Let’s not pretend that bringing together a plethora of Universal monsters is a new idea or something that Hollywood would never do back in the “good old days.” During the 1940s, there was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), and House of Dracula (1945), all of which brought together two or more of the studios famous monsters. So this has been done before. I would say only Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was any good (and what shines in that film isn’t even the “meet” section of it), but it’s an idea that could work today under the right hands. If The Mummy remake is any indication, this new shared universe (recently dubbed Dark Universe) franchise is not in good hands in the slightest.
One thing that made the 1932 Boris Karloff Mummy film so great was its atmosphere. It had a terrific flavor of Egypt that set it apart from Dracula and Frankenstein the previous year. If you’re worried about whether that will be carried over here, not to worry. The Mummy (the new one, I mean) starts out in the most ancient Egyptian of places, 12th century England.
Okay, here’s the short of it. Nick Morton, an adventure seeking former U.S Military officer played by Tom Cruise, and his friend Sergeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are more interested in finding and selling valuable goods than doing missions for the military. They accidentally unearth the tomb of Princess Ahmanet (played by Sofia Boutella). The evil and powerful Ahmanet, who only desires power, wants to resurrect Set – the ancient Egyptian god of deserts, storms, darkness, and violence – into Nick’s body. With Set by Ahmanet’s side, no one will be able to stop her. To resurrect Set, Ahmanet will need a magical jewel (which is hidden in one of the medieval English tombs recently unearthed) and a dagger. Aiding Nick in his battle to rid himself of the deadly curse is archeologist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). Nick stole a map from Jennifer after a one night stand. Their relationship is rocky, but Nick insists his feelings for Jennifer are genuine. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Henry (Russell Crowe) is awfully interested in Ahmanet and the now cursed Nick.
Despite the world imperil plot, the stakes and weight of the story couldn’t be lighter. That’s down to many things. The principle of which is its almost impossible to care less about these generic characters. There’s nothing about them that stands out or makes them lovable, funny, interesting, or entertaining. I’d rather watch grass blow in the wind for two hours than sit through any of these character’s scenes again (well, okay, one of Crowe’s scenes isn’t bad).
Cruise and Wallis have zero chemistry. Their romance is so blah and poorly written. There’s no indication of why these two would fall in love beyond looks. No common interests shared, no intimate moments worth a darn. I fail to even see how anybody could find Nick appealing. There’s just nothing there beyond the possibility of a good man.
Like Brendan Fraser’s Mummy films and Van Helsing (2004), Cruise’s The Mummy throws humor and action into the pot. The comedy isn’t a misfire. It’s more like the bullets fell out as the person was firing, the ammunition clanging to floor with an embarrassing ring. It’s the epitome of trying to hard. The gags and one liners are beyond tired (at one point, Nick says to Ahmanet, “It’s not me. It’s you”) and there is no unique voice to really make the jokes pop.
The action suffers from a lack of style. I’m struggling to think of anything actually noteworthy. All that comes to mind is an ambulance barely missing Nick as it crashes down a hill, and that you can see in the trailer. Nick also punches some undead guys and…that’s about it. The action is boring to say the least.
What could make this and the rest of the films in this new shared universe different from what Marvel and DC are doing is if Universal put less emphasis on the action and brought this and future Dark Universe installments back to their horror roots. I love the Fraser Mummy films (well, okay, not the third one), and I even enjoy Van Helsing, flawed as it is. But not every film needs to be like those. Let’s make genuine horror films, where the monsters we’ll eventually see in the team-up movie are truly dark, horrific monsters that haven’t been turned into dull superheroes. That would be so fun, cool, and different. I would gladly flock to every movie in the Dark Universe series if this was the direction Universal was going, but it’s sadly not. Like so many other studios right now, they’re content poorly borrowing from the most recent franchise successes and throwing them into a Marvel recipe that none one but Marvel has managed to get right.
The Mummy from the story, to the characters, and to the unromantic, unfunny, script (which is only scary for one, very small, seconds-long moment) is totally artificial, manufactured, and cynical. It’s just an assembly line picture with all the elements of what the studio thinks makes a great popcorn flick. But Universal doesn’t know what it’s doing. In trying to jump on the shared universe bandwagon, it forgot to add in anything new. With The Mummy‘s critical and box office reaction being piss poor, the future of the Dark Universe is not looking good. If it continues, I seriously hope some major retooling is done before the next film is made. That needs to happen if the Dark Universe wants to stand any chance of gaining any traction.