Imagine if you will, Tom Cruise in a movie in which he is posed against some ancient horror, an eons old evil. In the climatic scene, or the big reveal of the big bad, be it the Mummy, or Dracula or whatever horror this ‘dark universe’ plans to go next. The well known actor is beaten, he’s lost, he’s incapacitated on the ground staring upward as this great shadowy force looms towards him. We see the fear in his face. We see how powerless he is to fight against it, as the shadow envelops across his famous face, blotting his features out completely. Just imagine that moment playing out on screen and how amazing that could be.
You’ve just imagined something greater than The Mummy.
The Mummy is a Tom Cruise starring/Alex Kurtzman directed reboot of Universal’s 1932 classic horror, which itself was rebooted in 1999 by Universal with director Stephen Sommers. The 1999 Mummy wasn’t groundbreaking by any means, the CGI has not aged well, but it was a silly swash buckling adventure with lots of colour and romance backed by a strong supporting cast and fantastic score by the late Jerry Goldsmith. It spawned many sequels and spinoffs, even the film career of The Rock. Stephen Sommers went off to direct Van Helsing, another revisit into Universal’s classic black and white horror, which had Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and Wolf Man all together in one movie. It was a complete mess, but it was only a matter of time or at least after the Avengers that the studio would have the brain wave to take the Van Helsing concept and slow it down a bit creating this inter connecting franchise that will connect and reinvent all their horror icons.
That’s the plan anyway.
Even before The Mummy starts, the Universal logos come up, hovering over planet earth and then gives way to a second reverse logo. The words Dark Universe appear over a planet of darkness to this music that is evocative of the golden age of Hollywood Horror. Before The Mummy has even begun, it’s already establishing itself as part of a bigger cinematic universe – the dark universe, to be clear. Immediately your going into this movie knowing that there will be more movies of this ilk. To paraphrase another of Universal’s great monster movies, the studio are so occupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
The Mummy begins with the discovery of an ancient crypt underneath London. The crypt appears to be the resting place of Crusade era Knights Templar. Enter a shadowy task force led by Russell Crowe’s character who discovers a mural relating to Ancient Egypt and the story of the lost Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). We get a brief flashback sequence, transporting us thousands of years where we learn that the princess is about to inherit the throne of Egypt. Unfortunately, her father suddenly gains a new son and a new heir, relegating Ahmanet back of the pile. Lusting for power she forms a pact with Set, the Egyptian god of death, who in exchange for ultimate power, wishes to be brought into corporeal form through a magic dagger (I don’t know either…). In killing her father and new born brother, she is punished by being mummified alive and buried far from Egypt and promptly written out of the history books.
Meanwhile back in modern day Iraq, Tom Cruise roguishly discovers an Egyptian tomb along with long suffering bearded buddy (Jake Johnson). Entering the tomb, they find an Egyptian sarcophagus submerged in liquid mercury, which Annabelle’s Wallis archaeologist determines immediately as being an immediate sign of bad juju. Before they can decide to leave the tomb alone, Tom Cruise roguishly raises the sarcophagus, which gradually reawakens the mummified Ahmanet inside.
Taking the sarcophagus back to London via cargo plane, the plane is brought down by a flock of crows (a big flock of crows). The plane crashes in the UK, but not before Tom Cruise can save the life of his new blonde archaeologist friend. Tom Cruise reawakens in a morgue, where he has been pronounced dead and this plot synopsis is getting far too long, but he is introduced to Russell Crowe shadowy organisation that investigates evil and the mummy re-animates to wreak havoc across London whilst attempting to her complete her pact with Set for some reason.
Right I’m done with this synopsis. We’re all getting dumber by dwelling on it.
At one point in time, Tom Cruise was the highest paid actor in Hollywood. He got paid $100,000,000 to star in Mission Impossible 2 back in 2000. With audiences, genre and entertainment channels diversifying over the last decade, the studio system is finding it harder to make these big blockbusters, the cinematic universe is increasingly becoming the coveted business model. Everyone’s doing it, yet everyone is failing at it, except Marvel and Star Wars. The star name is no longer what entices audiences into cinemas anymore, so where does Tom Cruise fit in all of this? He is perhaps too big an actor ($$$) and personality to be cast as one of the superheroes in the DC or Marvel audience. Hence he is being a part of this new ‘dark universe’ starring in The Mummy as the charismatic rogue where Brendan Fraser normally was.
Despite what we might think about Tom Cruise as a person, his alignment with the church of scientology, he has been a somewhat dependable talent when it comes to these kinds of big budget action movies, see the last few Mission Impossible movies and the quite frankly excellent Edge of Tomorrow. He seems to be passionate about film making and goes out of his way to do all his own stunts, and make genuinely solid movies. Which is all I really care about.
I feel The Mummy resets all of this.
The movie is called The Mummy, it has a mummy in the form of Sofia Boutella, but it’s dominated by Tom Cruise. I said in my Baywatch review that the film felt like a vanity piece for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, in which all the plot and comedy revolved around this faultless character he was presenting, but at least he had a good ensemble cast that took the spotlight away from him at points. The Mummy is peak Tom Cruise. In the same way as the actual Mummy of the movie is this ancient evil clawing back from the grave to gain power, to have relevance in the world she is entitled to. The same could be said about Tom Cruise.
Holy shit, is Tom Cruise actually the mummy!?
Aesthetically, in colour and lighting, the film is very grey and boring to look at. Maybe it’s because most of it was filmed and set in England where it is always raining and overcast. The scenes in Egypt lack the shimmer and colour of the 1999 version of the movie, that made the adventure at least romantic.
Yet amidst the dullness, it tries to be fast and lose with the comedy. Cruise is playing this affable tomb raider, a kind of Nathan Drake styled grave robber, to get us through all the video game spectacle. Within all this unremitting dullness, the ‘comedy’ doesn’t sit very well at all. Tom Cruise has this buddy in the form of Jake Johnson to bounce quips off. He ends up being forced to shoot his friend as he becomes possessed by dark forces. He shoots his best friend twice, before putting him down, and then he shoots again. It’s played for a laugh. Like his finger slipped after he just gunned down his best friend. At times, it’s as if the film makers had half watched Stephen Sommers movies in between takes and made the note, ‘what would John Hannah do at this point”?
Then you have the non existent romance. Cruise is given a token love interest in Annabelle Wallis who sadly doesn’t get much to do, apart from sassily reveal Cruise’s character being a 15 second champion in the bedroom. Along the way, Cruise’s character somehow develops a deep love for her, that comes somewhere out of leftfield, since she and he do nothing to really endear us to their characters. It’s as if the writers don’t understand how humans work. It feels weirdly that Tom Cruise is being gifted a woman at times.
Exposition is key of course. The Mummy is about 95% exposition anyway. Always moving from set piece to set piece. In between which comes the explanation of what is actually going on. Jake Johnson plays Tom Cruise’s buddy who becomes ‘corrupted’ upon entering the Tomb. He dies but comes back as this kind of ode to Jack in American Werewolf in London. That movie of course is the ultimate were wolf movie, and it’s safe to assume it won’t be bettered by Universal’s upcoming ‘dark universe’ wolf man. Jake Johnson is kind of there to bust Cruise’s chops but also explain the whole plot involving Ahmanet, the mummy.
“She’s coming for you Tom, you can’t escape her!”
That sort of thing.
Obviously, next to Cruise you also have Russell Crowe starring in the movie, as DR HENRY JEKYLL, the leader of Prestygium, Prestigity? I’m too un-enthused to check it on the internet. Who essentially acts as the expeditionary geyser for the bigger ‘Dark Toblerone Universe’. Russell Crowe is a great actor, when he’s playing the man (Gladiator, Master and Commander, Jor-El, a schlubby thug turned good in last year’s The Nice Guys), but when he goes off kilter, ‘more Australian’ he kind of sucks.
So of course, when he does ‘hulk-out’ and Jekyll turns to Hyde, it just doesn’t work. You’ve basically got Russell Crowe doing an impression of Ray Winstone with ‘evil’ glowy eyes. In the original book, which is this classic tale of man trying to euthanise the evil within, Hyde is never described apart from vague notions of a kind of inhuman apeness about him. And I guess Crowe is a perfect person to play Jekyll/Hyde, given the actor has had trouble to suppress his own temper in the past whilst being this renowned actor. His performance as Hyde or Jekyll doesn’t feel like he’s digging inward particularly, not that he would have to, but all we’re getting evil Dick Van Dyke. This is the Dark Universe’s incarnation of Hyde. This is an element that is supposed to sustain interest in more films!
Needless to say, when the Cruise started fighting the Crowe, this is when people started actually leaving the cinema.
The one saving grace The Mummy has, is the mummy herself. Sofia Boutella is at least something of an enigmatic presence, despite having relatively little to play with. She’s very beautiful, and casts a powerful silhouette as she walks towards the screen swathed in mummy bandages commanding the sandstorms as it were. Unfortunately, she’s not really a developed character, she’s merely a nemesis for Tom Cruise to run away from.
Her origins feel underwritten, she has this insane supernatural backstory, it’s never explained why power is important to her, accept that she wills to be worshipped like a god. It’s never understood why she would want to sell her soul to the devil apart from revenge. She could have killed those who wronged her, herself surely and kept her soul intact?
Again, you would have thought something better could have been done with this character, assuming of course that she is going to be a pivotal cornerstone of this ‘dark magnum universe’ going forward, as y’know the actual Mummy. This should really be her film. But it’s not. It’s not helped that the movie is released so close after Wonder Woman which effectively managed to put forward a leading lady so fantastically. Sofia Boutella should be the star, but she’s not, because of Tom Cruise and because of his presence and the degree of control that he is rumoured to have over the film. The Mummy becomes yet another Tom Cruise movie and a fairly unremarkable one at that.
This is a movie where the mummy essentially covets Tom Cruise as the living vessel who will usher in the dark god Set. This leads to a stupidly boring final confrontation which doesn’t really end proceedings but merely opens things up for the next film in the style of all these movie universe franchises. Suffice it to say, Tom Cruise goes full Van Helsing in the end, and even if you’ve made it this far, you won’t care.
These themes and concepts that Shelly, Stoker and Doyle grappled with are bigger than any of us, but it is within the duty of story telling and horror to explore. These themes are certainly bigger than Tom Cruise and definitely beyond the capabilities of a Tom Cruise movie to do justice. At the end of the day, a Tom Cruise movie is always going to be about him, it’s always going to have perfectly executed action set pieces irregardless of a decent plot permeating them. It’s not going to stretch him as an actor.
At the end of the Mummy, I was just left confused. Is it supposed to be empowering for us to see Tom Cruise ride off into the sunset like Indy? Are we supposed to feel the pangs of tragedy in the vague monstrosity that he has suddenly become? Are we ever going to accept this actor as a threatening or scary presence in the dark universe going forward.
I just do not think so.
The Mummy is pants. Whilst there are elements to like about it, namely Sofia Boutella’s Mummy. It’s another one of these gigantic movies inspired by dreams of becoming a larger more lucrative franchise. A sparse non-existent plot weaves together a series of set pieces involving a macguffin device that needs to be built in order to do the thing that will doom the world to eternal suffering. There is abundant CGI destruction which never feels real or tangible, and it’s ultimately trying to set up this new cinematic universe with Tom Cruise at the centre. The Mummy never justifies itself as a movie to make the idea of successive monster movies worth anyone’s time.