Studios nowadays are desperate to fashion an extended cinematic universe, weaving narrative tendrils that bind standalone films together into one marketable franchise. Universal Studios is no exception: witnessing the popularity of the duelling Marvel and DC superhero worlds, as well as the newly launched Legendary Entertainment shared monsters universe, kick-started by Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, The Mummy spearheads the latest attempt to create an interconnected film series. Their recipe for a bankable brand? Dust off iconic horror rogues from the golden age of monster movies, stretch the budget to breaking point by casting A-listers and pray to Boris Karloff for a box office surge.
A decent enough blueprint, but the snag is that the saturated multi-character scene means that you have to attempt something new, and in yearning for intertextuality at all costs, director Alex Kurtzmann and the screenwriters have sacrificed exciting storytelling. This first, risk-adverse adventure in what Universal has monikered The Dark Universe never does anything egregiously wrong, but it never raises much of a pulse either. Even the much-publicised plane crash sequence, which was filmed in actual zero-G in what training astronauts refer to as the ‘vomit comet’, feels rushed and bafflingly doesn’t get the adrenaline pumping as much as it should. Some of the overarching groundwork here feels promising, but you could never accuse this Mummy reboot of being ambitious. It appeared to be though, if only for a brief moment, by confounding expectations. The unexpected casting of Tom Cruise as a soldier who piggybacks military missions to rob ancient relics seemed promising, as was the gender-reversal of the titular monster (Sofia Boutella) and the presence of Dr. Jekyll (a scenery-chewing Russell Crowe), a Nick Fury-eque figure who introduces our hero to “a new world of gods and monsters”. By throwing these superficial curveballs, the writers laboured under the mammoth delusion that they could get away with a reheated, crypt-bothering narrative. Their lifeless efforts only serve to highlight the tonal imbalance that can’t braid middling zombie scares with flat comic beats, the blandness of certain characters – chief irritant being Annabelle Wallis’ vapid archaeologist-in-distress – and the overriding impression that the whole endeavour seems to have been masterminded for the sole purpose of getting Cruise, Russell Crowe, Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp (who are to play Frankenstein’s Monster and the Invisible Man respectively) to share future billing.
The Mummy isn’t a total failure, but it certainly isn’t the bold reimagining of the creature feature it should have been. It’s a surprisingly average start to a franchise and a rather cynical attempt to cash in on the bafflingly enduring trend of megaverses. It also serves as another reminder that this cinematic ill of the times deserves to be tightly wrapped in bandages, encased in a sarcophagus and cursed out of existence before studios forget that what gets bums on seats is first and foremost a decent story. Worse, audiences could start pining for days of Brendan Fraser-led Mummy flicks. Now, that’s scary.
The Mummy | Directed by Alex Kurtzmann (USA, 2017) with Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe. Starts June 8.