Review by C.J. Bunce
If you try to get a modern generation of moviegoers to explore the entertainment of the past, you may learn quickly it often just doesn’t work out. One of the entertainment realms of the past that successfully spanned multiple generations is the Universal Studios monster film series. The “Universal Monsters” began in the 1920s and stretched into the 1950s, beginning with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera and continuing on into the “modern” technology of 3D in 1954 with The Creature from the Black Lagoon (reviewed here previously at borg.com). Kids who grew up in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s continued to watch and re-watch the film series years later. As the horror genre is concerned, it doesn’t get more “classic” than the Universal Monsters. Now that we’ve entered the month of Halloween, it’s time to start binge-watching the best of the horror genre, and for audiences of all ages the Universal Monsters is a good place to start. But for the younger crowd not willing to go for the classics, especially black and white classics, you may want to give the new Universal Studios reboot a try–the new “Dark Universe.” The introductory chapter to the Dark Universe, this summer’s The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, is now streaming on multiple platforms and available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.
The Mummy won’t be for everyone. Purists loyal to the classic films are the first group that may not go for it–it doesn’t adhere very much by way look or feel to Boris Karloff’s 1932 original version, although the core concept is similar: resurrecting an ancient Egyptian royal entombed without being mummified, followed by a pursuit to resurrect The Entombed’s lover after The Entombed is brought back to life by an archaeologist. The other group that may pass on the new film are fans of Universal’s more recent decade-long film series that originally starred Brandon Fraser and Rachel Weisz (and later Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), which spanned seven films in all and an animated television series between 1999 and 2008. Ultimately the best audience for this year’s version of The Mummy will be audiences looking for a new film to rent or stream during this holiday season with a horror flavor. The Mummy isn’t a romp like the recent film series or memorable like the original, but it is light as horror goes, full of action and plenty of monsters (actually zombies) without much actual gore, and overall it’s a fun way to step into the Halloween zone for general audiences. And who doesn’t like a zombie movie?
The Mummy stars Tom Cruise as adventurer/soldier Nick Morton (along the lines of Matt Damon in The Great Wall) who, along with another soldier played by Jake Johnson (New Girl), tries to find buried treasure after Nick romances and steals a treasure map from an archaeologist named Dr. Jennifer Halsey, played by Annabelle Wallis (X-Men: First Class, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword). Not among Cruise’s top films (see last week’s review here of American Made for that) fans of Cruise movies will still find this in the realm of his Mission: Impossible roles. The mummy of the title is a woman in this incarnation of the horror tale, Princess Ahmanet, played by Sofia Boutella, in a performance that becomes the best aspect of the film. As with her several recent performances (Atomic Blonde, Star Trek Beyond, Kingsman: The Secret Service), it’s always exciting to see Boutella immerse herself into a role. The actress who gained early fame as a dancer in Madonna and Michael Jackson music videos seems to easily take on the physical coordination required for this first monster of the Dark Universe. One of Ahmanet’s powers is raising the dead into zombie defenders, and in several key action sequences the film becomes a full-scale zombie horror flick. The zombie factor, plus big-budget production value and stars Cruise and Boutella may be enough to satisfy a broader audience’s desire for something new this Halloween.
As part of its introduction to the new Dark Universe, The Mummy features a fairly extensive subplot with Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which was not an original Universal Studios film but a Paramount release). In the doctor’s lab are hints of forthcoming stories dealing with a vampire and a certain amphibious monster. The ending also sets up plenty of opportunities for a continuation of the characters in the film. The original version of The Mummy was inspired by the 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, and written as an original screenplay by John L. Balderston, a journalist who covered the discovery for New York World.
The Mummy is directed by Alex Kurtzman in his first major directing project, and he also wrote the screenplay, which explains much of the manner of storytelling–more of the kind of story threads and twists you’d find on his television series, such as Sleepy Hollow and Fringe. If you search a little bit you will find The Mummy easily fitting in the adventure genre, somewhere between Sahara and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It makes a good effort at creating the same kind of suspense as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but without as gripping a story or heroes. Jake Johnson provides most of the comedy relief, a bit of a role like Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead, with Cruise and Wallis mirroring a bit of the relationship between Indiana Jones and the German historian in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The tone is closer to the National Treasure movies series than a typical horror film. And if you thought the best part of last year’s film Suicide Squad was the role of The Enchantress as played by Cara Delevingne, you may also like Boutella’s version of The Mummy, which shares a similar appearance and brand of evil.