The Mummy (2017)

Universal’s attempt to re-animate its rogues galley of classic monsters takes its’ first shambling steps forward in this Tom Cruise action/adventure thriller.

Taking an obvious page from the strategy employed by the Marvel Comics’ cinematic universe, Universal Studios has recently announced a new series of interconnected films starring its’ classic monsters from the 1930’s and 1940’s to be reintroduced to modern audiences under the label of the Dark Universe. They’ve already hired a number of A-list actors like Johnny Depp to play the Invisible Man and Javier Bardem to play the Frankenstein Monster.

When Marvel first debuted “Iron Man” in 2008, however, there was no guarantee that audiences would embrace a third string comic book character like Tony Stark, but the film turned out to be a hit that generated momentum for the films that followed. It all seemed to happen somewhat organically, unlike the latest DC film series which seems to just want to find the quickest path to get to the Justice League.

Universal seems to be in even more of a hurry to get to the big monster rallies it really wants to make and “The Mummy” feels less like a fully realized concept than an obligatory starting point that must be endured before we get to the good stuff. I suppose the fairly recent box-office flops of “The Wolfman” (2010) and “Dracula Untold” (2014) meant that the studio felt safer starting with a monster that audiences had already embraced in the not too distant past with the Brendan Fraser starring “Mummy” trilogy.

Bill Condon’s (“Gods and Monsters”) “Bride of Frankenstein” is already well into pre-production and slated for a 2019 theatrical release so apparently Universal must be fairly confident in its $125 million “Mummy Impossible.” They’ve been teasing footage of Tom Cruise flipping and floating around in a zero gravity aircraft descent stunt for months in a sequence that seems more at home in Cruise’s other big budget franchise than in a genre rooted in Gothic horror.

I will admit up front that I am a lifelong Universal Monsters fan. Those black-and-white chillers were a major source of joy and terror to me as a child, and my love for those misunderstood creatures has followed me through to adulthood. So I must also admit to a certain lack of objectivity on this subject that someone coming to these characters with little or no prior knowledge of their cinematic history might have.

The Mummy” offers a few mild chills amid a number of forgettable summer action movie set pieces, but only occasionally presents the mood necessary to be worthy of the horror classics it pays tribute to. There are brief glimpses in abandoned churchyards, London back allies and underground crypts that give viewers a taste of what a Dark Universe film might look like in the right hands, but this isn’t the film that’s going to make monsters cool again for a new generation.

Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a mercenary thief that specializes in stealing valuable ancient artifacts, which makes Nick a perfect leading character in a film that steals liberally from other older and better movies like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and, especially, “An American Werewolf in London,” from which “The Mummy” lifts an entire subplot involving the hero’s deceased and decaying friend visiting him over and over again in uncomfortable and humorous locations. Only here it’s not funny.

Instead of borrowing Boris Karloff’s Imhotep, or even Lon Chaney Jr.’s Kharis, this film’s one original creation is Princess Ahmanet, played with a genuinely creepy malevolence by Sofia Boutella, who looks nothing like the traditional image of the bandaged wrapped zombie audiences might be expecting, but she does have the power to suck the life force out of her victims and turn them into an army of shambling corpses that kill at her command. That device, by the way, was stolen from Tobe Hooper’sLifeforce” (1984).

Also introduced in “The Mummy” is Doctor Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, who heads up a secret society known as The Prodigium whose goal is to study, contain and ultimately destroy the forces of evil. Within Jekyll’s lab can be found a gallery of Easter eggs referencing other monsters in the Dark Universe: The Creature from the Black Lagoon’s claw, a vampire skull, etc. It won’t come as too much of a shock to monster fans that Jekyll has something to Hyde and the emergence of his alter ego kicks off a series of fight scenes that sees Tom Cruise bashing monsters across London.

It’s all mildly diverting, modestly entertaining even, but it evaporates like Mummy dust in the memory as soon as the crypt doors of the theater open and your back in your car. By the time you get home, you’ll be struggling to remember any details from the film at all and by the end of summer, “The Mummy” will likely be an ancient forgotten tomb somewhere in the digital cloud.

The Phantom of The Ville

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