Is it too late to make a “Show me the mummy!” joke?
Upon Universal Studios’ announcement that it would be re-exploring all the old classic horror properties they’d created more than eighty(!) years ago as an action-adventure shared universe, the Internet let out a collective, “wha?” And they were right to. In this post-Marvel world, everything is now being re-imagined as a shared universe. In theory, the idea is intriguing and creates a lot of opportunity for world building and creativity. Still, characters like Dracula, Frankenstein(‘s Monster), and the Mummy — they’re dead ghouls, brought back to life by a curse, or science, or sheer stubbornness, so the idea of centering a shared universe around them — and presenting them as the villains they ought to be — seemed like a really odd choice. But Uni were likely looking at their last firebrand of a rebooted monster property — the Brendan Fraser Mummy franchise, which had been designed as an Indiana Jones-ish tale of Egyptian paranormal, and which was still seeing new entries in the direct-to-video market as recently as 2015. (This would be The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, which, in case you lost count, was the sequel to the sequel to the prequel to the prequel to the sequel to the remake of The Mummy, and it starred Lou Ferrigno.)
The announcement of Alex Kurtman as director of this new Mummy, most famously known as formerly one half of the Kurtzman/Roberto Orci writing duo (who together had scored major gigs over the last decade in Hollywood all while not turning much in worth a damn) was the second sign that maybe Universal wasn’t quite thinking rationally about this idea. Not only was Kurtzman an untested director, the Dark Universe was one of Universal’s most audacious ideas since that one time they had a fast car drive furiously out one window and INTO another window. But with the announcement of Tom Cruise joining the film, who, craziness aside, has a good track record picking projects, the Internet’s hesitation went into remission. After all, even the worst of Cruise’s films were still marginally better than most other summer blockbusters. And who wouldn’t be excited about a classic horror property being resurrected with the likes of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe.
And then the leaks began. Something about behind-the-scenes drama on The Mummy’s production. Something about the studio realizing Kurtzman was in way over his head. Something about Cruise taking over more non-actorly roles on the shoot. Once the film was released to a critical drubbing and a poor domestic box office take, no one was surprised.
I know I’m not.
The Mummy is as every bit as bad as you could have assumed at every stop on the production train — from the very first words “reboot of The Mummy” to “shared universe” to “action/adventure” to “Tom Cruise” — and, I never thought I’d say this, it even lacks the charm and whimsy of Brendan Fraser’s first go-round with Imhotep. After a promising opening, which introduces Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll in what’s assumed to be a sort of curator of the entire Dark Universe, The Mummy seems almost eager to reveal its brainlessness, throwing together a quick backstory on this Mummy’s version of the mummy — a young girl cursed by black magic and who is “mummified alive,” which, according to the filmmakers, means being dressed as a wriggling mummy and locked in a coffin. (If you remember your history lessons, being “mummified” actually entailed having your brain and organs removed, your hollowed cavities stuffed with herbs and spices, your body dried in the sun, and then wrapped in bandages — but, we’re in PG-13 territory here, don’t forget.)
Though Tom Cruise brings his Tom Cruise game, and certain sequences are admittedly fun and enjoyable, The Mummy instead presents a series of real-life mysteries more intriguing than the mystique it’s desperate to establish: Like, why does such an expensive production have such horrid CGI? Or, why does it suffer from a severe identity crisis — ie, is this horror, or adventure; fun, or frightening? (The “nod” to American Werewolf in London, which sees Cruise talking to hallucinations of his dead and ghoulish looking friend, while appreciated, feels cheap and stupid, while also showcasing some Sims-level CGI.) The biggest mystery, perhaps, is this: what was everyone THINKING?
Before The Mummy was cruelly released to the wild like a lame animal, Universal was quick to distance their previous Dracula Untold from their Dark Universe, calling it unrelated from their long-term shared world-building. Ironically, Dracula Untold suddenly played a whole lot better after seeing The Mummy, as it was more surefooted at striking a horrific tone even if its main crux was action and escapism. (Uni’s previous reboot of The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro, too, suddenly played a whole lot better.) But no, The Mummy was so poorly received and so powerfully bad enough that it made Uni stop and reconsider this whole Dark Universe thing, which is currently on hold — my thanks to the gods and monsters. (Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man is still going ahead, though it seems to be its own thing.)
The Mummy achieves almost award-worthy stupidity, which is bolstered by the presence of Tom Cruise shouting and punching CGI mummies directly in their mummy faces.
Show me the mummy!