The biggest non-comic book attempts to create a shared cinematic universe comes from Universal with what is now being called their Dark Universe. In the 1940s, Universal brought a bunch of their regular horror characters Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, The Wolf Man and to a lesser extent The Invisible Man together in efforts such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). With their Dark Universe, Universal has now conceived a series of big-budget revivals in which the Famous Monsters will crossover and interact. The first of these was supposedly Dracula Untold (2014) but that proved a middling box-office flop and has quietly been all but ignored with the announcement of the Dark Universe. Universal has announced a slate of other efforts including a remake of Bride of Frankenstein (1935) under Bill Condon starring Angelina Jolie for 2019, which oddly precedes their Frankenstein film to star Javier Bardem, an Invisible Man film with Johnny Depp and further announced reboots of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, even another Van Helsing film. Although the question that remains with the box-office flop and critical trashing received by The Mummy is whether any of these will ever see the light of a projector.
The Mummy has a long history on film beginning with The Mummy (1932) starring Boris Karloff, which is a beautiful and moody work quite unlike anything that came after. Universal spun this out into a series of sequels The Mummys Hand (1940), The Mummys Tomb (1942), The Mummys Ghost (1944), The Mummys Curse (1944) and the inevitable Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) which became dominated by Tom Tyler and Lon Chaney Jr as bandage-wrapped mummies shuffling across the screen. It is this image that thereafter became associated with the mummy. Hammer Films conducted a sterling revival with The Mummy (1959) and there have been sporadic other efforts over the years. In the 1990s, The Mummy was given a makeover by Stephen Sommers in the Brendan Fraser-starring The Mummy (1999), which was rewritten as an Indian Jones-type adventures and the emphasis was placed on CGI effects and a more comedic approach. This led to two sequels with The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008).
The people behind the Dark Universe seem to be wanting to make their films as epic as possible. It would be hard to find more of a Top A-list line-up than the names being cited in the roles Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp. The main problem with Tom Cruise in a vehicle like The Mummy is that he is playing second banana to the effects. The problem that Cruise also faces is that he is not as big a drawcard as he used to be recent films such as Valkyrie (2008), Knight and Day (2010), Jack Reacher (2012) and Oblivion (2013) have all played below expectation at the box-office. Part of this is the public awareness of Cruises attachment to the Church of Scientology, which is like a deadweight that some publicist should have risked his career to urge Cruise to dissociate himself from over a decade ago. The more that comes to light about David Miscavges dirty dealings and the more we become aware of Cruises involvement, the more it muddies the publics liking of him as a celebrity. The Cruise of the 2010s seems to have sought refuge familiar franchises with new chapters of the Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible franchises and the upcoming Top Gun (1986) sequel and be milking these for all they are worth.
The Mummy was placed into the hands of Alex Kurtzman. Kurtzman and his writing/producing partner Robert Orci have been behind some of the biggest genre films of recent years. Kurtzman and Orci began work as writers/producers on tvs Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Jack of All Trades (2000-1) and Alias (2001-6). Their first produced screenplay was Michael Bays The Island (2005) and they subsequently went on to write Mission: Impossible III (2006), Transformers (2007), Star Trek (2009), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Cowboys & Aliens (2011), Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and Star Trek: Beyond (2016), as well as to create and produce the tv series Fringe (2008-13), Hawaii Five-O (2010 ), Sleepy Hollow (2013-7), Matador (2014), Scorpion (2014 ) and Star Trek: Discovery (2017 ), and to produce the films Enders Game (2013) and Now You See Me (2013). Alex Kurtzman had previously made his directorial debut on the non-genre drama People Like Us (2002).
I cant say I greeted The Mummy with the same amount of ridicule that most of other critics did. It arrives at precisely the same place that the Michael Bay Transformers film does. If CGI spectacle is your thing then it is a film you will enjoy; if, like me, it starts to become repetitive eye candy that washes over you, it emerges as about an average example of this. On the plus side, I enjoyed this more than the Brendan Fraser Mummy films for the simple reason that it is taking itself seriously. At least apart from a series of scenes with Jake Johnsons as Cruises compatriot turned undead, which feel badly out of place as though the film is wanting to break into something like An American Werewolf in London (1981).
The thinking seems to have been to build on the adventure aspect of the Brendan Fraser Mummy films and spin them as something akin to Cruises Mission: Impossible films. The Mission: Impossible films always have at least one genuinely spectacular action set-piece to them. There is one of these here where the military transport plane starts going down in mid-air and Cruise and Annabelle Wallis are flung around the roof of the cabin while he throws her out with the only parachute (a sequence that was filmed in NASAs so-called Vomit Comet, a plane that flies high-altitude parabolas that allow brief periods of pseudo-zero gravity). The sequence is so spectacular that Universal used it as the films trailer. Beyond this sequence, the film has almost entirely been construed as a series of CGI effects set-pieces strung one after the other. These are suitably flashy but fade into instant forgettability a day after watching the film, I am struggling to remember even one of them that had anything standout. (Other perhaps than the absurdity of a sequence with Tom Cruise pursued through an underwater tomb by swimming zombies).
It is also a film that suffers from Peter Jackson-itis something I name after one of the worst directors to be guilty of this in which the CGI overrides actors being allowed to do their thing. I mean, it seems the height of absurdity to cast an actor of Russell Crowes calibre in a role like Dr Jekyll, a part that actors always regard as an opportunity to show off, and rather than allow him to go off the rails the film has CGI effects take over and do all the work for him. Similarly, the idea of the mummy possessed having two sets of eyeballs is a novelty one but what was so difficult about allowing Tom Cruise and Sophie Boutella to demonstrate such in their performances? Indeed, the issue of Cruise being taken over by an evil force, while it might have made for some great acting, is shuffled to the side as though he didnt want to tar his heroic image by going to the dark side. Mindedly, even Cruises starpower seems on autopilot here. Hes meant to dominate the screen here but his redeemably rougeuish bad boy that we get in the opening scenes is oddly unconvincing; there is little chemistry with Annabelle Wallis; Sofia Boutella seems surprisingly subdued as a nemesis; even the scenes with Russell Crowe, which should burn with star egos competing for screen time, feel uninspired.
The Mummy works routinely as a mummy film. Where it works even less effectively is in the attempt to stitch it up as a Dark Universe film. Russell Crowes Dr Jekyll has no real place in the film. He could have been written out for all the difference he makes. The film also feels awkwardly stuffed with reference to other Famous Monsters films Russell Crowe gets to make a toast To a new world of gods and monsters, Dr Praetoriuss famous line from Bride of Frankenstein, while the claw of The Gill Man from The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) can be seen in a display case in Jekylls laboratory at one point.