With The Mummy, we’ve now firmly entered the Peter Pan period of Tom Cruise’s career, the 54-year-old actor still convinced he can play the action hero he did when he was 25, the movie star who never grew up. This is a shame as he is a talented actor. Collateral, Michael Mann’s 2004 neo-noir in which Cruise played a charming, sociopathic hitman was his best film for years, in large part because he played something closer to his actual age. He now looks ageless, but not in a good way, an abundance of plastic surgery leaving him looking neither young nor old, but weird, a one-man uncanny valley. Physically, he looks superb, which again, one has to wonder how exactly he is achieving at his age, one doubts it’s all yoga and clean living, and if Scientology has discovered the secret of eternal youth, they’re clearly not sharing it with John Travolta. However, while Cruise is the most obvious problem in The Mummy, he’s far from its biggest, what starts as a below-average guilty pleasure goes downhill fast, ending up as one of the most boring and badly handled blockbusters of all time.
One of the most baffling things about The Mummy is that, despite being based on Ancient Egyptian legend and, therefore, having rich potential for beautiful battles in rolling sand dunes and crumbling temples, the vast majority of the film takes place in the UK. Moreover, several key scenes take place in dark corridors, the worst possible choice for anything that you want to film in 3D, which always makes scenes darker. It’s also Page 1 in The Big Book of Action Movie Cliché, a book that The Mummy borrows liberally from, with zombies, rats, spiders, faceless goons dressed in black, and even Jekyll and Hyde all thrown into the mix. Indeed, it’s tempting to consider whether there’s anything original in the whole movie, resembling as it does a careless mishmash of other, better films.
The plot is scribbled-on-the-back-of-a-fag-packet stuff, Cruise plays Nick Morton, a soldier/treasure hunter who’s stealing anything that isn’t nailed down during his tour of duty in Iraq (which, as the film appositely points out, was once Ancient Mesopotamia). Basically, he’s Nathan Drake without the charm and drags buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) along for the ride. Their somewhat liberal attitude to priceless antiquities riles historical expert Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who has the thankless task of saving Mesopotamian history before it’s destroyed in the US/Iraq war. In theory, she’s supposed to be the smart counter to Morton’s reckless attitude, much like Evie (Rachel Weisz) was to Brendan Fraser’s Rick in the original reboot from 1999, but the film treats her as archeology Barbie, making her up to look much younger than her 32 years and barely giving her a character beyond hot geek.
The three stumble across a tomb in the desert and, after Nick gets impatient and shoots an ancient mechanism, free The Mummy, in this case, the Ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet who was mummified alive after murdering the child that got in the way of her path to the throne. Of course, doing this unleashes a curse, Chris turns into a sort of high-functioning zombie and Nick is psychically bonded to Ahmanet who, after causing an almighty plane crash on the way home, is reborn with god-like power. Much of the film then revolves around her superpowered pursuit of Nick, her motivation being to use him to complete some sort of evil ritual. It’s all utterly generic stuff, which makes it somewhat baffling that six writers are credited at the end of the movie, three (including director Alex Kurtzman) for the screen story and three for the screenplay.
Of the principal cast, only Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet emerges with any credit, clad head to toe in hieroglyphs and with clever CGI multiple pupils, she’s a raw, animalistic presence, even if the script gives her little to do beyond shriek and look evil. As for Cruise and Wallis, the two exhibit the exact opposite of chemistry, no doubt because Cruise is quite literally old enough to be her father, lending their supposed flirting and sexual tension a frisson that is, if not exactly paedophilic, at least extremely creepy. Cruise spends long periods of the film simply looking confused, that trademark Tom look with eyes narrowed and utter bafflement on his face which he displays so often that The Mummy verges on self-parody.
And then there’s Russell Crowe, who delivers an astonishingly hammy performance as Jekyll and Hyde. For a start, this unholy double act has no place in a Mummy film, they’re only there as part of Universal’s efforts to create their Dark Universe of interconnected movies based on the classic horror monsters they already have the rights to (great start to that guys, well done). His Jekyll is an overly dramatic cross between a Bond villain and “you wouldn’t like when I’m angry” Bruce Banner, but the real horror show begins when he inevitably transforms into Hyde. For some reason, he plays Hyde with a terrible cockney accent which, combined with his physical rage, turns him into a sort of cross between a werewolf and Sweeney Todd (except a billion times less effective than that sounds).
As the film progresses, it becomes clear that it doesn’t know what it’s doing, that army of writers fails to create anything interesting or in any sense original, and the script plods along with exposition and horribly clichéd melodrama. Kurtzman’s directing also actively harms the action scenes, he’s apparently going for a Bourne-style mix of quick cuts and dynamic camera angles (side note, why does every action movie director want to do this style? It’s really hard to do well, and when done badly, it’s horrible to watch), but he doesn’t have the talent to pull it off, resulting in sequences that cut and move so much that it’s hard to know what’s going on and the work of the stunt team being almost entirely wasted. It’s also filmed too close most of the time, exacerbating the feeling of disorientation.
Wasting people’s talent is a bit of a theme in The Mummy. Its special effects, for example, are impressive on a purely technical level, with a sudden swarm of birds causing the aforementioned plane crash and, in an homage to the 1999 Mummy, Ahmanet’s power taking the form of a giant face made up of swirling sand that crashes through London. However, it’s almost impossible to care about any of it, the characters are either unlikable or uninteresting, the plotting is pedestrian, the acting is often terrible, and the direction is incompetent.
By the end, The Mummy is a truly appalling mess of a film, one of those movies where you watch the credits scroll by and feel sorry for the hundreds of people who toiled for countless hours on a movie that never stood a chance.