The Mummy tries a fresh spin on the classic monster with a gender-swapped villain and Dark Universe connections but winds up a stale action reboot.
Universal Pictures’ The Mummy is a reboot of the titular movie monster, this time around introducing the Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). As the only child of the Egyptian pharaoh, Ahmanet was destined to rule – until her father’s wife gave birth to a son, and Ahmanet’s destiny was taken from her. She makes a deal with the Egyptian god of death, Set, allowing evil into herself and ultimately landing her mummified. In modern times, The Mummy follows army reconnaissance sergeant Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), who makes extra money on the side with his best friend and partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) by hunting treasure and selling it on the black market. When one of their missions goes awry, they accidentally uncover the ancient tomb of Ahmanet.
Along with anthropologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), Nick and Vail explore the tomb, stumbling upon the sarcophagus of Ahmanet. However, when Nick sets off a series of events that frees Ahmanet from the prison to which she was confined, tragedy begins to befall everyone around him. Meanwhile, Ahmanet seeks to complete the ritual that would fulfill her deal with Set, but Nick has become wrapped up in her plans. Making matters more complicated is the entry of Prodigium, a group for which Jenny is employed that’s led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and is dedicated to discovering and defeating evil. Ultimately, it’s up to Nick to figure out how to defeat Ahmanet and protect those he cares about.
Although it seemed Universal was set to launch its new shared universe populated by classic movie monsters with Dracula Untold, it was later confirmed the 2014 Luke Evans-led reboot of Dracula wouldn’t be a part of the studio’s Dark Universe. Although Universal didn’t offer a reason for not including Dracula Untold in the Dark Universe, and instead entertaining the idea of rebooting the character again, Dracula Untold’s largely negative response may be to blame. As a result, The Mummy is positioned as the true launch of Universal’s classic movie monster shared universe. The Mummy tries a fresh spin on the classic monster with a gender-swapped villain and Dark Universe connections but winds up a stale action reboot.
The story of The Mummy is simple enough, and reminiscent of the 1999 Brendan Fraser action/adventure film, with three main characters stumbling upon an ancient mummified evil and unleashing it on the world, then working to figure out a way to defeat the monster. The archetypes of the three leads are even similar; there’s the charming rogue (Cruise’s Nick Morton and Fraser’s Rick O’Connell), the comedic sidekick (Johnson’s Chris Vail and John Hannah’s Jonathan Carnahan), and the intellectual female character/love interest (Wallis’ Jenny Halsey and Rachel Weisz’s Evie Carnahan). However, director Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy does feature a number of big departures from the 1999 film of the same name – most obvious being Princess Ahmanet’s backstory and the inclusion of Prodigium – though they don’t necessarily work to the movie’s benefit.
On its surface, The Mummy is a decent action/adventure movie, with some horror elements thanks to Ahmanet and the zombie-like creatures she can raise from the dead. And, for the most part, the movie works well on both a standalone level as well as a launching pad for Universal’s Dark Universe. The introduction of Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde) and Prodigium is woven into the fabric of The Mummy’s story so well that it doesn’t wind up feeling ham-fisted into the narrative as a necessity to building a larger universe – which, as we’ve seen in recent years, can be the case with shared universe launchpads. Instead, Prodigium becomes instrumental to moving the plot of The Mummy forward – and sets the stage for one of the more exciting action sequences – while managing to lay the groundwork for their involvement in the upcoming Dark Universe installments.
On a script level, with a screenplay written by Jon Spaihts (Passengers, Doctor Strange) and Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), there is some clunky language and a great deal of employing the lead cast to tell the audience exactly what’s going on, with various characters being given long expository monologues or dialogue laying out what’s going on. Framing the story from Dr. Jekyll’s perspective, with him being given a number of voiceover narrating portions, helps to introduce the world of The Mummy – since he relates the story of Ahmanet – as well as the Dark Universe. However, some of his dialogue includes cliche-sounding lines that are intended for dramatic impact, but are so melodramatic as to be comedic. Crowe brings weight to the role, but certain lines cannot be helped by even his gravitas.
As for the rest of the cast, Cruise attempts to bring the charm for his role as Nick Morton, but the writing of the character is too much the tired and smarmy action hero. Nick’s actions and whether they’re selfish or selfless is a theme explored throughout The Mummy, but while the broad strokes of his arc are compelling, the action hero stock character feels stale, as if Cruise’s Nick Morton belongs in film that debuted in the ’80s or ’90s. There’s nothing fresh or charming about a supposed hero who sleeps with a woman and steals her belongings without saying goodbye – especially when that’s the frame in which the only female character beyond the villain is introduced.
Wallis’ Jenny Halsey, though given some agency insofar as having her own life’s work separate from Nick and the moxy to stand up to him, still winds up a mixture of the archetypal damsel in distress and the love interest that inspires the male lead to be better. Johnson’s Chris Vail, meanwhile, is a flat sidekick character, who largely exists to provide comic relief and, at certain points, drive the plot forward. Johnson works for the character, though perhaps mainly because Chris Vail is like many other characters the actor has portrayed, spouting off witty one-liners and yelling while in danger.
However, The Mummy’s biggest disappointment comes in its gender-swapped villain. While the backstory of Ahmanet is compelling – a princess whose destiny is taken from her – the movie makes a point of unnecessarily sexualizing her character and, especially, her plans for Nick and the Egyptian god of death. There is a difference between a female villain wielding her sexuality as a tool of manipulation or destruction and a female villain participating in sexualized rituals necessary to fulfilling her goals – the first suggests agency on the character’s behalf, while the latter doesn’t and is instead a choice made by the writers. Additionally, the problem with female villains in male-led stories is that there inevitably comes a time when the male hero fights the antagonist and is shown physically beating her – no matter the context within the film, it’s troubling imagery within the larger context of the world. Though The Mummy offers the opportunity to unpack the archetypal sexualized female villain, and the violence wrought upon women, the film instead doubles down on shallow action spectacle, losing whatever progressiveness it wanted to achieve with a gender-swapped antagonist.
All in all, The Mummy is a surface-level popcorn blockbuster that’s biggest strengths lie in a decent action/adventure retelling of the classic monster’s story and the film’s Dark Universe connections. It’s not the best Hollywood has to offer this summer, nor the most compelling reboot of The Mummy, but will be enjoyable for fans of Cruise’s work and those intrigued by Universal’s new shared universe. And, with the ending of The Mummy leaving the door open for future installments, as well as a possible direction for the Dark Universe, perhaps the movie’s greatest success is as the shared universe’s launchpad.
The Mummy is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 110 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.
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