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“The Mummy” Review: Universal’s First Dark Universe Chapter is Monstrously Meh

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Tom Cruise finds himself in one of many dimly lit caverns in “The Mummy.”

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Summer season is a dumping ground for CGI-laden blockbusters competing for our hard earned dollars, each trying to up the literal ante with each subsequent explosion, set piece, and gimmick. Some do it better than others and each year seems to have more and more disposable films destined for the bargain bin on Black Friday. However, once in a while, one of these summer film will slip through the cracks and, while it’s largely mediocre in its execution, there’s charm and fun to be had.

Universal’s reboot of The Mummy, its first entry in the Dark Universe, is one such film.

Uneven, yet entertaining in its serial schlock vibe, The Mummy tells the story of a soldier of fortune who discovers an ancient evil underneath the sands of Iraq. Tom Cruise, America’s asshole disguised as a golden retriever, plays the part of our hero caught in the midst of said evil as he explores catacombs, eery woods, and a secret facility that would make the Avengers jealous.

The film succeeds the most when you’re in the throes of fantastical set pieces involving swarms of undead, the thrill of the chase, and the sound of shattering bone as mummies get punched, beaten, and run over. It helps that the magnetic presence of Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond) is in the role of the titular namesake, an Egyptian princess named Ahmanet, and creeps through every scene like a slinky snake patiently waiting to strike. And when Russell Crowe shows up as the scene stealing Dr. Henry Jekyll, the Nick Fury of this oddball cinematic universe, the film finds its stride in this weird, off kilter wonderland of references to classic movie monsters many of us have loved for years.

Culminating in a giddy bit of good fun underpinned with serious nuance by switching to a slight cockney swagger, when we finally get a taste of Jekyll’s chaotic alter ego, Crowe’s performance finally explains why we needed him in the first place – and why we should want to see more films with this character in them.

However, despite his best attempts to maintain the spirit of adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean, or even the previous take on The Mummy, director (and Dark Universe mastermind) Alex Kurtzman seems to be missing the integral element that bonds good movies together: urgency. Nothing feels like it’s truly at stake, the majority of characters come across as disposable, and much of the action feels too safe for our merry band of players. This makes it insanely difficult not to compare this rendition to Stephen Sommers’ take on The Mummy in 1999. Seeing as that film was able to maintain a grand balance of action, horror, and levity to truly nail the sand meet swashbuckler vibe, one can’t help but miss that initial first film while watching this – especially when an easter egg appears in the second act and reminds us that Brendan Fraser could probably kick Cruise’s ass.

The CGI, comparatively speaking to the 1999 film, even feels sloppy. Laughable moments of glass shattering and mercury slipping off of surfaces peek in and out enough times in this movie to really take the film back a decade or two. And while some films use CGI masterfully to take viewers out of the film and highlight the artistry of moviemaking, much like Tim Burton’s use of CGI to make Harryhausen style skeletons in Miss Peregrines, there’s nothing about the effects here that insinuate that intention. One could argue that it’s meant for the 3D showings of The Mummy, but even that’s a stretch seeing as I saw this film in 3D and, unlike the dunes in Egypt, ’twas quite flat.

Despite some genuine moments of comedic relief, many of the film’s lighter moments come across as clear rewrites perhaps as a means to keep the tone from skipping into Batman V. Superman territory. For every awkward encounter between a mummy and Cruise’s chiseled face there’s a forced inclusion of an undead best friend ripped straight from An American Werewolf in London. The filmmakers make the mistake of assuming every new series needs this kind of formula, but it truly doesn’t. And seeing as this new universe is predicated on the existence of classic movie monsters, and it’s trying to make a badass team of movie monsters as counter programming to whatever Marvel or DC film is in theaters, it’s a shame this film doesn’t lean a little darker and embrace said darkness.

And that some studio exec thought a “It’s not you, it’s me” line should be left in the final cut of a tentpole release in 2017.

In the end, what we get is a movie that has a few laughs and a few moments of CGI fueled wonder, but nothing more than a serviceable beginning for a cinematic universe that could have been pure, cheesy matinee fun.

“The Mummy” is directed by Alex Kurtzman and stars Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, and Russell Crowe. It is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.

Review by Zachary Lego
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