Classic horror/monster movie aficionados no doubt know of Universal Picture’s legacy in the early 20th Century and their monster films. They were horror films, make no doubt of that. We may not see them as such today, but to people of that time who first saw the face of the Lon Chaney’s Phantom when he is unmasked, they found it terrifying. Even I, as a child, watching Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster brought nightmares to me. One incredibly memorable moment was the very first time I saw Karloff in the 1932 film The Mummy, as Imhotep, and it truly horrified me. Yes I was a kid, but the manner in which it affected me was still the same. Those movies from that time were indeed horror films.
Now we flash forward, and several reboots later, to a film that Universal hopes will relaunch a new franchise of films called Dark Universe, and the first entry to that is The Mummy. This is a difficult film to start with because of the different versions of the bandaged monster we have been given, starting with Karloff’s aforementioned film, to the Hammer Classic (and my personal favorite) starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, to the more recent 1999 adventure popcorn film starring Brendan Fraser. Add in the little side films where the Mummy appeared (Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy, The Mummy: Secrets of the Medjai), and that becomes quite the little film package where this creature appeared, and yet Universal chose this one as a starting point for Dark Universe.
Being that this is an origin story there will be many themes and ideas that will carry over, however this film does have one big difference in that our monster is an Egyptian Princess named Ahmanet (the same character name who was the object of Imhotep’s affections) and is played by Sofia Boutella. This time, she has her eyes set on a man named Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), a soldier in the military as well as “obtainer of rare antiquities,” which is the polite way of saying that he was a tomb raider. Nick is on a mission to obtain a (hopefully) rare treasure in a warzone in Iraq. From there Nick finds a sarcophagus, it gets opened, and hilarity ensues. That’s the basic plot idea, and while there are a few surprises throughout the film, there weren’t enough of them to adequately grab and hold me through the entire movie.
Tom Cruise was basically cast in this movie as the action hero, only the part that he plays isn’t exactly heroic. In fact, he’s something of an arrogant jerk. Even when moments are presented that hope to redeem him and get the audience on his side, he’ll drop some line that only serves to remind everyone that Nick Morton is just a selfish, unlikable man. Another actor joining this Dark Universe is Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll (Yes, that same Jekyll). Admittedly this reveal came as a surprise, and a welcome one at that. It reminded me that this film is to Dark Universe as what Iron Man has been for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Over the last couple of years I’ve really grown to appreciate good horror films. I’m not talking about the kind where there is silence and then the movie goes for the cheap joke by flashing something on the screen accompanied by a loud noise. No, I’m talking about something in the story that just pushes the buttons of primal fear within you. That’s what the classic Universal movies did to me as a child, and I had hopes to experience that again. Sadly, that is not the case here. Instead we are treated to movie that feels like a blend between 1999’s The Mummy, The Walking Dead, and An American Werewolf in London. This does not make for a good mix, and even after the theater lights came up I overheard someone else in the audience comment about the schizophrenic tone of the movie. I should point out that if action movies are “your thing,” then you might actually enjoy The Mummy. However if you’re looking to see Universal kickstart a new line of horror movies with their classic monsters, then you’re liable to be disappointed. What we have is a film that is 3 parts action/adventure and only 1 part horror. When the movie does dip its toe into that pool of horror it does so in a manner that is more than just satisfying. It’s almost unnerving (in a good way). Sadly those scenes don’t play out long enough to really take the audience on that terror filled emotional roller coaster. Instead it jumps back to action/adventure clichés that only served to make the movie predictable. There are also vague references to other monsters that will clearly be making up this new cinematic dark universe of Gods and Monsters, but there is no surprise in any of this. It’s all heavily telegraphed so that, for example, after the reveal of Russell Crowe’s character it becomes clear who he really is almost immediately.
This is a film with missed opportunities. Even without any major re-writes, by just changing the manner in which scenes were filmed and/or edited could have added a wonderful horror filled layer to the movie. Instead we get an overabundance of scenes with people either being flung through the air or running for their lives. There is no emotional sense of what danger the world is in with Ahmanet running free, and even though there were one or two “ick” moments where I felt disgusted by something happening on the screen, I almost never felt horrified or scared by what I saw. Instead all I pretty much felt was just a sense of disappointment at a movie that could, and should, have been both better and scarier.
I give The Mummy 2.5 out of 5 sarcophagi.
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