A fearless treasure hunter played by Tom Cruise suffers the curse of an ancient Egyptian evil and must… wait, scratch that.. what? Really?
Universal’s 2017 version of The Mummy, which has gone from Boris Karloff horror to Brendan Fraser adventure-comedy along with other iterations in over eighty years, is like nothing you could have possibly anticipated from either the studio behind the picture or the action star at its center.
It is… almost indescribable. And that’s what makes it fun: not knowing where this this big studio blockbuster is headed makes for quite a ride until we finally get there.
After a failed attempt to turn their classic movie monsters into an Extended Universe to rival Marvel and DC with Dracula Untold, The Mummy is Universal’s big last-ditch attempt to get that ball rolling, and boy do they really go for broke.
It’s not even a Mummy movie. Not really: this is a film about all supernatural evil in the world, as long as that evil somehow resembles the iconic Universal movie monsters, and that world is one dominated by their presence. It’s not horror, adventure, comedy, or action, though it has elements of all those things. It’s a world-building superhero origin story.
And at that, it’s better than many that have come before. I pray for its success, because The Mummy writes itself into a ridiculous finale that sets up an impossible sequel, and that is the film I really want to see, though it isn’t one anyone in their right mind could reasonably anticipate.
This Mummy begins as you might expect, with heavy-handed backstory narrated by Russell Crowe about the ancient Egyptian Queen Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) and a deal with the devil, an unholy burial, and… the Knights Templar?
And then there’s Tom Cruise doing his action hero thing as Nick Morton, recon officer and treasure hunter looking to get his hands on some Iraqi gold before insurgents lay waste to it. He and sidekick Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) dive in head-first before calling in an airstrike that reveals…
Why, it’s the Mummy’s tomb! Archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) isn’t too thrilled with the recklessness – or Morton’s bedroom shenanigans, wink-wink – but she is happy to secure Ahmanet’s tomb for transport back to London.
Of course, they’re all cursed.
But after this familiar setup, The Mummy flies so far off the rails we can barely keep up with it, let alone anticipate where it’s going. At first, it turns into An American Werewolf in London, of all movies, with Cruise’s character gaining supernatural powers and hallucinating and talking to his dead zombified buddy.
Then it cuts loose for some big-scale London destruction a la Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce with Ahmanet creating an army of zombie soldiers and enveloping the city in a sandstorm that includes the big Mummy Sandface money shot from the Brendan Fraser movies.
And then there’s the franchise-building elements, which I’m still struggling to process. Dracula Untold threw in this kind of thing as an afterthought, but in The Mummy it’s everything: this one goes the whole Van Helsing.
With a script credited to at least six writers, including Jon Spaihts (Prometheus), David Koepp (Jurassic Park), and Cruise standby Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), director Alex Kurtzman struggles to make sense of it all. So does the audience.
But that’s part of the fun. Individual scenes here – including a gravity-fighting plane escape, some limb-flinging zombie action and a neat underwater sequence in the flooded tombs beneath London – are all fun, and while the big-picture stuff doesn’t make a lick of sense, it at least leads us down an interesting path.
Faint praise, but The Mummy isn’t your usual big studio blockbuster, and keeps you guessing throughout. Sometimes that’s good enough.