Why is it that we love monster movies so much? Back when most of them were introduced, it was that they were genuinely frightening – these creatures were something fantastical and horrifying to us, creatures so unlike us that we had to be in awe of them and fear them at the same time. As the years have gone on, characters were put into their movies for us as an audience to relate to, like Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell in the 1999 Mummy film. It is not enough for us to connect to the human protagonists anymore, apparently, since it seems to be the aim of the new Dark Universe of Universal Studios to create monsters that are relatable and the saviors of the human race, rather than just being the enemy of humanity. In 2017’s The Mummy, sure there is a mummy (and honestly it’s the best mummy we’ve had), but we’re supposed to root for Tom Cruise and his band of humans until the moment they find the dark monster to defeat the other dark monster, turning these fearful creatures into the Avengers because everyone loves a connected universe.
A princess of ancient Egypt named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) was raised to be the ruler of her people, only to have her destiny snatched away from her. When she calls upon the powers of darkness to restore her rightful place to her, she is captured and mummified alive as punishment. Centuries later her tomb is opened by a mercenary named Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his friend Chris (Jake Johnson) who like to steal ancient artifacts and sell them on the black market. Archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) who’s been on the trail of the tomb for years attempts to bring the mummy back to her superiors in London, but Ahmanet’s powers (and malevolence) have been awakened, and she is determined to finish her mission and regain the power that was taken away from her.
The Dark Universe isn’t off to a great start, and it’s easy to pinpoint it’s weakest element (if only because it could easily have been their greatest chance to prove themselves) – the focus, or lack thereof, on the mummy. And it’s too bad, really, because Ahmanet is one of the coolest mummies we’ve ever had. When you compare her to Imhotep in the 1999 version, who wasn’t after power so much as he had the power by coincidence and just wanted to revive his dead girlfriend, or even the 1932 Boris Karloff version who had basically the same idea, Ahmanet is the only mummy who has not been romantically driven but completely power-based (even if she believes it was her right to begin with). There were brief, shining moments where the film seemed to be headed in the direction of being monster-centric, but then we would be pointed back to the antics of Cruise and Wallis and wonder “why?” Boutella has always been a very physical actress, very in control of her body movements, and when you pair that with her Ancient Egyptian words and double-irised eyes, she could very easily be a creature to inspire fear like other mummies did before her. Sadly for her (and for us as an audience) her opposing force was cast as Cruise, and that not only shifted the attention away from her, but it gave her a less-than-satisfying fight to amuse us with.
We might have been able to forgive the direction away from the mummy if, like in the 1999 version, the protagonists we were given to face the mummy with were fun and interesting, and at least semi-well written. Not only do we not like the 2017 characters, we’re not even really sure why we are expected to. Nick Morton is introduced to us as a soldier who has abandoned his post to search for historical treasures to sell on the black market, sleeps with an archaeologist to steal her clues to that treasure, and even admits that he only gave her a parachute out of a falling plane because he thought there was a second one for him. Jenny keeps telling him that she believes he is a good man, but it’s hard for the audience to believe her when we’ve seen no real evidence of it at all. Of course, maybe Jenny has to believe he’s good because he spends almost the entire movie saving her ass, since she seems incapable of doing anything herself – she literally screams “kick her ass!” at Nick once when facing Ahmanet, and other than a couple punches she throws at the X-Files headquarters of the Dark Universe, that’s about the extent of her participation. These characters can’t even seem to decide how long they’ve known each other or their previous relationship – sometimes it sees like their sleeping together was a one-time thing for Nick to steal the information he needed, and sometimes it seems like they’ve known each other for a while and have had a long relationship of pining after each other (neither option makes me like them any better). Honestly, the only character who is worth watching in this film is Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who is struggling with his inner Mr. Hyde and tries to stave him off with a antidote he made. If any movie in this Dark Universe is going to work (or even happen after this letdown), I really hope that it’s his, because Jekyll seems like he’ll be amazing.
There are so many other elements that just don’t work the way that they should – the ghostly form of Nick’s friend coming back for…some reason…honestly I don’t even know if they explain why, corpses that don’t seem to know whether they want their eyes to be opened or closed, the fact that the movie really didn’t know if it wanted to be a horror movie or a adventure story or what – and it’s hard to really like a movie with this many flaws. Maybe if they had chosen a feel to have the entire time (or not filmed most of it in London, like it’s a movie about mummies and some of their best shots were the desert flashbacks, why couldn’t they have just stayed there) or they had shifted the focus just a little, The Mummy could’ve been a good movie. As it stands now, I have a hard time believing that the Dark Universe will survive to see all of its monsters revived.
1.5 / 5
If Dark Universe is going to happen, though, can I please ask why the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame are on that list? Just….why?!