If your expectations of The Mummy led you to anticipate an action movie, which the initial trailer that has been spamming every Odeon screening I’ve been to this year seemed to suggest, you’ll likely be surprised by it. Rather than a re-tread of the Brendan Fraser-led Stephen Sommers’ remake, a greater emphasis is placed on horror this time around.
There’s a lot to like about the film, which sees Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton tangling with a disgruntled ancient undead villain, Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet, and drawing the attention of Dr Jekyll (Russell Crowe) as he does so. Cruise is on good form, whether conniving, charming or fighting as hard as he possibly can. At times his performance evokes Bruce Campbell, which is something this writer definitely hadn’t anticipated going in.
The action sequences, fewer though they are in number than we might have expected, are a mixed bag. The much-promoted plane sequence in particular lands (sorry). It’s thrilling and inventive. Director Alex Kurtzman lets the action play out, as he does for his entire film, without leaning on quick cuts or erratic camera movements. It looks good, it’s fun, it’s exciting and you can actually tell what’s going on. It’s also subject to a great reference later in the film, a single line that provides perhaps the best moment of the entire movie.
The Mummy looks grandiose and feels large. The set design and the way those sets feature in the cinematography give the film a sense of sizable scale. The use of colour in the desert sequence is really impressive, too. It’s a lovely looking film.
Among the film’s other visual triumphs are the creatures, which are gruesome and would look more at home on the pages of Fangoria than Empire. Without wishing to betray the surprises of the film, The Mummy features some great creature gags (it’s in these scenes that we enjoyed Cruise’s Bruce Campbell-like fight work). They’re nothing we haven’t seen before, but they work and they’ve never looked so well polished. Kurtzman is great at silly horror fights and and surprises by building a really creepy atmosphere at times, too (although the films attempts at jump scares fail to stir much discomfort). There are a few references to other Dark Universe monsters and they’re quite exciting. The Mummy is at its best when it’s a horror film.
Unfortunately, for all the good in The Mummy, it’s hampered by a lack of balance.
As I’ve mentioned, it’s actually not too action heavy, but the muddled transitions from set pieces to horror stamp the creepy right out of the film. That The Mummy is a comedy and an action film as well as a horror means it has an arsenal of different beats it can use. It doesn’t always choose wisely. So in one scene, an atmosphere is building, then the titular Mummy unexpectedly leaps and lands with a thud, pure action movie stuff. Then Tom Cruise makes a joke. The action leap kicks the atmosphere to the floor and then the lame joke puts it out of its misery for the rest of the scene.
Perhaps the difficulties of a film that fits into so many genres is exacerbated by the number of writers. There are screenwriting credits for David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, with story by credits for Jon Spaihts, Jenny Lumet and director Alex Kurtzman. That is a lot of voices telling you a story.
There are a lot of exciting incidents, there’s horror and there are jokes. There are big action sequences and there’s terror on the streets of London. There’s work done to set up a shared movie universe. There are nods to old movies. There are a lot of characters (stand out Jake Johnson is woefully underused). With all of this going on, it just doesn’t feel like we get very much story.
While the horror sequences are handled well, there are a decent few poor jokes. And while at its best the film thrills with action sequences, as it does when it introduces Cruise and when Ahmanet hits the streets of London, one fight scene between two characters feels out of place, while the big finale is flat and anticlimactic.
A small detail, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you about some incredible incidental dialogue, shouted in the background in an English accent. “Sod orf!” they yell, presumably before going back to work sweeping yer chimney, guv’na. It’s just a silly moment, harmless enough even if it did lift me right out of the film. Elsewhere, the BBFC’s surprise 15 rating for The Mummy has absolved me of my duty of highlighting that the film is probably too scary for younger veiwers.
There’s much to enjoy in The Mummy, but there are some odd choices and it never seems to gel together. We’re still keen for the next instalment in the Dark Universe, but with the caveat that we’re really hopeful improvements will be made.
The Mummy is in UK cinemas from June 9th.