UMU reviews Alex Kurtzman’s “The Mummy.”
Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy was a solid first entry and one of the best monster movies of modern times that honors the long, cinematic history of Universal’s classic monsters.
Nearly ten years ago, Iron Man was released in 2008. It was a fun and imaginative film, not without its flaws, and set course for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe of films, otherwise known as the MCU. Two years after its release, a follow up would open in theaters and the MCU would begin in proper. Five years after Iron Man, Warner Bros. would begin their Extended Universe with Man of Steel. It would be three years after that the DC Extended Universe would continue in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Within a decade, three major studios would begin their own cinematic universes with WB’s additional MonsterVerse. Universal, having been the original studio to create a connected universe of films in the 30’s and 40’s, is back at it with their recently announced brand, Dark Universe, and its first entry releases this week – The Mummy!
After having chronicled The Mummy for over a year – through pre-production, principal photography, and post, it was highly exciting to attend the NYC premiere on Tuesday, June 6th. It was especially exciting to attend with the cast and crew and watch the film for the first time in RealD 3D at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13. Shown in theatre 1, AMC Loews biggest auditorium, there was a true sense of showmanship that continued right through to the end of the film. But what did I think? How was The Mummy? Was it just another Tom Cruise action movie? Did it deliver on director/producer Alex Kurtzman’s promise to deliver a monster movie to audiences? Without further ado, let’s talk about The Mummy.
Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy is an exciting, thrilling, creepy, action ride. It has an unrelenting pace, it’s filled with humor, and pays honor to several truly outstanding films in cinema history – namely The Exorcist, The Birds, American Werewolf in London, and naturally the Universal Monsters. It’s fun, a little flawed, but still fun nonetheless. While it is a more serious take on the classic monsters, some fans of the original might still be unhappy with The Mummy as it is not a remake of the 1932 classic. There are elements of the Universal Monsters that are clearly honored, but the film ultimately borders heavily on re-imagination than anything else.
The Mummy, or the world of The Mummy exists within the Dark Universe; a world not unlike Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. Gods and monsters exist and walk around among us, revealing a much scarier prospect of what may exist around the corner, as opposed to what’s directly in front of us. Alex Kurtzman delivers on scares with his film and it certainly is much spookier than that of 1999’s version, directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Brendan Fraser.
We’re introduced to to Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) after an ancient tomb of crusaders are discovered in modern day England. Immediately, Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and his team of Prodigium agents arrive on the scene and begin examining and cataloging the new discovery. It’s here that a *SPOILER* possibly ancient Jekyll who has been around for lifetimes recalls the story of Ahmanet. What we learn about Ahmanet is that she was a princess promised the role of Pharaoh by her father. But after her father conceives a son with his new wife, Ahmanet is quickly pushed aside, giving way to her thirst for vengeance. It’s in this exposition that we see supermodel Shanina Shaik in her first role and our given subtle homages to the original 1932 classic. Ahmanet, summoning Set, the God of Death (played by Javier Botet), is given a blade that will help her carry out her plan to remake the world in her vision and take back what was promised to her – power. Naturally, she’s caught and buried alive, but this time they bury her miles from Egypt.
In modern day Iraq, we’re introduced to Army Sgt. Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Corporal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson). Nick and Vail have apparently come into possession of a map (one we explored into detail with Dr. Jekyll’s briefcase) and it’s one that will lead them both to treasure. Vail, uncertain of the prospect of heading into a town filled with insurgents, is essentially forced by Nick to follow him and the two of them are soon quickly thrust into the first major action scene of the film. Shot impressively by Alex Kurtzman, director of photography Ben Seresin, and stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood, the Haram sequence feels as if it was lifted straight from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson have excellent chemistry and it’s apparent from his first moment on screen that Johnson’s role of Vail was specifically tailored towards him. After an air strike is called as a last resort to save them from impending death, Morton and Vail unwittingly discover what’s really buried in Haram – a tomb!
The “Liberators of Precious Antiquities” are eventually corralled by Colonel Greenway (a fantastic Courtney B. Vance) to help assist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) enter the tomb to study. We soon understand that Nick had stolen the map from Jennifer after a “15 second” tryst in Baghdad. Nick Morton, portrayed by Tom Cruise, is far from his role as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible series. Cruise, while not so much like Vincent in Collateral, is more so along the lines of Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man and Frank “T.J.” Mackey from Magnolia. He’s unscrupulous, amoral, and reckless as Nick Morton, but as with any fine Tom Cruise role, the character of Nick Morton has an exceptional and exceptionally wild arc in The Mummy. Without saying much else, it’ll be fascinating to see more of Nick Morton in the future.
Quite possibly the best of The Mummy and certainly the most exciting is Act One. While we have seen much of the film through numerous trailers, tv spots, and clips, there’s still much to the film that was a surprise once seeing it. There’s a specific kind of intensity the film has that does not let up, but one that works to great effect right through the zero gravity sequence. While securing the sarcophagus on the aircraft, a violent sandstorm is approaching with numerous ravens watching over Nick, Jenny, and Vail. And that’s all right after a creepy spider attack in the tomb. And that’s right after Nick is cursed. Unrelenting, no? And that’s not even taking into account the plane crash that then finds Nick waking up in a body bag, haunted by “a friend,” and sends him and Jenny on an adventure that doesn’t let up until the end of the 2 hour film.
Annabelle Wallis and Sofia Boutella are terrific in their roles, with Boutella truly terrifying yet alluring as Ahmanet/The Mummy. There’s such an amazing presence she brings to the movie that it’s disappointing how under utilized she really is, especially when thinking of how much screen time Boris Karloff had, or even Arnold Vosloo. Too much of her performance is being spent chained, literally and figuratively. The film follows way more of Nick and Jenny’s exploration into “a new world of gods and monsters” as opposed to allowing Sofia Boutella more screen time as Ahmanet/The Mummy. Boutella is a wonderfully talented, engaging, enchanting actress. Headlining star Tom Cruise referred to her as a “feral princess” and it’s true. While she’s given more to do than that of Tom Tyler and Lon Chaney Jr., she’s unfortunately not quite on the level of Boris Karloff. While she’s given plenty to do in the time that she is given, the movie runs so fast that by the time the credits roll, we wish we had more time with Boutella’s Mummy. This, however, should not be a problem with continuing “Dark Universe” films, with Bill Condon’s Bride of Frankenstein seeking to use The Bride as a symbol of female liberation.
Annabelle Wallis put in a fantastic performance as Jennifer Halsey. She was not afraid to challenge Nick’s hardened soldier, tough guy personality. Amid her past performances, The Mummy is the movie likely to make Annabelle a star. She holds her own against the legendary Russell Crowe and is brilliant in her scenes opposite Sofia Boutella. She’s equally engaging to watch as she performed her own stunts just as her co-star and film headliner Tom Cruise did his own stunts. Annabelle could go from confident to scared to fierce at a moment’s notice and it was a thrill to see her in such a wild ride of a movie like The Mummy.
The Mummy is a real joy to watch, especially knowing how much love was put into this film by the cast and crew. The make-up design is nothing less than iconic and all of that hard work must be credited to the likes of Lizzie and Bella Georgiou, along with Danielle Harding, and many other amazingly talented women. It would also be wrong of us not to mention the script. This film had evolved over the course of many years, under the careful watch of “Dark Universe” creative architects Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan. However, after early drafts were done by Jon Spaihts, much credit must be given to Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, the latter of whom has been a good friend of the site.
The Mummy is an exciting first entry in the “Dark Universe” and this series featuring the classic Universal Monsters will most undoubtedly get better with further installments. It should be exciting to follow Bride of Frankenstein over the next year as that should be a highly exciting project, especially as it is being helmed by the great Bill Condon (Beauty and the Beast, Gods and Monsters). It will be interesting to see how Universal will handle The Mummy over the next few years, considering the elements of the film that could be revisited. One element I’ll leave out for now, but the other is undoubtedly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s exciting that we were given this character in addition to The Mummy, even more so that we got to see Mr. Hyde. It will be interesting to see how Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan continually develop the “Dark Universe.” It’s only fitting that Universal Pictures continues their great tradition of telling great stories about monsters with top talent. Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy was a solid first entry and one of the best monster movies of modern times that honors the long, cinematic history of Universal’s classic monsters. Their is no doubt that the film will be appreciated more over time as further entries are made in the “Dark Universe.”
UMU gives The Mummy three out of four stars! Stay tuned for our further explorations of the film this week!
As always, stay tuned to Universal Monsters Universe for the latest on The Mummy and the Universal Monsters Universe of films.
Tom Cruise headlines a spectacular, all-new cinematic version of the legend that has fascinated cultures all over the world since the dawn of civilization: The Mummy.
Thought safely entombed in a tomb deep beneath the unforgiving desert, an ancient princess (Sofia Boutella of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond) whose destiny was unjustly taken from her is awakened in our current day, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia and terrors that defy human comprehension.
From the sweeping sands of the Middle East through hidden labyrinths under modern-day London, The Mummy brings a surprising intensity and balance of wonder and thrills in an imaginative new take that ushers in a new world of gods and monsters.
The Mummy is directed by Alex Kurtzman, from a script by Jon Spaihts, Dylan Kussman, and Christopher McQuarrie. The film stars Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Marwan Kenzari, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe and Sofia Boutella. The film opens June 9, 2017.
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII
& Joe Grodensky – @joegrodensky)