Spoilers for The Mummy.
Could Russell Crowe be the worst Jekyll & Hyde of all time? One of the earliest indications of The Mummy‘s Dark Universe designs was the casting of Russell Crowe opposite Tom Cruise as Dr. Henry Jekyll. This was, at first, exciting; it promised that the reboot of a franchise that was last in cinemas less than ten years ago would be making some efforts to expand its scope and, obviously and most prominently, it meant we’d be seeing the iconic dual personality scientist brought to life by a major screen presence.
Unfortunately, Crowe is terrible. Worst of all time terrible. There have been over 50 different takes on the character(s) across film and TV (the story is now in the public domain so easy to adapt with minimal legal complications) and while many of the outings are clunkers that ditched the strong source, at least there’s a fair understanding of what the dichotomy means.
One of the strangest things about Robert Louis Stevenson’s book from a contemporary standpoint is that, while we take the shared identity as writ, it was the novella’s big twist; that meek Henry actually transformed into hunched, brutish Edward was revealed posthumously in the final chapter. However, like Planet of the Apes being Earth or Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father, it’s become an accepted fabric of the story that any adaptation jumps off of. That means many versions skip over vast swathes of the novel and instead get to the central post-reading idea. Like much of The Mummy, though, Alex Kurtzman’s interpretation doesn’t have that.
A Modern Dr. Henry Jekyll
It’s definitely possible to do a modern update of Jekyll & Hyde well. Before he gave us Smith/Capaldi Doctor Who and Sherlock, Stephen Moffat wrote the James Nesbitt-starring Jekyll that introduced us to Henry’s descendant discovering his tortured hereditary affliction, exploring the themes of the novel concurrently with its cultural impact. It even had a secret organization that was trying to contain such afflicted people, so serves as a perfect example of how The Mummy‘s idea was, at conception, interesting.
Unfortunately for Crowe, part of the problem actually lays at the doorstep of Prodigium. Because his primary purpose is to set up the S.H.I.E.L.D. of Dark Universe, Jekyll is lumbered with a lot of expositional scenes, spouting endless aggrandizing dialogue that has little purpose to the film’s narrative or his character’s story. This is the most blatantly sequel-baiting side of The Mummy and wrapping him up so tightly in this side of things only damages the character.
But on a pure personality level he, fails too. Kurtzman takes the premise of the twist being widely accepted and uses the tease of seeing Hyde’s transformation as the entire motivation for Jekyll’s presence; throughout his early scenes you’re just waiting to see him go crazy. Which would be fine if the director and actor hadn’t so completely missed the mark in both sides of Dr. J.