My dissertation was based around horror stories – why we tell tales that scare us and give us the creeps. At one point I talked about the great horror stable that was Universal Studios, back in its 30’s – 50’s heyday. The characters, stories and imagery they gave us are iconic – their legacy was and remains strong – so it’s not a surprise that the studio is now plundering that rich heritage to bring us a new roster of films inspired by those early features (and also inspired by the opportunity to earn a buck by copying Marvel Studios accomplishment of creating a lucrative multi-film franchise. Just saying).
The Mummy (2017) serves as the introduction to this new “Dark Universe”. For me, a confirmed horror movie fan, the idea of a wealth of interconnected horror movies from Universal is a joyous one – and as well as that, I’m a fan of the Cruiser. For better or worse, I think Tom Cruise is a genuinely charismatic actor and a movie star the likes of which we won’t see again for a long old time. I’ve been wanting him to be in a film like this (fantasy horror) for ages and finally, here we are… imagine my disappointment walking out of the cinema thinking it could have been much much better.
What didn’t work
Too much CGI
I love and appreciate CGI, animation and visual effects. The VFX houses in The Mummy are some of the best in the world. Unfortunately, there was just SO MUCH CGI that I felt cheated. Example; The mercury that encased the sarcophagus, the camel spiders, the tomb itself – all at the start of the film and all sadly had that feel of CGI that lifts the viewer out of the experience, breaking the suspension of disbelief. Example; Nick’s (Tom Cruise) newly dead friend Chris (Jake Johnson) appears in a London boozer to offer some advice from beyond the grave, ala American Werewolf in London. Nick’s appearance and injuries appear so CG that I started wistfully remembering the little flappy bit of loose flesh dangling from Jack’s neck in American Werewolf in London, missing the grisly appeal of genuine make up and prosthetics. I felt that the film-makers could have gone that way but by going digital, missed a great opportunity to gross out and excite their audience in the way great make up does. There are plenty of other examples, but you get the idea.
I guess there was meant to be chemistry between Cruise’s Nick and Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny Halsey but it wasn’t really there. I wasn’t rooting for them as a couple and in fact preferred the dynamic between Nick and Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Additionally, the chemistry between Nick and Chris felt too forced, it wasn’t the easy going banter I’m sure the writers envisaged.
Trying to do too much
Since this is set up as the first movie of a whole series, I can understand that Universal wanted to lay a good foundation, but it felt like there was too much going on. Tighter focus on keeping the story leaner would have benefited the pace of the film.
What did work
There was something very cool about the decayed, flailing zombies and they worked well. No matter how badly they got scrubbed, they kept fighting and they looked the part.
I liked the set design and mood of the church battle, starting under the light of the moon and emerging into the early sun. This carried a genuine sense of belonging in a horror movie – cliché perhaps but effective.
Sofia Boutella played the role with the right amount of menace, vulnerability, sensuality and ass-kickery.
I mentioned before that I was a fan and there’s a good reason for that. He’s awesome. He looks the part, commits to the action 110%, has a (underused) knack for comedy and needs to spread into a franchise like this. He makes you want to watch the movie through and it’s a novelty seeing him in a big budget fantasy action horror.
Tom Cruise was attached to be Tony Stark for a long long time before RDJ and I hope that this Dark Universe will be the Cruiser’s Iron Man. He’s got the star quality and charisma to carry it through but whether he’s in them or not, the next few Dark Universe movies need to tighten up and find their tone. Creating the Dark Universe is a great idea and I look forward to seeing more. Maybe a kid 50 years from now will be writing about how important they were in their own dissertation.