I'm starting to think that we live in a world where people want to either love or hate everything. Things are either awesome or horrible with no middle ground. I've seen it a lot with film and television, people talking about things in superlatives that just don't deserve it. A couple recent examples are Marvel's Inhumans and The Mummy. I've seen both and where I think the studios set the expectations too high, neither property deserves the hatred that it received from on-line critics. Nether is great, but they have some redeeming value. I've talked about Inhumans before and I will in a later post today as I recap the latest episode. So let's focus on the Mummy.
First my thoughts on the film. I didn't see it in the theater. I sat down last night and watched it on my PC screen. I was planing to go to the theater when it was out, but didn't get there. I picked it up on Blu-ray. The film features Tom Cruise as Nick Morton, a thief who steals ancient artifacts while in the middle of a war. he's not a nice guy. He's not supposed to be a nice guy. He spends a night with Annabelle Wallis' archaeologist character Jenny Halsey and steals a map and forces his buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) to ride into danger to try to plunder the artifacts. An airstrike uncovers the tomb of an ancient princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who is awaken and wants to bring the Set, the Egyptian god of the dead to Earth. And we meet Henry Jeckyll (Russell Crowe), head of a secret organization of monster hunters who Jenny works for. Nick is the chosen vessel for Set and from there you have a movie.
It's a pretty straight forward plot with some interesting characters. I like the early interaction between Nick and Vail and I like the arc of Nick' character from basic narcissist a-hole to a hero of sorts. It's a bit exposition heavy at the beginning, but once it gets rolling it's as much of an action/adventure as a horror film. The interesting thing is, we're not supposed to like Nick nor cheer for him and that may be why audience didn't connect. If you haven't seen the film, Nick makes a choice at the end to be a hero to one, but in a move that could be damning all humanity. He finds something he cares about more than himself or money and makes the sacrifice, but it's still a selfish decision. Nick is an anti-hero as most of this Dark Universe will be filled with.
Where did the film go wrong? I think John Spaihts script is fine. This is the same guy who wrote Doctor Strange, Passengers and Prometheus. Alex Kurtzman's directed is okay. He made some choices that could've been better, but it was only his second time directing. The acting was good. Not great, but good. Boutella being the high mark and I enjoyed Cruises portrayal of Nick and though Crowe did a good job as Jeckyll. Some of the comedic moments fell a bit flat and, like in every movie, a little more time building characters wouldn't have hurt.
I believe the problem came from expectations. Universal is so desperate to have their own combined universe like Marvel that they are trying to force it to life. Marvel didn't come out of the gate and say, "We're going to do 17 movies in 10 years that are all connected!" They put out Iron Man, which was a hit and then the put out the Hulk which did all right. They built from there. Universal announced the Dark Universe and all of these grand plans before taking the first step. People expected Iron Man to bomb. They gave it to the Swingers director and cast an actor who was trying to make a come back. The Mummy has the original Boris Karloff film and the Brendan Fraser films to live up to. The Fraser movies were really Indiana Jones movies and because of where Nick Morton ends up, they couldn't make him as much fun as Rick O'Connell. Because, unlike the previous versions… this movie is an origin story of an anti-hero.
I grew up a fan of the old Universal Monster movies. I loved the Fraser version and mostly liked the first sequel. But when I sat down to watch this new version last night, I did so judging it on it's own merits. And after 1 hour and 54 minutes I didn't feel that I had wasted my time. I felt entertained and curious to see where things will go next. This film isn't brilliant. It's not something I'd say everyone should see. And I think if the studio had put it out without all the extra pressure of launching a universe, it would've done better. And I hope that the $328 million foreign box office is enough to keep Universal moving forward on the Dark Universe.