A lum­ber­ing waste of time

A ter­ri­ble fug of des­per­a­tion hangs over this first in­stal­ment of Univer­sal’s Dark Uni­verse se­quence, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -


Di­rected by Alex Kurtz­man. Star­ring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wal­lis, Jake John­son, Court­ney B Vance, Rus­sell Crowe. 15A cert, gen re­lease, 110 min The late Mo­ham­mad Ali used to un­kindly (and un­justly) com­pare Joe Fra­zier to Univer­sal’s orig­i­nal ver­sion of The Mummy. He ar­gued that it was hard to be fright­ened of some­thing that moved so slowly and with such lack of me­nace. They knew that way back when. Re­visit Karl Fre­und’s ex­cel­lent 1932 film and you will find that the ban­daged, limp­ing zom­bie is only briefly pre­sented as the core threat. Boris Karloff spends most of that pic­ture prowl­ing ur­banely about Cairo in a fez.

When the stu­dio re­turned to the project in 1999, they barely both­ered to make a hor­ror film at all. That tol­er­a­ble romp owed more to Raiders of the Lost Ark than any­thing from Univer­sal’s in­ter-war bes­tiary. Fair enough.

All of which is a way of de­lay­ing our con­sid­er­a­tion of Alex Kurtz­man’s aw­ful new in­car­na­tion for as long as de­cently pos­si­ble. We’ve al­ready es­tab­lished that no­body need be blamed for not de­liv­er­ing a “proper” Mummy film. The charis­matic, grace­ful Sofia Boutella – a rare fe­male Mummy – is not asked to do any­thing like the Fra­zier shuf­fle. She snarls, growls and bends na­ture to her whims. That’s grand.

But what ex­actly have the film-mak­ers put in the place of ban­daged pur­suit? I’ve seen the thing and I’m still not quite sure. There is an aw­ful lot of run­ning. There is some teatime hor­ror (stuff the Dr Who team would dis­misses as too lame). There is enough washed-out ban­ter be­tween a smug Tom Cruise and var­i­ous ac­tors I hope never to see again. More than any­thing else, there is uni­verse build­ing. You know? The stuff that made Batman Vs Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice such an un­al­loyed de­light.

The Mummy is the first film in the much-vaunted “Dark Uni­verse” se­quence. Over the next few years, the fran­chise will bring Franken­stein, Van Hels­ing and oth­ers back to our screens. (If you’re won­der­ing, The Wolf­man and Drac­ula Un­told seem to have been locked in the at­tic with the first Mrs Rochester.) Two mo­ments ham­mer this home with head-split­ting ob­vi­ous­ness. As we wan­der through a lab­o­ra­tory, we spot the Crea­ture from the Black La­goon’s flip­per in a bell jar. Ha ha! That’s what we call an Easter Egg.

More gru­elling is Rus­sell Crowe’s de­layed in­tro­duc­tion. “I am Doc­tor Henry Jekyll,” he says in that posh Crowe voice whose over-enun­ci­a­tions sug­gest a drunk teenager try­ing to dis­guise his con­di­tion be­fore sneak­ing off to vomit. This ver­sion of Robert Louis Stephen­son’s mad sci­en­tist heads an or­gan­i­sa­tion that seems to have taken its name from a patent haem­or­rhoid prepa­ra­tion. Based in of­fices above the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum, Prodigium ( do not take if op­er­at­ing heavy ma­chin­ery) is con­cerned with mon­i­tor­ing the be­hav­iour of mon­sters through­out the globe. Fur­ther in­for­ma­tion will be re­vealed in later episodes. For now, you can cope with the in­com­plete cor­po­rate pro­file by not giv­ing a toss.

A tra­di­tional grave rob­ber plot is wrapped around this half-assed foun­da­tion myth. Nick Mor­ton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake John­son) are two ad­ven­tur­ers in the mid­dle east. Fol­low­ing an at­tack by ban­dits, they un­earth the tomb of Ah­manet (Boutella), an an­cient semi-pharaoh, and set in progress an apoc­a­lyp­tic bat­tle that even­tu­ally leads them to Crowe’s firmly struck con­so­nants.

A ter­ri­ble fug of des­per­a­tion hangs over the en­ter­prise. Cruise is work­ing so hard at con­vinc­ing us he can still be Tom Cruise – winks, sparkles, straight-backed run­ning – that he finds no time to cre­ate a char­ac­ter. Annabelle Wal­lis has noth­ing to do as the mor­tal fe­male lead. Huge sec­tions of the back story are ex­plained in car­pets of ex­po­si­tion that turn much of the open­ing act into an il­lus­trated lec­ture.

Make it stop, Mummy! I’m not scared, Mummy! I don’t want what­ever this thinks it­self to be.

Tomb raiders Tom Cruise and Annabelle Wal­lis in The Mummy

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