the genre of ancient myths always plays into our fascination with long-lost civilizations, but also offers all the gory nitty-gritty of imperfect resurrected bodies. Whilst the concept might be dated, While the concept might seem dated, postcolonial anxieties and ongoing debates about the rightful home of the world’s treasures could arguably provide rich grounds for an inventive, gloriously tongue-in-cheek modern Mummy film.
so, the mummy. the first film in universal’s attempt to resurrect the ‘dark universe’ franchise starring the main monsters. in fact, the mummy isn’t a horror film, but a massive supernatural blockbuster. spine-tingling chills are in short supply, but there is a lot of cgi, crashes and explosions. there is also plenty of tom cruise. the disconcertingly youthful 54 year old plays grave-robber nick morton, a loveable rogue, who clashes with archaeologist jenny hasley (annabelle wallis) after stealing a map which leads to an ancient tomb in northern iraq.
following some run-ins with insurgents (a nice to touch in these times) and us airstrikes – all portrayed as fun (not a nice touch in these times) – and some cringe-worthy sparring between former lovers Morton and Halsey, we eventually uncover the grave. In fact, it isn’t a tomb at all. It’s… a prison. Cruise’s reaction to this information is to cavalierly fire off a shot, unleashing an ancient pulley system, and causing a grim-faced sarcophagus to rise from the pool. Bingo.
Inside the sarcophagus (but not for long, haha!) is the evil ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who is easily the most likable character in the entire film. (Asked why she murdered her father, stepmother and new baby brother, she sweetly explains: “They were different times.”) Ahmanet is on a mission to reincarnate the all-powerful Egyptian God Set in a virile, living human body but chooses Cruise instead, on the grounds that he was the one to wake her up.
In all fairness to the filmmakers, while nothing that follows feels remotely original, no one watching could complain of being short-changed on the “packing stuff in” front. There are flocks of possessed birds. There’s an England (the American leads end up there, following a plane crash partly caused by the aforementioned birds) where everyone says “sodding” and “wanker”, and The Kaiser Chief’s I Predict A Riot is playing full blast in the pubs. There’s an army of Crusader knights, uncovered during excavations for a new London Underground tunnel.
There’s Russell Crowe, as Dr Jekyll, and Russell Crowe doing a sort of demented Victorian Cockney impression as Mr Hyde. There’s a subplot involving Morton’s murdered army friend, who sporadically appears, in a decayed state, to warn his buddy that he is cursed.
Perhaps the real problem, ultimately, is the characters themselves. The reason the Marvel shared universe, which took years to build up, works, is because all of its superheroes feel engagingly human: fully-formed characters we actually want to spend time with. Here, the writing is one-note, and the leads little more than placeholders.
Universal’s monster franchise has made it out of the tomb, just about – but if this rebirth is going to sustain itself long term, it’s going to need a little more meat under its bandages.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆