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If THE MUMMY (2017) is any indication, Universal’s ‘DARK UNIVERSE’ will fail…

Posted on June 13th, 2017
Posted on June 13th, 2017

by Coop Cooper

A remake of “The Mummy” starring Tom Cruise… When I first heard about this, I was certain it had to be a false story. Universal Studios owns the rights to many of the classic cinematic monsters: Dracula, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc. Universal has been sitting on these properties for decades trying to figure out how profit off of them in the 21st Century. With “The Mummy”, they are kicking off an interconnected franchise called “Dark Universe” in order to bring all of these classic monsters together for big-budget blockbuster films, kind of like Marvel with “The Avengers” and DC Comics with “Justice League”. After seeing “The Mummy”, I’m afraid they may end up with a disastrous string of bombs on their hands.

Army Ranger Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his partner/comedy relief, Chris (Jake Johnson), go off-mission in Iraq to find and loot the lost tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess who employed dark forces. They are tracked down by their superiors and Jenny Halsey, the historian who Morton seduced and stole the map to the tomb from. Fearful that ISIS is about to attack the area, the group hastily uncovers Ahmanet’s sarcophagus and puts it on a cargo plane to London. En route, mysterious forces bring the plane down, killing Morton in the process. Morton awakes to find himself alive in a morgue with ominous visions revealing that Ahmanet has chosen him as a vessel for the Egyptian god of death. With Ahmanet loose and on his tail, he and Halsey escape to London where the enigmatic Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) informs Morton that Ahmanet isn’t the only supernatural evil in the world and his clandestine organization known as ‘The Prodigium’ is the only thing that can stop it.

I was a big fan of the 1999 remake of “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz which sidestepped the serious horror in favor of a more swashbuckling, comedic, Indiana Jones-styled adventure. It seemed to recognize that the classic Universal monsters were too corny for modern audiences and decided to try a different tone, which worked. Although that remake spawned a couple of not-so-great sequels, it still holds up. This new version of “The Mummy” couldn’t decide which tonal path to take so it clumsily mixed remedial PG-13 horror with gonzo supernatural action flicks (like the “Underworld” series) and “Mission: Impossible”-styled action sequences. You can probably blame that last genre trope on Cruise himself. Those ridiculous action sequences are probably tailor-made for him since at 55 years-old, he still likes to prove how virile he is by performing his own stunts.

In 2017, computer generated effects have come too far for us to suffer badly animated skeleton zombies, but this film somehow makes that happen. Since the last “Mummy” film, special effects have come a long way, but it doesn’t feel like it here. The script is also full of plot holes, convenient coincidences and awkwardly-delivered exposition. The Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde part of the story felt forced and I can’t fathom how Universal can introduce the other monsters without the whole amalgamation falling flat on its face.

The only redeeming idea behind this film is how it tries to use The Prodigium to connect the mythologies of all the monsters. As Morton enters Jekyll’s base in London, we are treated to a bunch of neat props laying around that prove the existence of monsters like vampires and fish-people. I read that a mock-up of Javier Bardem’s head is lying around somewhere in the film, although I didn’t spot it. Bardem is contracted to play Frankenstein’s Monster in future films. Also, there is a bafflingly interesting moment where the Halsey character picks up a large, ancient book and clocks a bad guy with it. That book is an exact replica of the ‘Book of the Dead’ from 1999 “The Mummy” remake. Was it a throwaway moment for fans or is Universal implying that version of “The Mummy” happened in this universe as well? Maybe. I also liked the Algerian-born Sophia Boutella (“Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Star Trek Beyond”) as the lead villain who is becoming a reliable and charismatic character-actor in her own right.

“The Mummy” might do well enough to encourage Universal to keep its ‘Dark Universe’ going, but I suspect that other films will probably bomb and stop the wannabe franchise in its tracks. Even though Johnny Depp has signed on to play “The Invisible Man”, I still can’t find a reason to care.

2 out of 5 stars

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