By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a US soldier of fortune who, along with his best friend Chris (Jake Johnson), is exploring Iraq in search of loot and treasure for them to plunder–or antiques to liberate, to hear Nick defend it. After about half a dozen one-liners each later, the pair has stumbled upon a group of rebels in a small town and accidentally revealed a centuries-old tomb in the ensuing gunfight. Morton’s one time lover (because of course she is) Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) uses the powers of exposition to observe that this site is different: instead of the usual hallmarks of a tomb designed to escort a spirit to the afterlife, this is designed to keep its occupant imprisoned. The occupant is Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was mummified alive after murdering her family to steal the throne 5,000 years ago.
Ready for things to get weird?
Naturally, Nick shoots the rope of a pulley system operating the tomb, lifting the sarcophagus out. The military gets the sarcophagus loaded onto a plane, at which point the spirit of Ahmanet crashes the plane. Morton is apparently killed but wakes up unscathed in the morgue, having been revived by Ahmanet because he appears to be the reincarnation of Ahmanet’s lover from 5,000 years ago. As explained by a suddenly appearing Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll, and by Nick’s own bizarre visions, Ahmanet intends to rebuild her magic dagger (the other half of which is buried somewhere with a Crusades knight in England) and stab Nick with it, which will possess him with the spirit of Set, the god of death, turning Nick into Set and giving him the power of life over death and making him and Ahmanet the rulers of the entire world.
Let’s just get it out of the way: The Mummy is not good. But it is sure as hell fun. Cruise is surprisingly very entertaining here, roguish and never short on casual jackassery in a Nathan Drake from Uncharted sort of way, and frequently dipping into camp with some Cage-lite physical acting during his manic visions post-”death.” The special effects are quite goofy as well, with some nicely grotesque shots and mummy zombies that have a jerky way of movement that looks like stop-motion animation that missed a couple of frames. It’s one of the few moments that felt reminiscent of classic movies.
It’s almost never boring, either: as The Mummy rushes breathlessly through setpiece after setpiece of occasionally-incomprehensible supernatural action and ludicrous plot developments and worldbuilding, it barely pauses for a moment now and then to offer some exposition via flashbacks that look like fragrance commercials or bite-sized tidbits on ancient Egypt. The first time one of these happens is the final barometer for whether or not you’re going to have fun with The Mummy.
It’s almost impossible not to laugh at a movie that involves the villain delivering a literal Kiss of Death by sucking a man’s life force out of his body through his mouth and turning him into a mummy zombie, or the sudden and frequent appearance of a zombified Jake Johnson for no reason. These are all absurd ideas, and they’re either completely terrible, sublimely hilarious, or both, depending on what you’re looking for here.
A lot happens here, but a lot doesn’t happen. As the beginning of Universal’s new Dark Universe, The Mummy spends a lot of time setting up a sequel and an interconnected universe and leaves little for itself. It exists almost wholly to be a launchpad for a franchise, nearly all of its characters being a means to an end. Dr. Jekyll, in a delightfully zany interlude, is introduced as the mastermind of a facility to examine and eradicate evil and is literally this franchise’s Nick Fury. Yet all he does is provide context for forthcoming films, not really needing to exist in this movie other than to spout expository dialogue and deliver one of the stupidest (and funniest) action sequences of 2017.
The script, which has three writers credited in the main closing credits and twice that on IMDB, does no favors for anyone. Nearly every line out of someone’s mouth is either expository dialogue explaining what slow-motion visions can’t, or just laying the groundwork for more movies. There is no character development, no one is very interesting, and nothing of true consequence happens until the very end. Then there are the bits where it begs the question how they went through six fucking people and no one said anything, such as a scene where Cruise is preparing to go at Ahmanet and Jenny is a few yards away cheering “Yeah! Kick her ass!” The lack of quality control in a script for a movie this expensive, even down to simple coherency, is alarming.
By attempting to be an action/horror/adventure mashup, The Mummy seriously loses track of its tones. It occasionally nails the sense of adventure and fun that it’s trying to hearken back to, but every time it leans back into serious drama and straight attempts at horror, it falls apart. There is potential for some great campy horror with the zombie/mummy minions, but those sequences are played like straight horror, so it’s rarely clear what sort of emotional response the movie is asking for from its audience. It’s a shame because it clearly, very earnestly wants to pay homage to the adventure and horror beats of the original 30s movies, but consistently trips over itself with everything else and fails to organize the tonal shifts.
The Mummy is one of those films that scratches a very specific sort of itch, treading so quickly and confidently into “so bad it’s good” territory that you almost get the sense that this is all one gigantic, calculated $125 million in-joke. At other times, you’re not so sure. The weird deconstruction of Cruise as an action hero, callbacks to the franchise’s campy roots, and dark overall theme never comes together correctly. It’s often questionable whether you’re laughing with the movie, or at it. But when everything in this first installment of an extended monster “Dark Universe” is this satisfyingly terrible, it doesn’t really matter.
The Mummy (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time someone drops a fact about Ancient Egypt
Do a Shot: whenever Nick has a vision
Take a Drink: every time Nick gets his ass kicked
Take a Drink: for every jump scare
Do a Shot: for every reference to classic Universal Monsters