Despite the failure of “Dracula Untold” in 2014, Universal has moved forward with its plans for a shared monster-movie-verse with the “Dark Universe.” Starring the classic Universal Monsters like the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Invisible Man, and more, Universal has soft-relaunched its universe with “The Mummy,” a reboot of the already superior 1990’s saga and its 1930’s original.
Starring Tom Cruise, we see the ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet(Sofia Boutella) resurrected after millennia buried in the sands of Mesopotamia, imprisoned for unleashing forces of evil upon our world in exchange for petty revenge upon her family. In present day, Princess Ahmanet sets out to complete her pact with the Egyptian god Set, and bring him into the world through the ritual killing of her “chosen one”, in this case Nick Morton(Tom Cruise), a thief who specializes in antiquities.
All of this would be more than enough to fill the run time of a traditional summer blockbuster. But we have to set up a shared universe here! In between chasing a mummy and her Walking Dead-inspired minions, we meet Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll, the head of a monster-hunting organization called the Prodigium. Consider this the equivalent of the MCU’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and Dr. Jekyll its Nick Fury, although with a tendency to get a bit more purple and Cockney when Mr. Hyde makes his (fascinating) appearance. In all honesty, the scenes involving the Prodigium are the most promising of the film, and this organization might be the most interesting thing the Dark Universe has going for it. After the set-up for the Prodigium is finished and we see Ahmanet pulled from her tomb, the film takes a nosedive narratively that it never recovers from.
Cruise is committed to this role as he commits to most of his action roles, by pulling out some variation of a Cruise stock character, deployed with some tweaks as the story commands and performing eye-popping stunts, like the plane crash scene that was filmed in a zero gravity plane to exhilarating effect. The largest difference we see here for Nick Morton is that, rather than being the man with the plan that saves the day, for most of the film Morton is decidedly without a plan or control of his own situation. It is only towards the end that Morton takes control of his fate and the situation, to en end that I would have seen as far more controversial due to the release date of ‘The Mummy” being so close to the woman power of “Wonder Woman.”
** SPOILERS BELOW** SKIP TO END TO NEXT CAPS TO AVOID **
If you have ever heard the term “fridged” in relation to women in film, “The Mummy” is about as guilty of the trope as any recently. After one woman dies to further the story of Nick Morton, we see yet another, our eponymous Mummy, Ahmanet, killed in order to further his story. In all reality, the title does not refer to Ahmanet, but to Morton, who ends the film cursed and searching across the globe for a way to end his curse. Morton is the future Mummy of the Dark Universe, and that is about the worst decision Universal could have made.
In a time when so much discussion surrounding the roles of women in film have contributed to changes that address those issues, films like the Mummy, which started off with so much buzz with the casting of Algerian-born Boutella as a female Mummy, are a prime contributor to the false belief that only men, and more often white men, can lead a successful film franchise to profitability. What results is a film that trades its ethnic, female monster, an exciting narrative possibility, for a white, male monster, a story we’ve already seen before.
To end, “The Mummy” is fraught with over-written dialogue, a story that rushes to set up a universe to the detriment of its own tale, characters that are never fleshed out beyond simple motive or stock characters(outside of a fascinating turn by Crowe), and at least a few exciting action pieces to keep the viewer interested. Its just a shame that the payoff of the first act wasn’t seen through to the end.
P.S. Watch Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” if you want a true character piece featuring your favorite traditional literary monsters.