" Failure is not quite so frightening as regret "
The Dish

MRQE Top Critic

Operation Condor

Jackie Chan meets Indiana Jones —Andrea Birgers (review...)

Chan borrows from Raiders

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This muddled mummy movie could’ve used a little more influence from Boris Karloff and a little less from Brendan Fraser (and Tom Cruise).

We Don’t Need Another Hero

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) with precious cargo
Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) with precious cargo

It’s turning out to be the summer of Wonder Woman, a good (but not great) movie that trumpets girl power and offers some good ol’ fashioned fun. As counter-programming, The Mummy offers a female mummy supervillain and Tom Cruise takes quite an unexpected turn. As Nick Morton, Cruise plays the most remarkably ill-conceived, ill-defined and worthless excuse for a male protagonist to be spat out of Hollywood in ages.

Nick is stupid. To be clear: Cruise doesn’t play Nick as being stupid. Nick is stupid. There is a difference.

Nick has a rock-solid knowledge of absolutely nothing. Nick says things like, “Where’s your sense of adventure?” but he himself exhibits a keen absence of cunning and worldliness. His lack of archaeological knowledge and cultural sensitivity is stunning. Nick is such an appallingly bad lead character, even other characters comment on his lack of soul. This reviewer’s left pinky has a greater sense of the world and adventure than Nick’s entire 5’7” frame.

Even so, he still gets the ladies. He is, after all, played by Tom Cruise. One such lady is Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword). She is pretty much everything Nick is not: she’s smart, worldly, an archaeologist with a passion for history. And she regrets her (brief) romantic encounter with Nick.

But, in a rare moment of tenderness (set in the thick of a crashing airplane), she sees the good in Nick. He offers her the last parachute and she manages to survive the disaster.

Nick? Well, he also survives the plane crash — without a parachute and without suffering a single scratch. But he does end up with a toe tag and wrapped in plastic. Later on, it’s revealed he thought there was still another parachute on board. Maybe that’s supposed to be funny. Maybe it’s a simple way to continue to emphasize Nick is a purely selfish individual, all in the service of setting him up as some sort of altruistic hero come film’s end.

Nick’s other “love interest” is Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, who was the best part of Star Trek Beyond with her portrayal of Jaylah). Ahmanet was an Egyptian princess wiped out of the history books after killing her father and his newborn male heir to the throne. She was so bad, they buried her in Persia.

Since Nick unearthed her sarcophagus (or, as he so eloquently calls it, the “box”), she magically saved him from the plane crash and she wants to reward him with an eternal life of pure evil. (Maybe, in reality, it’s more like a curse because she saw Rock of Ages and wants to exact some sort of revenge for the lost time.)

Gods and Monsters

It’s disheartening The Mummy sets up Nick as such a pathetic excuse for a leading character, only to later establish him as some sort of hero going off on a quest to find a cure for what ails him. He’s already identified as a person not worth following.

Nonetheless, there are some interesting ideas bouncing around in Nick’s back story. He’s a decorated soldier (albeit one without a moral code) who makes a living as a grave robber. He’s lived in the Middle East for several years, raiding tombs and selling artifacts on the black market. Given his utter ignorance, though, it’s rather remarkable he could tell a genuine artifact from his own butt. His modus operandi — apparently — is to plunder, then let religious zealots take the heat for destroying ancient sites.

As the story unfolds, Nick crosses paths with Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe, Gladiator). Dr. Jekyll has a massive cabinet of curiosities that manages to provide more excitement in its small, quiet moments than the bulk of the movie does in the loud, CGI-heavy action that offers little in terms of true thrills.

Dr. Jekyll’s lair is filled with jars and cases containing all sorts of things. The skull of a vampire. The webbed hand of a lagoon creature. Other references to classic Universal horror lore. In these bits, there’s fun – and there’s hope for something more. The lair is an avenue back to the Boris Karloff days of Hollywood horror; the rest of the CGI action is straight out of Brendan Fraser’s mummy movies. And that includes a massive sandstorm fronted by a haunting face — ripped right out of The Mummy from 1999.

Dr. Jekyll has his own issues, but his mission is to find, contain, examine and destroy evil in all its forms. Ahmanet is one such source of evil. Jekyll’s group of scientists and explorers is this series’ version of SHIELD, Justice League and Monarch.

The setup offers a few moments of PG-13 zombie horror, but there’s no residual creep factor. When the movie ends, the story evaporates.

Dark Universe

Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe)
Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe)

Giving Alex Kurtzman control over Universal’s new “Dark Universe” is kind of like Warner Bros. giving Zack Snyder the keys to the DC universe. The latter hasn’t worked out so well and The Mummy doesn’t give much hope for Universal’s big plans to revisit all of the classic horror movies in hopes of creating a multiverse along the lines of Marvel, Star Wars, DC and Warner’s mega-monster series (starring the giants of the field, such as Kong, Godzilla, Mothra, etc.).

It’s a decision made most certainly strictly based on box office and without much of a lick of consideration to true creativity and vision. Kurtzman’s something of a J.J. Abrams protégé. He’s been involved — in various capacities — on TV’s Alias and Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek as well as the Transformers trilogy starring Shia LaBeouf.

As it stands, joining Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll will be Johnny Depp as the Invisible Man and Javier Bardem as the new Frankenstein’s monster. The next installment in the Dark Universe is currently scheduled to be The Bride of Frankenstein, to be directed by Bill Condon. Sure, he directed the live action version of Beauty and the Beast. But — more significantly — he also directed a little movie called Gods and Monsters exploring... well... the life of the original Bride of Frankenstein director, James Whale.

Maybe there’s still hope for the series. The Mummy could be a misfire in the opening salvo of the series; having Kurtzman direct was no doubt another bad idea. He doesn’t have the right directing chops for this fare.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, comes from the writers who should’ve known so much better. Amid the corps of six scribes are David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie. Both have collaborated with Cruise in the past; Mission: Impossible, War of the Worlds, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Edge of Tomorrow are among those collaborations. And yet, somehow, Cruise walks away with a completely unappealing character. Wouldn’t it have been better if Nick was a knowledgeable Scientologist? Uh... Scientist?

No modern spark. No emotional resonance. Poor character chemistry. Who knows? Maybe the antidote is one monster of a wedding.