Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: The Dark Universe begins on a shaky foundation with "The Mummy."

The Mummy Review
Alex Kurtzman's "The Mummy" had lots riding on it. Not only was a reboot of a franchise that ended with Universal almost a decade ago, it was the spring board for a whole new shared universe of movies revolving around the classic monsters in the Universal stable. There were lots of moving parts to this thing, and that can quite treacherous and hard to pull off. When began to imagine a Classic Universal Monsters Universe franchise, or The Dark Universe as its called, I figured we'd get a franchise of straight-up horror movies. But with Tom Cruise at the helm and Alex Kurtzman acting as Universal's Kevin Feige, it was clear that this was going to be an action franchise. I was curious as hell to see what Kurtzman was planning to do.

The first half of "The Mummy" is chore to sit through simply because it has a "been there, done that" aurora to it. This film borrows so heavily from the 1999 Stephen Sommers film that it practically feels like a remake. Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is definitely the Rick O'Connell of this story. He's a soldier of fortune who preserves ancient relics in the Middle East before insurgents come in and destroy them, while selling lesser known relics on the black market. His friend Vail (Jake Johnson) is very much the Benny of the story, if you can imagine Benny never betraying Rick O'Connell. That's the relationship between Nick and Benny. The film opens with a Nick and Vail in a sticky, life-or-death sitaution, getting shot at all sides, much like the opening from the 1999 "The Mummy." Then they stumble upon a tomb, almost by accident. Nick and Vail want to take what treasures they can and sell them. But they are accompanied to the tomb by Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) a super-smart, researcher who finds old relics and preserves them for a shadowy organization. She's beautiful, she's smart, she has a British accent...do you know which analogue from the 1999 film she is yet?

Oh, and I should have mentioned at the film really begins with an overlong narration of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who was the next in line as Queen of Ancient Egypt before getting knocked out of line by the current king having a son. She makes a deal with the Evil God Set and kills her family, only to be caught, mummified and tombed with a curse. Sound familiar yet?

Look, there is a difference between a reboot and a straight up remake. Look at "Batman Begins," that was a reboot of the Batman franchise. You stack "Batman Begins" next to Tim Burton's Batman film and they look like apples and oranges, even though they are about the exact same character. Take a look at Daniel Craig's run as James Bond compared to the rest of the series. The Daniel Craig films feature the same tropes and norms of the James Bond films, but they are tonally and technically different. This "Mummy" movie wants to be a reboot, but it plays for most of its run time as a remake of sorts. That's up until the point Nick, Vail and Halsey get the tomb of Ahmanet on an airplane and then the plane crashes, unleashing Ahmanet. Killing Nick and Vail.

Oh, man. Starting screaming about spoilers all you want, but I truly didn't spoil anything. The trailers showed Nick dying and its fine. Both Nick and Vail don't stay dead. Universal is borrowing the shared universe template from Marvel and DC, so of course nobody actually dies here. Once Nick wakes up from his death-sleep, it is revealed to him by Halsey the shadowy organization she works for is run by Nick Fury. Ooops, I mean run by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). But telling how his character works, he is clearly the Nick Fury analogue for the Dark Universe. Dr. Jekyll has dedicated his life to discovering, dissecting, researching and ultimately destroying "evil" in all its forms. This is the point in the film where it stops dead and places Easter egg after Easter egg in front of your eyes, setting up a whole host of future films, much like "Avengers: Age of Ultron," or "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice." Characters don't really die, people are walking around with superpowers, a group getting together to fight evil. "The Mummy" radically shifts from "Mummy" remake to superhero film. No joke.

I promise you, the film shifts again. "The Mummy" was written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuirre and Dylan Kussman. Three fucking people contributed to one script. Its evidently clear early on that "The Mummy" was a bi-product of screenplay-by-committee. But the film feels like one writer tackled the beginning, the other the middle and the other polishing the end, but they never got together to compare notes. Because of this, "The Mummy" is kind of a mess to watch. It feels like different movies almost every twenty or so minutes. (Watch for Jake Johnson appearing as a ghost in Nick's mind. Clearly borrowed from "An American Werewolf in London." Except its laughably stupid, instead of laughably hilarious) The movie never finds a tone, never finds a voice, never finds a definition to the movie. 

Tom Cruise is one of our very few reliable movie stars, and he tries to get this one to work. But something feels off with him this time. Maybe its him working in such a effects-heavy film. It doesn't feel realistic when you see Tom Cruise beating up a bunch of CGI mummies, compared to when he's really hanging from an airplane in a "Mission: Impossible" movie. He does what he can, but the schizophrenic script is no help for him. Jake Johnson is good, but his role could have been written out entirely. You can tell that Russell Crowe had a ball playing Dr. Jekyll, it just seems like he's from a completely different movie. That's the biggest problem here, three different movies got crammed into one. How is Sofia Boutella? She's good, I guess. I never found her scary though. How am I supposed to be scared of a gorgeous lady being made to purposely look gorgeous? Just doesn't work.

I was hoping that Universal would make a shared universe of scary films. I was hoping it was would be in the same vein as the criminally underseen but completely scary "The Wolfman" from 2010. That movie was incredibly scary. But for some reason, Universal is taking their classic monsters and putting them in superheroic action movies. I really don't see the point in doing that simply because Marvel is making money right now. This Dark Universe could have had a style and tone of its own, and I think people want to see these characters in horror films rather high-concept action movies, but turning this into an action franchise may be its undoing. Oddly, this shared universe was going to start with "Dracula: Untold" which came out a few years ago. When that movie tanked at the box office, they started over and decided this "Mummy" film would be the new starting point. Now that "The Mummy" is tanking fast, will they just chop it and start over? Perhaps if they did that, they could move these characters back to the genre they belong in.

FINAL GRADE: C-

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