Without a hint of exaggeration, I can say I’ve never seen any major motion picture that could prepare me for reviewing The Mummy (2017). It is a surreal blend of genres that intends to force a cinematic universe on a public that has no interest in one. More to the point — you probably don’t even know who the star of the movie is. I didn’t.
Directed by Alex Kurtzman (whose only previous directing credit is People Like Us) and written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Death Becomes Her), The Mummy (2017) reboots both the Brendan Fraser 1999 series of the same name and Universal’s cinematic “Dark Universe” which probably should’ve actually begun three years ago with Dracula Untold. (Which was actually a pretty good movie apart from the fact it ends OUT OF NOWHERE. I have no idea why it wouldn’t still connect to this rebooted reboot just fine.)
The film opens on a made-up quote from Egyptian myth about the doorways of death, then cuts to a dude being buried during the Crusades, then to a modern day mining team finding that dude’s tomb, and then finally to news reports about where a bunch of mummies are probably buried under modern London. Russell Crowe struts into the tomb, kicks a bunch of people out, and then starts talking but his lips aren’t movi– OH GOD it is V.O. we are already into V.O. backstory, amazing. Back in ancient Egypt, we meet The Mummy (Sofia Boutella) before she becomes The Mummy, and then we see her she become The Mummy. Then Russell Crowe repeats the entire passage that was quoted in the opening title card and then we cut to THE NAME OF THE MOVIE.
Check it. All that happens before anyone says what movie this is. And it’s a perfect introduction to the movie you’re about to see, because every single plot point and piece of backstory is about to be explained to you an Egregious number of times. Not since Uwe Boll’s Alone In The Dark have I seen a film that looks down on its audience this much. I was shocked that the title of the movie wasn’t read out loud in voice over, just to be sure. Nor did Russell Crowe ever break character to tell me I was watching a movie. This is how fixated the film is on keeping everyone on the same page.
Jake Johnson is basically the co-star of the film… And he is just a goddamned delight.
Following this dubious prologue, we meet Tom Cruise, who is playing Tom Cruise but on Indiana Jones Day. He’s a loose cannon of a thief exploiting the US military to pirate stolen treasures, even if it means calling in an airstrike on a bunch of Middle Eastern folk. Did I mention we’re in Iraq now? We’re in Iraq now. Blowing up people in towns where we shouldn’t be.The Mummy just got all political and shit.
Cruise’s buddy in all this is none other than Jake Johnson. Yeah, Nick from New Girl. And Cruise’s character is named Nick, so Nick is constantly shouting “Nick!” at Nick in a delightfully quirky, outraged way. I’d seen a flash of Johnson in the trailer, so I assumed he was the character who got a single line before he dies, but surprisingly, Jake Johnson is basically the co-star of the film. He has more lines and more time on-screen than anyone except Cruise. And he is just a goddamned delight. So this is where you’ve really got to strap in, because contained within this terrible monster movie is the DNA of a delightful buddy adventure film that I would watch the hell out of, once it was free of the bonds that tie it to whatever Universal is trying to force on us here.
Outrageously, there’s almost no major scene in the film that hasn’t been given away in the trailer. Have you seen the trailer? That’s it. That’s the film. They wake up The Mummy, she crashes a plane, Tom Cruise is the only survivor, there’s a bunch of chasing, Russell Crowe wants to maybe help him, The Mummy attacks London, then there’s some fighting and then he fights The Mummy. The End. It’s all in the trailer.
There’s almost no major scene in the film that hasn’t been given away in the trailer.
All except Jake Johnson. Who does wind up becoming a zombie and then a voice in Tom Cruise’s head, which takes the form of a very American Werewolf in London back-and-forth where the dead friend keeps appearing to help out and re-explain things. But this is also where the only chemistry in the film happens. An exchange between Zombie Jake and Cruise in a women’s pub lavatory turns into a blame game over who should’ve murdered who for being weird. Jake is always just outside the scene, and is trying to help Cruise overcome a curse he doesn’t yet understand. It’s really fun and good and I was convinced that maybe I… like The Mummy?
Then that dies. Fast.
The real twist of this film is not that Russell Crowe is actually Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which gets shoved down your throat pretty early) and it isn’t that the film actually seems to want us to identify with The Mummy more than any other character, including Cruise. The real twist of this film is that they wrote and shot a borderline slapstick comedy, and when Jake Johnson isn’t on screen, there is no one to sell it.
Cruise delivers, not action one-liners, but bigger punchline based jokes or weird character choices. It’s a mix of his clueless character in Live Die Repeat and maybe… Risky Business? He’s also trying to pull off some Uncharted level “I’m not likable because I only care about myself” business, but it just comes off mean spirited. At one point he almost leaves the “love interest” to die because he takes the only car and doesn’t slow down for her. He does not feel bad about this.
By the time we’ve met with Dr. Jekyll and his team of anti-monster folks, who are supposed to serve as the hub of this new universe,it’s impossible to like them. No one on the science team is anywhere near capable of dealing with the monster they’ve brought in, and Crowe himself tries to murder the hero of our film to solve the problem of our film having a hero. It is a bananas way to start a series of connected films because I’m a Crowe fan and I never need to see his character again.
Something must also be said about the various mummy minions throughout the film, who are animated in the laughable mix of a Romero Zombie with the lesser ghost pirates from Pirates of the Caribbean. They shatter on contact with Cruise, or they go full Evil Dead and just won’t stop slapping him across the face… Oh crap. That means this is actually, literally slapstick. Oh crap.
As previously mentioned, the film seems intent on making us side with The Mummy herself, whose backstory of revenge blood occult murder doesn’t necessarily warrant that, but after her treatment at the hands of Crowe’s team, even the “love interest” character demands that something be done because “She’s a living being!” All of her interactions with Cruise, her Chosen One, seem levelheaded and only in the pursuit of giving him a better life, with no need to hurt anyone else for any reason. Cruise makes a bunch of faces and runs away instead of ever making a choice. Why are we torturing and killing this woman with knowledge we cannot comprehend and then expecting the audience to see anyone else as the hero? It doesn’t feel like it was done intentionally, but then again Kurtzman loves to show us that there are shades of evil in all of us… so…
(We have already waded pretty far into spoiler territory, but if you’re still with me you should know that from here on out it’s BIG SPOILERS all the way.)
How many different drafts of different films got BRUNDLEFLY’d together to make this patchwork nightmare?
After a series of unnecessary, and often bewildering, battles, Cruise is offered to take his rightful place as The Other Mummy. (There’s a weird cheat instead of a true sacrificial choice, which incidentally Dracula Untold did MUCH better.) Cruise accepts, and then turns around and kills The Original (for this film) Mummy. Cruise has become something he cannot control, so he goes on the run before Russell Crowe can capture him and take him apart. Now you’ve got the start of a franchise, I guess? Premised on the assumption you could ever pay Tom Cruise enough money to come back and do another one of these?
We end with Cruise bringing his old buddy Jake Johnson back to life so they can go on adventures together, meaning this entire film was really just Jake Johnson’s journey and some pointless crap Tom Cruise does in between. How many different drafts of different films got BRUNDLEFLY’d together to make this patchwork nightmare?
In the end, The Mummy (2017) apparently wants to tell us that the greatest monster is man himself. But really it’s just a few men in particular the director, the Universal executives, and everyone behind this Dark Universe nonsense this film tries to shove down our throats with a Tom Cruise chaser. Avoid The Mummy (2017) at all costs. Unless you really, really love Nick from New Girl yelling his own name a lot.