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 MUMMY ★★
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