Box Office Democracy: The Mummy
You would think Universal would be happy with the money they’re making.
The last two Fast & Furious movies made over a billion dollars each. They were the top grossing studio in 2015 and this year are on track for a second place finish. No one is worried about the studio going broke or the lot being shut down or even serious cutbacks at their amusement parks. Things are good. I have no idea why they feel the need to invest so much in this Dark Universe nonsense that gave us this version of The Mummy.
They take what could be a perfectly good story about a scary, driven, magical lady mummy and fill it with exposition for movies that won’t be out for years and a “shared universe” with nothing anyone has any real attachment to. There’s no one out there dying for a Creature From the Black Lagoon reboot, but here we are with pregnant pauses on a jar with a flipper in it in hopes it becomes the next Avengers or some such nonsense. The Mummy is overloaded with ideas and starved for coherent storytelling, and it’s not a good combination.
The Mummy opens, like all good movies about an ancient Egyptian monster, in 12th century England. I’m not entirely sure why we need the movie to start with a bit about crusaders except to start laying pipe for the insane shared universe they start building to later, but whatever. We quickly move to ancient Egypt and the story of Prnicess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the titular Mummy, and her thwarted inheritance and the horrible revenge she took that led to her being turned in to the kind of being that lives more than 3000 years and throws curses every which way. It’s an interesting story and her character is more immediately gripping than any of the other characters. You have Tom Cruise in this movie playing an army officer who loots antiquities and the movie spends the whole time falling over itself to praise him for the smallest bit of human decency. Then you have Annabelle Wallis as an archaeologist who spends so much time keeping and revealing secrets that we never get to an actual character. We spend 70% of the movies with those boring nothings of characters, while a much more electric villain languishes on the sidelines causing wordless havoc.
I get that this is trying to build to some bigger set of movies and that you would much rather have Tom Cruise as your linchpin than Sofia Boutella, but it isn’t just star power that makes Robert Downey Jr. the best part of The Avengers, it’s that they give him things to say or do that feel like they matter. As someone who sees a lot of movies and plans to continue to do so I’m interested in the story hooks they leave at the end of The Mummy, but I’m not excited to spend any more time in this world or with this thieving soldier turned supernatural figure if his defining character trait is going to be “mostly a prick but not to this one woman he slept with” for an indefinite number of films. That said, he’s got some A+ costuming in the last scene and Cruise is the biggest movie star of a generation, so there’s reason to hope there.
Otherwise you’ve got a horror action movie that isn’t particularly scary and has few memorable action beats. The sequence with the crashing airplane is wonderful and something I haven’t seen before. Or, rather, it would be something I haven’t seen before if it hadn’t been in all the trailers. Other than that, it has a bunch of zombie-esque chase beats, and a fight scene that was a redux version of Black Widow and the Hulk. There were better action beats in the 1999 Brendan Fraser version and that movie wasn’t very good either. We don’t even get a good Tom Cruise running sequence and why even hire the guy at that point.
The Mummy is a frustrating movie not because it’s objectively bad or anything but because it’s so very boring. Maybe it wouldn’t be so boring if they hadn’t been compelled to cram so much material in to build to more Dark Universe films. If the story they’re actually telling in this film had gotten more room, instead of being dedicated to stuff that might be in movies we never see after the poor box office reception this weekend, it could have been saved. We could have gotten more time with the supporting characters that were more interesting than the mains. We could have focused on the mythology we were interacting with here, instead of needing to tie all evil in to one amorphous blob we could draw on later or being force-fed quite so much Dr. Jekyll. Rather than get a nearly two-hour commercial for a product I’m not sure I want, The Mummy should have tried harder to be something worthwhile in its own right.