What did people expect from The Mummy? Seriously? I’ve read the negative reviews, some of them bordering on outlandish overkill, and none of them are really that eloquent at pointing out why the film isn’t entertaining. It’s like critics are disliking it for the sake of disliking it, as if there is a reason to root against the Dark Universe. Give Universal Pictures a break, you guys. They don’t have any superheroes to sell tickets so they have to resort to the properties they have. Sure, The Mummy might not have been the best way to kick off a series of films, but I had a damned fun time and think it’s the kind of dumb, harmless summer fun that has been sorely lacking in 2017. Why can’t we all just sit back and let Tom Cruise entertain us? Yes, we know he’s a Scientologist. We know he’s four-feet tall. He’s also a zero gravity rock star.
In one of his patented ‘smart ass manchild’ performances, Cruise plays Nick Morton, a soldier who moonlights as a treasure hunter and grave robber with his friend and sidekick, Chris (Jake Johnson). When we meet them, they’ve stolen a map from Jenny (Annabelle Halsey) and are attempting to find an Egyptian tomb somewhere in Iraq. What they uncover is less of a tomb and more of a prison – the final resting place of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who sold her soul to the God of Death and needs a male sacrifice to see him resurrected in human form. Enter Russell Crowe as Henry Jekyll who runs Prodigium, an organization that specializes in finding, trapping, and destroying evil, i.e. monsters. Basically, Ahmanet wants to use Nick to resurrect the God of Death, and Dr. Jekyll wants Nick to destroy the God of Death, and Jenny just wants Nick to be her steady and, to quote Keanu Reeves from Dracula…”take her away from all this death”.
Let’s start with Cruise. He’s getting some massive flack for this film, largely because he played such a large role in its development, creation, and release. When Tom Cruise takes on a project, he doesn’t half-ass it. He brings his screenwriter, his editor – it’s a package deal. And why not? Tom Cruise has a fairly terrific track record these days. He doesn’t churn out duds. And, say what you want, but The Mummy is far from a dud. Where it does fall short, it has nothing to do with Tom Cruise. In fact, Cruise is lighter here than he’s been in a while. The Mission: Impossible films give him little room for any kind of comedy or witty banter. Here, his “Nick” is often the comic relief, and Cruise’s natural sense of comedic timing shines. Cruise manages to sell some truly ridiculous stuff here, as when he’s trapped in a room with Mr. Hyde; or when he’s in a truck punching skeleton warriors through the head.
As an enormous fan of the old Universal monster pictures, I won’t lie – the Easter eggs here are pretty damned fun, as when Nick enters Jekyll’s lab and sees a hand belonging to The Creature and a skull belonging to a vampire. These are things that are applauded in Marvel movies. Here, critics seem to want to bend the film over backwards and spank it for daring to take pride in the universe of which it’s apart. I, for one, am kind of excited to see how The Invisible Man is going to play in this universe. I am looking forward to a new Dracula film and a new Wolf-Man film. Sure, they might be garbage – but the idea of a Dark Universe is not a bad one. It can work. I mean, we’ve got Bill Condon directing Bride of Frankenstein to look forward to, and he’s the closest thing to James Whale we have these days, through and through.
I’m not saying The Mummy is a masterpiece. The plot makes sense, but it’s dumb, dumb, dumb. Any and all attempts to make the film feel like an old adventure serial fall short with some lackluster visual effects that could have used a couple more weeks of work. Some of the scenes take places at night and the CGI is murky and just doesn’t work, as when Nick and Jenny are being attacked by skeleton warriors. And I’m not sure the ending worked for me, though I respected the decision to take Cruise’s character in an unusual direction. You can tell they want Cruise’s character to have a future in the Universe, but now I see that as increasingly unlikely. I think Cruise wants to be the link between films but Universal wants Crowe to be the link between films and this might be the rare case when Crowe trumps Cruise.
Oh, and just a minute to talk about how much I can’t stand Jake Johnson in films. He never works for me, in any character. Here he’s a soldier and, in one of the worst rip-offs I’ve ever seen (An American Werewolf in London), a slowly rotting corpse who serves as a spirit guide to Tom Cruise because why the hell not? Johnson seems to serve the same purpose these days as Joe Pesci did when he kept popping into the Lethal Weapon films. “I knew Joe Pesci…I served with Joe Pesci…Joe Pesci was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Joe Pesci.” At least Cruise seems to have fun playing off him, even though Cruise steals Johnson’s thunder as ‘comic relief’ more than you’d imagine. In short – Hollywood: stop trying to make Jake Johnson a thing?
So there we have it – The Mummy entertained the hell out of me for every minute of its two-hour run time. It, once again, gave me a Tom Cruise performance that works, even when the film doesn’t; and it left me genuinely interested in how the Dark Universe will take shape. I will never understand where all the hate is coming from and why. It’s ridiculous. No one is saying this is entertainment of a high order, but it’s funnier than it should be, scarier than it should be, and more ‘Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise’ than should be legal in this country. So, stop listening to your asshole friends, listen to me instead, and go have a blast with The Mummy.