‘The Mummy’ defies genres in the worst ways

By Michelle Wheeler

June 10, 2017

The thing about monster movies is they really need to fall into one of two categories to be successful: Scary AF or Campy As All Get Out (and no, these are not very technical film critic terms). Either way, as long as the movie hits one of those two targets, it can be successful. The ones that do either of those especially well may even achieve cult status.

The biggest problem with The Mummy (and there are many) is that it defies genre, and not in the good way. It’s not scary enough to be an effective horror movie, the jokes aren’t funny enough to call it a comedy, the stakes aren’t high enough for the audience to be invested in what happens to the characters, and it’s not self-aware enough to mitigate those issues and transcend the limitations of any of those categories to find the kind of charm that made the 1999 version starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz such a success.

Tom Cruise as Nick Morton and Jake Johnson as Sergeant Chris Vail. Courtesy of Universal Pictures

In this 2017 film, Tom Cruise (you know who Tom Cruise is, right?) and Jake Johnson (New Girl, Jurassic World) are treasure hunters following a lead to their next big score. They unwittingly release a mummified princess who, during her life, embraced the dark side in order to retain her position of power, and whose ritual to transform her lover into a fellow god was interrupted by her capture. Once awakened, the mummy imprints on Tom Cruise’s character, Nick, and follows him across the world, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.

The Mummy is the first of Universal’s series of interconnected movies called the “Dark Universe.” Future films are set to include stories featuring Frankenstein’s Monster, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the Invisible Man, among others. Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego Mr. Hyde make an appearance here in The Mummy, but the introduction to them and this world is clunky and awkward. It’s often hard to tell which character the film is really about. Is it the mummy herself, is it Nick who undergoes a monstrous transformation of his own, or is it this doctor who is compelled to track down and eradicate evil in the world, be it in an ancient tomb or within his own psyche.

Tom Cruise as Nick Morton

The movie is not without its bright spots. The special effects team were clearly under the impression they were working on a proper horror movie, and the effects are creepy and convincing. Cruise brings his comfort and expertise with stunts, gleaned from years tackling impossible missions, to a series of exciting action sequences that leave the audience breathless.

Those action sequences are problematic, however, in that often they seem to be performed primarily in service to Nick’s manliness and virility, a fact that character is all too ready to articulate directly at every opportunity. Cruise has never been drawn to characters who need to reiterate their masculinity so forcefully in the past. You don’t need Maverick or Ethan Hunt or Jack Reacher to tell you they are men’s men. Cruise’s innate swagger is mismatched here with Nick’s insecurity. In that same way, Jake Johnson– used so effectively for comic relief in Jurassic World— lacks the script and opportunity in this film to get to any kind of heart behind his character’s so-called humor.

Sofia Boutella as Princess Ahmanet. Courtesy of Universal Pictures

The Mummy, at least in name, hearkens back to a strong legacy established by its predecessors. It is unfortunate that its lack of direction and disservice to its characters make it unworthy to truly be counted among them as an equal.

Star rating: 2 out of 5

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