There’s an off-hand moment early on in The Mummy when Egyptologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) draws attention to the importance of the discovery that she and Nick Mortion (Tom Cruise) have made by referring to the age of the sarcophagus: 5,000 years. Trouble is, Wallis clearly mouths “three”, not “five”. Oh well, ADR happens. Maybe there was a re-write where they realized that 3,000 years wasn’t enough for the Egyptian period they wanted. So they fixed it. That’s fine, if a bit distracting. Later, Tom Cruise calls “the chick” 3,000 years old. They left that one in. Maybe Tom Cruise is too busy to do ADR. Maybe no one caught it. Maybe no one cares.
Ladies and gentleman, this is The Mummy in a nutshell: falling over its own presumed intelligence, never paying enough attention to what it is doing for it to matter.
You’ve seen this plot before. Characters stumble upon an ancient evil, awaken it, and then suffer the consequences. In this specific case, the evil is an Egyptian princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who made a deal with the devil (Sett) to become Pharaoh, and her tomb is discovered after a missile strike from a drone scares off some ISIS fighters. After the curse claims a poor Jake Johnson and crows fly into the plane, the mummy is flung somewhere in England where she starts eating people to transform from a CGI pop-‘n-lock enthusiast into an actual actress. Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) is shoe-horned in as the leader of a group meant to discover and study evil. This took six writers.
The film relies on storytelling techniques that encourage one to draft hate mail. Explainy voice-over is given throughout. Dream sequences pepper the entire film. There’s little to no sense of geography and where characters are, and sometimes people just run off in random directions for no reason. There’s no command of tone, with a weird mixture of creepiness, jump-scares, and deadpan humor. We see the same flashbacks multiple times, telling us the same information from different people’s mouths. It is a mess.
There’s too many stupid plot elements in The Mummy to even try to list them. Still, might as well try. There’s a mercury fountain used to keep Ahmanet prisoner, but an elaborate pulley system makes it easy to gain access to her sarcophagus. Her curse is transmitted to Jake Johnson through a spider bite, and to Tom Cruise through a dream sequence. People cavalierly respond to Tom Cruise surviving a plane crash. It is impossible to tell when Tom Cruise is fantasizing, dreaming, or sleepwalking. Whether you have two pupils or four pupils determines whether you are in league with Sett or not, and there are multiple extreme close-ups showing Tom Cruise’s pupils swap back-and-forth during the climax, which has an unusual amount of punching and makes absolutely no sense given the world they’ve vainly tried to establish. Spoiler alert: I guess Tom Cruise is just fine walking around being possessed by Sett. Maybe it’ll clear up, like a cold.
In a bizarre turn, The Mummy is most successful when it is being funny. There are a number of legitimate jokes that land well, mostly those that subvert the tension and weirdness of the moment by calling attention to it. Unfortunately, there are also unintentional moments of comedy. My theater was not full of shy people, and there were a lot of guffaws during supposed serious moments, plus people exclaiming, “What the fuck?” to no one in particular.
One other redemptive feature: the zero-G plane sequence is well-done, if a little too long. The camera is more stolid, capturing the tumbles and craziness of a plane falling from the sky. Sure, everything around this sequence is unimaginably stupid, but this is top-notch action filmmaking. I wish it had been in a better movie.
The Mummy is meant to kick off Universal’s attempt at a shared universe: The Dark Universe. They’ve decided to mine their monsters, and in this film we get a mummy and Dr. Jekyll. Soon, we’ll also get Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, a Bride of Frankenstein, Wolfman, Van Helsing, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and a Hunchback of Notre Dame (maybe). I don’t know who decided that this was a good idea, but after The Mummy, Universal’s initial effort is closer to the DCEU’s Man of Steel than to Marvel’s Iron Man. There’s just not much care or relevance in this film. It’s a hodgepodge of mumbled “dark vs. light” tiredness.
The Mummy is very easily the worst movie I have reviewed on Plot and Theme this year, and it is on the shortlist for worst ever. I can only recommend viewing it while intoxicated with two or three of your most acerbic friends consigned to the agony with you. You’ll certainly find plenty to make fun of.