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Review: The Mummy – “An enjoyable romp”

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I am just back from seeing Universal’s The Mummy. The first in their latest attempt to get a shared Monster Cinematic Universe going. They have tried before – Van Helsing, The Wolf Man and Dracula Untold – but none stuck. Dark Universe is the umbrella name for the new series of films. Universal have planned to bring us new versions of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Invisible Man. They’ve already got Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem lined up for more with Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender being courted for other roles. It could be a tough battle as the Penny Dreadful TV show did an excellent job bringing many of these monsters together.

That’s all in the future and a lot depends on how well The Mummy does at the box office. While it hasn’t done that well in the US box office so far, Deadline are reporting that “The Mummy stands to clear $125M-$135M in its overseas release in 63 territories, which when added to its domestic range puts global between $160M–$177M. On the high end, that would be a record global opening for Cruise, besting War of the Worlds which posted a traditional global opening of $167.4M.”

If, like me, you had read some of the early reviews you would be expecting one of the worst, most boring films of all time. However, having just watched it I really cannot understand where they are coming from. It was by no means perfect, not many summer blockbusters are, but I was entertained, a little bit creeped out and had an enjoyable couple of hours watching a big budget popcorn movie. They also seem to forget that the original monster movies were B movies and this latest version is another B movie, but with a much bigger budget.

Let me back up a minute. I enjoy the old black and white Universal Monster movies, but the original version of The Mummy was never one of my favourites. I think I saw it at the wrong age and found it all rather boring and slow. Then we have 1999’s version featuring the mighty Brendan Fraser and I am a big fan of the first one. Great pulp action with cool effects and some great humour. I also rather enjoy the films of Tom Cruise. As Adam said in his review, Cruise seems to be “the biggest movie star of all time to seemingly be liked by no one,” yet he keeps making big movies that make a lot of money.

When I first heard about the new films being planned I was really looking forward to them. I know many people don’t seem to care for these cinematic universes, but I really dig them and love seeing the various connections. Although Marvel Studios are still the masters of creating one. Many of the other studios just seem to be rushing into theirs without thinking them through properly (DC and Warner Bros. I am looking at you) and it does feel that Universal are maybe trying to hard to make their Dark Universe a thing before it has found its legs.

Okay so let’s get to the actual film – some minor spoilers ahead – It’s an enjoyable romp. A mix of the previous Mummy movies, 1985’s Lifeforce, An American Werewolf in London, Alien Resurrection, Hellboy and a Tom Cruise film.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are soldiers in the Middle East who are meant to be scouting for insurgent strongholds, but are instead seeking ancient antiquities to sell on the black market. Cruise stole a map from Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), which leads him to the tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Ahmanet was an ancient Egyptian princess who made a deal with Set, the God of Death, for ultimate power. She was captured and buried in a prison miles away from Egypt. She ends up being released and goes after Nick to use him as a vessel for Set.

What follows is a rip-roaring adventure featuring plane crashes, gunfights in desert towns, secret organisations, spiders, zombies rushing on and under the streets of London, a creepy underwater scene, rats, some overly long exposition and the perils of mercury poisoning. As you can gather there is a lot going on.

They have stuffed a lot of things in there and while that does cause a few problems – the heavy exposition does slow the pace right down in places and we have seen many of the elements in other films – it does just manage to keep it all together. There are a few lousy bits of dialogue, but to be honest when I am going into a movie such as this I am not expecting Shakespeare. Sometimes I want to just sit back and enjoy big action set pieces, undead monsters and Tom Cruise running.

I suppose a lot of your enjoyment depends on how you feel about Cruise. He gets a lot of hate, but as his films make a lot of money, there are many of you out there who must like him. You can tell that the film was re-written / altered once he came on board to move the main story and action onto him. He does these kind of action roles so well, but there were moments when it just becomes a Tom Cruise film instead of it being a monster movie.

The supporting cast are also great. Jake Johnson does a comedy turn in a riff on An American Werewolf in London, while Annabelle Wallis gives a great performance and manages to deliver some of that gruelling exposition with aplomb.

I want to give a big shout out to Sofia Boutella (Kingsman, Star Trek Beyond). She is the titular creature and she does amazing things. She is commanding, creepy and seductive often all at the same time. She also has to do this from behind some heavy CG in places, but she does it so well. She also gives The Mummy a physicality that previous versions have been missing.

Then we have Russell Crowe. It appears he is going to be one of the binding forces of the Dark Universe. He plays Dr. Henry Jekyll, the head of the Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats. No guesses for who else he ends up playing. Again, previous reviews have had a go at Crowe’s performance and accent, but I enjoyed it and he seemed to be having fun in the role. The main thing that did bug me about Jekyll and the whole Prodigium set up was that surely they would have a better system to ensure the good doctor got the medicine he needed. It all seemed overly complicated purely to give a reason for his evil counterpart to make an appearance. Give everyone who works in the organisation a one shot unit full of the serum as well so they can dose him if he begins to change.

I am also calling it now – Mr. Hyde will end up being the big bad of the Dark Universe. Working to bring together all of the various evil monsters to help him rule/destroy the world. Dr. Jekyll will not realise he is being manipulated into doing exactly what Hyde wants. All speculation on my part, but just wanted to say it.

The creature effects are pretty good, but there is some obvious CG that lets the side down. I really liked the scenes in the church at night as Ahmanet scuttling around in the shadows, leaping out and sucking the life out of police officers. They were some of the creepier scenes and a great call back to Lifeforce.

However, there were only a few creepy moments and I would have loved to have had a few more scares. This is meant to be a Dark Universe full of monsters. It often felt very rushed, when they should have taken time to set up moments and then tease us with a creeping dread. I wanted a moment or two like the bit from An American Werewolf in London when the guy is being stalked in the London Underground.

There are also some nice little touches connecting The Mummy to the other Universal Monsters. We see a vampire skull, a Gill-Mans hand and a few other things. The Book of Amun-Ra from 1999’s The Mummy also makes an appearance. Does that mean that film is connected to the Dark Universe? Who knows, but it was a nice little touch. I also liked how they brought the sands of Egypt to London by using glass. Nicely thought out.

So on the whole it was a most enjoyable popcorn movie. It is not going to change the world, but I felt it was a lot better than many other reviews have made out. I do hope it makes enough at the box office for Universal to carry on with their Dark Universe. The potential is there, they just need to ensure they plan everything out, stay focused, and don’t let the movie stars outshine the characters.

Have you seen The Mummy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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