The Good: Comedic timing between Cruise and Johnson, incredible performance by Russell Crowe, genuinely eerie creature designs and effects, decent action, sets up greater shared universe with other films.
The Bad: uninspired directing, dark murky cinematography, not scary, shallow narrative, lacks any deeper themes, convoluted plot that is not resolved well, underdeveloped antagonist, bland protagonist
The Mummy heralds the genesis of Universal Studio's very own shared cinematic universe, christened the "Dark Universe". And boy they weren't kidding! Directed by writer Alex Kurtzman in his directorial debut, has coated the entire movie in a murky light dimming filter. Daylight scenes look muted and dull without strong shadows, serving no conceivable thematic purpose other than to have a darkness filter over everything. Kutzman's barely serviceable directing style, with its constant shaky cam, close ups, tight shots and slightly off focus action scenes, all point to a director acting off a checklist of "typical action movie shots". To make matters worse, most of the action scenes are set in dark underground locales or at night, which requires much strain to make out what is going on.
Not that it is entirely a bad thing. This darkness does serve the horror element of the movie. After all this is a remake of the classic horror movie franchise "The Mummy" which saw one remake by Stephen Sommers done in more of a classic swashbuckling adventure style. The big twist this time is that the mummy is a lady.
Ahmanet was an Egyptian princess who was denied her rightful place as ruler of ancient Egypt. She made a pact with the God of chaos, Set, to get revenge on her family and in turn she would bring Set into the world through a chosen individual so she could rule by his side. She was found out and mummified alive as punishment, far away from Egypt. Five thousand years later, rogue soldier Nick Morton and his pal Chris unwittingly discover Ahmanet's tomb in the middle of the war torn Iraqi desert. Unknown to Nick, Ahmanet is still alive in her sarcophagus and uses her arcane magic to manipulate events and people into bringing her body to London. There she hopes to find an ancient weapon belonging to Set, and Nick is the key to her plan.
Unfortunately it is a stretch to call this a horror movie. The darkness of the footage does attempt to convey the look of a horror film, and the effects are hauntingly good. The scenes immediately after Ahmanet resurrects as a desiccated anatomically twisted mockery of humanity are particularly effective as is the look of the zombies. But other than that, this movie has more in common with an action comedy than a horror.
Though the make-up and effects are meant to be scary, the way scenes are set up, shot and scripted end up more hilarious than horrific. A shocking moment where forgettable love interest Jenny accidentally barges in on Ahmanet straddling a captive Nick, surrounded by rotting minions and about to perform an arcane ritual on him, is scripted as if she barged in on a couple making love. Or when Chris is cursed and haunts Nick as a disembodied spirit bearing the scars of his death, it is played less like a spooky spectral encounter and more like one of those Scary Movie parodies.
Nick himself is a standard morally ambiguous, selfish,arrogant, snarky, action movie protagonist and his sarcastic partner is the standard comic relief. Tom cruise and Jake Johnson as Nick and Chris have great chemistry making the action very fun to watch. Simplicity seems to be the order of the day and any character who was not a monster is portrayed as a one dimensional archetype. In a grave misstep, the script decides to try and develop the already uninteresting Nick and this takes time away from developing the titular mummy Ahmanet. Only Russell Crowe's Dr Jekyll was able to hold my attention and be an interesting addition to the dark universe.
A part of that intrigue comes from Crowe's performance and the stark contrast in the Jekyll and Hyde characters. Unlike past portrayals, Jekyll and Hyde here do not look much different aside from some CGI details. Crowe's performance gets the credit for selling this contrast and comes off as genuinely unsettling. I had hoped to see more of his character in this movie or future ones.
I also liked the gender flipped premise of a dude in distress chased by a female undead necromancer as well as the amount of world building that went into crafting this shared cinematic universe. And perhaps that is where the problem lies: this movie succeeds in being enticing for what is promised rather than what is delivered. Too funny to be a horror, too bland to be a comedy, THE MUMMY succeeds in setting up a new shared cinematic universe but fails to exploit its full potential and fails in delivering a professionally made movie that stands on its own.
Replay value: B-