It is no longer enough for Hollywood to offer up a constant diet of remakes, reboots and reimaginings. These days the studios are franchise building, creating interconnected universes for their characters to live in. Joining Marvel, DC, Star Wars and X-Men is Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe, a new series aiming to bring classic monsters like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man back to big screen life.
The universe’s foundation is “The Mummy,” a self described “action-adventure tentpole with horror elements.” The plan is to revive the eighty-five-year-old “Mummy” franchise, insert another classic character, Dr. Henry Jekyll, thus creating a cross-pollinated world were brand name monsters are mixed and matched to infinity.
The title may signify a character unearthed from the annals of antiquity but the star of the show is ageless action man Tom Cruise. He is Nick Morton a mercenary who specializes in plundering conflict areas for priceless artefacts. Under attack in the Iraq, he uncovers his greatest find yet, the five-thousand-year-old resting place of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess in line to be queen. When her insatiable lust for power led her down a dark and dangerous path she was deposed, buried alive far from home in Mesopotamia now Iraq, in an ornate sarcophagus.
“That’s not a tomb,” says Egyptologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), of the unearthed find, “it’s a prison.” Awake and angry Ahmanet, a.k.a. the big screen’s first female Mummy, brings Nick under her spell as she tries to regain her lost power and, of course, enslave all of humanity.
It’s not hard to sense the cynicism in “The Mummy.” Bundling Cruise and legendary monsters in the movie with a few laughs, some typical blockbuster action and a CGI climax it wouldn’t be out of place in an Avengers movie, it feels like a carefully constructed exercise in marketing first and a movie second.
There is plenty of atmosphere—the screen is often so dark it’s hard to see exactly what is going on. I see why it is called the Dark Universe—and the odd spooky scene—Ahmanet’s stretching out the kinks after her 5000 year nap is suitably weird—but it never dials up the horror too high.
Unlike the 1930s when The Mummy, Dracula and Frankenstein scared moviegoers, the major studios don’t make the best horror movies anymore. Nowadays true scares her delivered by indies who don’t have to worry about making back a Cruise-sized budget. “The Mummy” plays it too safe to be called a horror film, although those with the fear of rats or spiders may feel the hairs on the back of their necks rise. There are some jump scares and loud sounds but it is essentially a race-against-time movie—Gotta to stop that ancient evil somehow!—with supernatural elements as Tom does his patented CruiseRun© away from an ancient terror.
As a horror film it’s a meh action film. As an action film it’s little more than a formulaic excuse to trot out some brand names in the kind of film Hollywood mistakenly thinks is a crowd pleaser.