfare are the most intriguing parts of the film.
Although her backstory is pedestrian, the titular villain is also interesting in her own right. Sofia Boutella moves with convincingly creepy mystique, and seeing her abilities depicted is entertaining, especially when it comes to showing Cruise’s inability to go head-to-head with her. There is also an interesting portrayal of the mummy’s curse, which features an aspect of psychological dominance as she manipulates Cruise and others to do her bidding. But because of this mostly uncontested power, a lot of later scenes involve unconvincing chases as Cruise and Wallis run from zombie-like creatures. The threats become more regulated, and scenes of tension are not as well executed, often being undermined by unbelievable outcomes and premature cutaways. Even the climactic world-destroying devastation that arises, though visually stunning, still feels underwhelming with the most disastrous occurrence amounting to a few flipped cars, and a thick layer of dust over everything. Cruise’s disaffected character also means that the stakes in these final scenes are ultimately meaningless.
The end of the film leaves you looking ahead to speculate on the future events of the Dark Universe, but those aspects become the only memorable takeaways. Though the mummy herself is an intriguing antagonist, the cast and story structure that support her are mostly uninteresting, making The Mummy a disposable experience at best.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Russell Crowe’s Jekyll sparks anticipation for the Dark Universe||Tom Cruise plays an uninteresting hero|
|Sofia Boutella is an intriguing antagonist||Overzealous exposition weighs the film down|
|Action scenes mostly lack compelling stakes|