After watching Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad last year, I left the theater in a state of bewilderment to be sure, but I can’t say that I was overly disappointed. After all, I don’t have much of a personal connection to the DC comic book characters, nor was I particularly invested in the success of a DC cinematic universe. But the original Universal Monsters horror series is important to me, and I’ve been closely following news of the rebooted universe with high hopes that this could become something truly great. The series’ first outing, The Mummy, wound up being among the most soul-crushing movie experiences of my lifetime, a disaster of legendary proportions that will go down in Hollywood history as the go-to example of how not to reboot a series.
The Franchise Building is Laughable
Watching The Mummy is like being on a first date with someone who immediately starts talking about getting married and having kids. The entire second act of the film, in which Dr. Jekyll introduces us to the SHIELD-esque organization Prodigium, literally serves no purpose other than to introduce us to a larger world when we have barely gotten to know the smaller one. Universal here shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how to establish a franchise. The movie must first dazzle the audience with its own standalone story while subtly teasing more to come at the end, leaving us wanting more. The viewer had such a good experience with this individual movie that they’re curious about more to come, and that larger universe slowly reveals itself through Easter Eggs and post-credits sequences. It’s almost impossible to enjoy The Mummy as its own movie, and so what audience is going to find themselves excited by the prospect of more to come? It would be like if Marvel started the MCU not with Iron Man but with Iron Man 2. The Mummy is so hilariously presumptuous, feeling so confident that it doesn’t need to bother convincing us that this cinematic universe is a good idea, and judging by the estimated box office receipts, it looks like few found themselves convinced.
Tom Cruise’s Character is an Unlikable Putz
But the franchise-building elements are actually the least of this movie’s problems. More of an issue is the fact that Tom Cruise’s character, Nick Morton, is among the worst action leads in recent memory. Normally with a Tom Cruise action picture, you have a hero who is overwhelmed by the spectacle around him but who is generally making wise decisions in order to survive. But every single decision Morton makes is so stupid to the point that he winds up getting multiple people killed. A lot of action movies open with the sequence in which the two leads find themselves on the brink of death – with one perhaps quipping, “why do you always get me into this?!?” – but they, of course, pull through due to the ingenuity of the main hero. But in The Mummy’s opening scene Morton’s partner complains that Morton is going to get him killed, and then this is legitimately what happens. Soon after, Morton find himself killed in a plane crash, surviving only because the movie decides he needs to and not because of any actions he took. He’s less an action hero and more an idiot on an amusement park ride.
At the same time, Morton’s entire arc involves him being a bad person who Jenny must find some goodness in, but he really doesn’t come across as that bad. Being bad, after all, requires conscious choices, and Morton appears to just be gliding through the movie watching things unfold around him with some mild curiosity. And when he does make bad decisions, such as when he straight up tries to leave the female protagonist to die during an action set piece, it’s played for laughs, so never do we buy the basic premise that becomes the driving force of the third act.
Characters Behave in Baffling Ways
Outside of just the dialogue being an issue, the movie is also full of unintentional WTF moments of characters acting in ways that legitimately make me question Alex Kurtzman’s sanity.
Just one example that’s leaping to mind is when Jenny arrives to the morgue to identify Tom Cruise’s body, only to find him alive and well. She only seems slightly surprised, and later at a bar, she asks him, “How did you survive that plane?” Hold up, that’s the question you’re asking him? It seems pretty clear that he did not survive but that he came back to life, considering you literally just saw him at the morgue. It feels as if an original version of the script involved Morton’s body not being found but him being presumed dead, only to turn up later and prompt Jenny’s question. But in the final film, this becomes one of well over a dozen baffling moments that point to a movie that was haphazardly assembled.
The Dialogue is Shockingly Bad
I was sort of prepared going into The Mummy for clunky world building, but what took me by surprise was just how horrifyingly bad virtually all of the dialogue in this movie is. That gets started almost right away with banter between Nick and Jenny about their night together; Jenny contends that Nick only lasted 15 seconds, and Nick, of course, is defensive and swears that the night was long and pleasurable! O-ho, we’re having fun in this movie, aren’t we, boys? Later, Jenny encourages Nick to take out Ahmanet, shouting, “Kick her ass!”
And let’s not forget Russel Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll, who is burdened with the clunkiest possible exposition you could imagine. Because The Mummy refuses to exercise any subtly whatsoever, the film opens with a flashback of Ahmanet as Jekyll delivers dialogue which boils down to, “Ahmanet decided to murder people because she was evil, and now she’s an evil bad lady who likes being bad and evil.” Later, he is tasked with delivering at least three lines directed straight at the audience informing them about the nature of this cinematic universe which sounds lamer and lamer the longer he describes it. And towards the end, a character who has been brought back to life says something to the effect of, “I really appreciate you bringing me back to life just now,” and it doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be funny.
The Comedy is Cringeworthy
The Mummy wants so badly to be an entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and you can just feel the studio notes that the movie needs to be punched up with some comedy. This idea isn’t bad, and humor is part of what makes the MCU films feel so full of life and rewatchable.
But every single joke in The Mummy is a complete bomb that made me want to sink into my seat and die, most notably with the Jake Johnson character. There’s not one joke in the movie that’s remotely creative or interesting, as if the movie’s six writers were vaguely familiar with the rhythm of comedy but had little to contribute of their own.
And usually in a Marvel film, the jokes are delivered between scenes, and the movie generally understands the needs to hunker down and get serious when necessary, not treating key moments like gags. But that’s not the case here, where a number of very important sequences are tossed aside as jokes, such as when Ahmanet quickly disposes of Nick within moments,; what should be a dramatic confrontation is a farce, with Jenny coming inches from looking at the camera and making a Jim face. Later, the final fight between Nick and Ahmanet is straight up a cartoon.
It Has No Idea What Kind of Movie It Wants to Be
What is Alex Kurtzman’s vision for The Mummy? What was it that drew him to this material? It becomes clear that he was interested most in the franchise building than in this movie itself, as the final film is so fundamentally confused about what it wants to be.
It sort of goes for action, except it barely even commits to creating any memorable setpieces; the plane scene that was hyped up by the studio has all the thrills of watching Tom Cruise float around for 30 seconds. It sort of goes for adventure-comedy, but only when it feels like it, shifting in and out of this tone constantly. It dabbles in horror a little, but only once or twice does Kurtzman even make an effort at scaring the audience; he seems more interested in the horror imagery than in actually constructing what functions as an effective horror film, as if his main goal was to inspire an attraction at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. For as much as the people behind this reboot ensured the fans that they love the classic horror series and wanted to do right by it, there’s not a single second in this film where we see Kurtzman even paying lip service to the originals.
I’m having a hard time imagining a worse start to a cinematic universe than The Mummy, and it’s rare to see a film studio fall flat on their face quite like Universal has this weekend. The Bride of Frankenstein might still make it to theaters, but I’d be willing to bet we’ll never see that Dark Universe logo again, and if Alex Kurtzman is allowed to stay on board this franchise, Universal deserves what it has coming.