As the Universal titles swirl and morph seamlessly into the Dark Universe logo, it’s clear that the studio is intent on reviving their Universal Monsters franchise. From the days of silent cinema through to the talkies, Universal has fostered a stable of creatures. Despite a successful series of remakes of The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser, other attempts have been ill-fated. Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing captured the spirit, if not the audience. Similarly, Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman received a critical and commercial drumming.
In 2017’s THE MUMMY, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Sergeant Vail (Jake Johnson) are advanced scouts for the military in Iraq, but use their jobs to hunt down antiquities for profit. After pilfering a map from archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the trio uncover the ancient tomb of the forgotten Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). When the plane returning home crashes, Morton not only discovers that he is cursed, but that he has unleashed the holy hell of Ahmanet’s evil on London.
So after downplaying Dracula Untold as the first film in the Dark Universe series, THE MUMMY is now said to be the first in an initial four-film cycle. David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman’s screenplay makes a clean break with all previous iterations, combining legends of the Knights Templar and the Second Crusade with Egyptian prayers of resurrection. What remains is a narrative divided into two distinct parts: one in which the titular mummy’s tomb is uncovered, and a second in which London and its underground become the battlefield between good and evil.
What’s especially interesting about this version of THE MUMMY is that those notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are often interchangeable. Take for example Cruise and Johnson’s roles, who are “not looters,” but rather “liberators of precious antiquities.” Cruise wears the anti-hero suit well, and it’s a niche he has been carving out nicely over the last few years. We also have the highly publicised appearance of Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, acting as a kind of supernatural G-Man. Jekyll is not just an Easter Egg for the Dark Universe, but another morally grey character for the franchise entry. Boutella’s visually distinct Mummy is ultimately a destructive entity, but her motivation is one of betrayal and retribution.
THE MUMMY is ultimately a film of spectacular special effects sequences, one that has an amazing amount of fun in the process. An early plane crash is a white-knuckle ride of awesomeness, as is a zombie-fueled car chase sequence. Indeed, many of the conventions come straight out of the zombie genre, including an underwater sequence that would make Lucio Fulci nod in approval. yet it also distinguishes itself with a self-aware sense of humour. Nevertheless, director Alex Kurtzman is definitely riding those immediate roller coaster thrills with only one eye on plot and character development.
The film resolves itself with a tiny bit of ambiguity, and Cruise’s climactic deeds leave Wallis’ character as a perfunctory means to an end. That said, Universal’s marketing for the film leaves little doubt where this series is going, and who will be leading it. A fun and entertaining return to the world of Monster Movies, one that the studio seems happily committed towards exploiting.