*** out of ****
(for violence, action and scary images, language, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity)
Released: June 9, 2017
Runtime: 110 minutes
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance
I couldn’t care less about Mummy mythology or its cinematic history dating back 85 years to Boris Karloff, but what I can tell you is that I really enjoyed this Mummy movie, how its characters are woven into its admittedly perfunctory mythos, and the ride they – and we – are taken on.
My hunch is that director Alex Kurtzman feels the same way. One doesn’t sense a strict adherence to any previous Mummy source in this modernized spin, or even that Kurtzman himself had a specific love or passion for its lore. Indeed, his primary focus is to launch Universal’s interconnected “Dark Universe” franchise that looks to resurrect the studio’s classic movie monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, and many more.
To his credit, Kurtzman has a lot of fun devising a truly blockbuster spectacle in the most popcorniest sense, and avoids getting bogged down in too much requisite universe building. It’s all anchored by fun set pieces, a few legitimate surprises, and one of the world’s most enduring (and seemingly ageless) movie stars.
The best way to describe what Kurtzman brings to the table is to point out one crucial fact: Kurtzman is a J.J. Abrams protégé.
Writing for screens both big and small defined his career with Abrams, and The Mummy is a clear product of that history (sans lens flares), perhaps most clearly a spawn of the ABC spy action show Alias which incorporated a mythology of its own. Given that Tom Cruise first connected with Abrams over Alias as well (hiring the TV guru to direct Mission: Impossible III after binging on the Jennifer Garner series), the sensibilities of Cruise and Kurtzman now collaborating here couldn’t be more in sync.
Sure, the movie cuts a few corners and rushes occasional beats that don’t hold up to basic scrutiny, but nitpicking a lack of airtight logic from a story about the rise of an ancient undead evil is to take this more seriously than it even wants you to. Moreover, within its own internal logic, The Mummy asks us to give it a pass only on rare occasions. The necessary allowances are momentary and don’t cripple the whole. In return, we’re given lot of bang for our bucks.
Cruise slips into one of his more familiar screen personas, a charming ne’er-do-well cocksure thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie named Nick Morton. He has a fetish for antiquities and hidden treasure, and he sells his ill-gotten loot to the highest bidder. A noble archeologist, he ain’t.
After a belabored prologue of generic ancient backstory, the film’s first fifteen minutes allow Cruise to have fun riffing on the Indiana Jones template before shifting its genre gears into straight-up action horror. That flip occurs when Nick and his partner in crime Chris (Jake Johnson, the New Girl star who makes every movie he’s in instantly better) stumble upon an Egyptian grave. It triggers the resurrection of a 2,000-year-old mummified Princess who embarks on a quest for revenge over a grudge she’s held for two millennia.
In the process, Nick is struck by a curse that seals his fate as a tool in her scheme. With the help of Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the actual archeologist of this crusade, and her boss Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) – yes, that Dr. Jekyll (he’s essentially the Nick Fury of the Dark Universe) – the trio fights to stop this wicked corpse from killing Nick and unleashing her evil.
The script has its share of information to unpack, and sometimes you can feel those machinations turn (particularly when characters simply spew exposition), but overall Kurtzman shows a flair for moving things along at a brisk pace while keeping the important beats clear.
And the story, while not particularly inventive, is a well-crafted plot machine that hums right along with its share of twists and turns, and plenty of tongue-in-cheek wit mixed with barbed romantic banter. Cruise and Wallis share an effective quarrelsome chemistry and sharp comedic timing, as do Cruise and Crowe whose polar opposites of the swaggering dumb American and stuffy intellectual Brit play off each other rather well.
While there’s plenty of digital effects to go around, Cruise still orchestrates some of the most daring – and literally staged – stunts in the movies today. Most notable here is the Zero-G plane crash sequence highlighted in the film’s trailers, one in which the interior footage is entirely legit. Most movies would produce this in front of a green screen with actors on wires, enhanced by more digital trickery, but Cruise is still game (and defiantly able) to push himself, both in this scene and others, even in his mid-50s.
The fact that Cruise commits to such harrowing work instantly puts his action scenes ahead of most in this modern era of digital cheating. As a result, these sequences automatically feel more authentic, and thrilling, because they are.
Kurtzman doesn’t display the knack for emotional sentiment that Abrams does (though perhaps he’s not even trying to), but he nevertheless shows a real skill for delivering a slick Hollywood tentpole that actually goes for big cinematic scope rather than hyper-kinetic monotony.
The early buzz on The Mummy already has it looking dead on arrival, but for audiences open to giving it a chance they’ll be pleasantly surprised. This is a fun movie. And even if it underperforms, Universal’s commitment to the Dark Universe will likely go unabated, as it should. Regardless of box office or critical reception, The Mummy is a solid foundation (if also a disposable entertainment) for a multi-film franchise that’s just getting started.