'The Mummy' (2017) Abandons Campy Fun for Faux Gravitas

Sofia Boutella as the Disgruntled Ahmanet

Alex Kurtzman’s first chapter in the ‘Dark Universe’ franchise is stuck somewhere between William Castle and William Shakespeare.

The Mummy (2017)

Director: Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2017
UK Release Date: 2017-06-09
US Release Date: 2017-06-09

A wise man once said, “Only a fool would make a campy horror movie into a serious drama." Actually, no one ever said that, but they should have, preferably on Tom Cruise's voicemail.

There are moments of inspired stupidity sprinkled throughout The Mummy (2017). At times, director Alex Kurtzman and his talented cast seem to be winking at us, imploring us to share the joke with them. Other times, they're determined to break out their existential notebook on human frailty and ladle on the dramatic soliloquys. The final product is a haphazard blend of faux gravitas and familiar story elements lifted directly from other recognizable (and far superior) horror-adventure movies.

The pain begins immediately, with Russell Crowe (as 'Dr. Henry Jekyll'… yes, that Dr. Jekyll) delivering a laborious voiceover about an ancient Egyptian princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). It seems Ahmanet, an only child, was destined to inherent the throne until her father the Pharaoh got frisky and sired a son. Angry over losing the best parking space in Egypt, Ahmanet makes a deal with Set, the god of death, to make her the immortal ruler of the world or something. All she has to do is murder her entire family and then find a human vessel for Set to possess, preferably, a man with ageless good looks and a contractual obligation to romance leading ladies who are half his age.

Enter Tom Cruise…

Tom Cruise as Nick Morton

Cruise plays 'Nick Morton', a consistently insubordinate American military officer serving in Iraq. Nick and his wisecracking partner, Chris (Jake Johnson), use their military clearance to plunder Middle Eastern relics to sell on the black market. “Liberators of precious antiquities", as Nick so piously describes them. It's the type of outrageous racket Indiana Jones might have tried were it not so recklessly stupid and dangerous.

When a smart bomb accidentally uncovers a crevasse the size of Texas in an Iraqi insurgent stronghold, Nick, Chris, and Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), an antiquities expert, unearth the mummified remains of the murderous Ahmanet. In the film's most visually arresting sequence, an elaborate system of ancient pulleys lifts the sarcophagus from a pool of shimmering mercury.

Here's where the script for The Mummy (2017) reveals itself to be borderline incompetent. As Ahmanet's massive sarcophagus is lifted skyward, she puts the whammy on Nick's brain. Determined to make him the next earthly vessel for Set (i.e., “the chosen one"), she shows Nick visions of her past, including hints of the immortal power he will enjoy by succumbing to her considerable charms. In other words, we get an instant replay of everything we just saw 15 minutes earlier during the insufferable Russell Crowe narration!

Even worse, major events happen off screen, forcing director Kurtzman (People Like Us, 2012) to relay the information secondhand. For example, Nick and Jenny apparently had a torrid “15-second affair" just nights before the movie's story picks up, after which Nick stole a map from her suitcase that reveals the location of Ahmanet's tomb. Not only might this missing scene between Nick and Jenny have been entertaining, it might have leant a bit of chemistry to a listless relationship that pulses with all the life of one of Ahmanet's zombie mummies.

And we haven't even gotten to Dr. Jekyll yet. Jekyll is the leader of a modern-day secret society of scientists and archeologists that “recognize, contain, and destroy evil". He's also got a nasty habit of morphing into his evil alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, who can only be subdued by an injection of magic serum from a syringe painstakingly assembled each time. Perhaps having a spare syringe handy might be advisable when trying to quell evil incarnate? Just a suggestion.

Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll

These are the gloriously silly elements of The Mummy (2017) that desperately need to be exaggerated; to re-capture the camp glory of past masters like James Whale and William Castle. When Jekyll inevitably transforms into Hyde, the screen crackles with energy, and for one exciting moment, you wonder where the story might lead. Don't worry, the situation is quickly resolved so the screenwriters can return to telling the same story we've already seen a million times.

You'll certainly recognize elements of the Raiders of the Lost Ark franchise, as Nick is portrayed to be a lovable scoundrel with a heart of gold (or at least cubic zirconia). There are also callbacks to everything from An American Werewolf in London to Interview with the Vampire. In fact, The Mummy (2017) is to horror-adventure movies what Oblivion was to sci-fi movies; a diluted pastiche of genre tropes that challenge the palate about as much as a bland tapioca.

Okay, fine. Kurtzman and his stable of screenwriters are going for something more realistic and less campy. Great. So where are the interesting, relatable characters to carry the action?

So little effort is invested into character development, in fact, that sincere communication becomes virtually impossible. When Crowe solemnly intones that, “The past cannot remain buried forever," he probably deserves an honorary Oscar for not laughing. There's more tangible evidence of Bigfoot than the existence of affection between Nick and Jenny, whose love affair becomes the basis for every peculiar decision Nick makes in the film's disastrous final act. By the time the end credits roll, it's impossible to understand what has transpired, and even more futile to care.

The Mummy (2017) is the first offering in Universal Pictures' 'Dark Universe', a franchise of films based upon classic Hollywood monsters such as Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. Striking visuals from Kurtzman's effects team and capable performances from Crowe and Cruise might distract from the familiarity of this particular story, but it's hard to imagine modern audiences clamoring to see more from a universe that feels like a watered down comic book.

The ambition is admirable, with Cruise's creative team trying to blend humor, horror, and pathos into something resembling a serious drama. Sadly, they've chosen the blandest, most predictable approach possible to the material. More than likely, The Mummy (2017) is cursed to be quickly forgotten.






Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?


London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".


Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.


Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.