Universal does not know when to keep something buried
By Jason Wiese
I would like to make it clear to someone, anyone, in Hollywood that a shared universe is not a filmmaking trend that everyone should use. It became a revolutionary innovation in cinematic storytelling when Marvel announced 2008’s Iron Man was the jumping point for an episodic franchise featuring some the most iconic heroes in comic book history. Years later, every studio wants a piece of the action. Warner Bros. kicked the DC Extended Universe into gear last year with Batman v. Superman and now Universal has kick started its own franchise of standalone films.
But instead of comic book characters, Universal is resurrecting characters that they do not have to pay extra for, including Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein’s Monster. Well, if you ask me, it was smart of them to think economically when planning this shared universe because, creatively, they are not off to a very good start.
The Mummy (which shamelessly borrows more from the adventurous 1999 remake than the 1932 classic with Boris Karloff as the titular antagonist) was born from a screenplay that took six writers to finish. Tom Cruise, in the most eyebrow-raising casting in recent memory, stars as Nick Morton, an artifact poacher looking for loot in Iraq. Morton, his very demanding comrade, Sargeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson, playing a carbon copy of his New Girl character), and an attractive, smart and independent British Officer of Cultural Heritage named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) accidentally uncover the tomb of a vengeful Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella). Morton awakens her spirit, unleashing upon the world a terror mankind has never known before.
You think that description reeks of cheese? Trust me, the whole show is far more embarrassing, which only makes the thought that this movie is meant to kick off a big franchise more depressing. Let me put it this way about The Mummy: it is such a profound example of pathetic, lazy and desperate filmmaking that I could even discuss at long length about the least crucial of the film’s flaws: its male lead.
I have never thought of Cruise as an actor who would ever sleepwalk through a performance in a cash grab film. To be fair, his characters teeters between shamefully bland to painfully over-the–top, not leaving much room for the kind of performance one would expect from him. Yet, that is essentially the problem: we expect more from him and he does not seem to even try to breathe a sign of life into his role. Instead, he is a personification of the idea of what kind of person Jack Burton, the famously unheroic hero of Big Trouble in Little China, would be if not for Kurt Russell and his charm filling those shoes.
The screenplay suffers from countless, easily avoidable flaws, among the most noticeable is that it really does feel like it went through six people to finish the draft, but you would think that they filmmakers would have been smart enough to hold out for a screenplay and director who both could decide what kind of movie they wanted this to be. It is a costume drama horror film in the vain of the classic produced by Hammer? Is it a modern-day Indiana Jones rip-off? Is it a very long video game cut scene? I sensed that the film tries to be all of these, but it just comes off as a comedy some high school student wrote for a homework assignment.
The dialogue is so weak that it almost feels suffocating, suggesting that comic relief is necessary at every waking moment. However, from my understanding, the purpose of comic relief is to ease tension the action of the film invokes within the audience. I cannot speak for the general audience, but the only tension I felt was fighting the urge to walk out of the theater and the astonishingly dull humor only worsened that struggle. Whenever the writers, including Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) and David Koepp (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), run out of ideas to recycle for the film’s “thrilling” moments, they substitute it for another bad joke.
The Mummy is the type of film that is easy to give up caring about, but strenuous to get through. It is the type of movie going experience you would rather not see two to three times a year, the kind of reboot that kills a franchise. As much as I attest to the thought of every studio needing to start their own shared universe, the idea of a shared universe of classic monsters of Universal does intrigue me. But, if it is destined to continue, it better be anything better than this.