Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Mummy (2017)

(M) ★★½

Director: Alex Kurtzman.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Russell Crowe.

Tom Cruise liked to have his own bed with him while he travelled.

It used to be that a studio made a film and if it was good and people loved it, then the studio made another one.

Now studios don't make films - they make franchises. It doesn't matter if the first film was good or whether there was an appetite for more. So long as the film stumbles past the profit line and isn't a total pile of excrement, then the franchise convoy rolls on to the next film.

In recent weeks, there have been a few examples of this ploy of putting universe-building first and focused film-making second. Guy Ritchie's King Arthur, which was mooted as the launchpad for more films, died so hard at the box office (and critically) that it's unlikely we'll see more antics from the round table for some time.

It wasn't as bulletproof as Man Of Steel, which kicked off DC Comics "expanded universe" successfully despite being the first of three turkeys dished up in the franchise, with only fourth film Wonder Woman finally saving the day.

The difference between these two series is that the latter felt like something people had to see for themselves - no one wanted to miss out on Harley Quinn's cinematic debut, the birth of a new Superman, or the battle royale between Batman and Superman, even if they were forewarned all three films were a pile of crap. As for poor Arthur, hardly anyone under the age of 25 has even heard of King Arthur, let alone cares enough to want to see what turned out to be a bad movie.

And now we have The Mummy, which is a so-so horror-actioner starring Tom Cruise as a tomb raider cursed by a long-dead evil Egyptian princess (Boutella). On it's own, this film is nothing special - just another take on the old Universal monster movie (in fact this is the fourth series of Mummy movies and 14th film overall, not counting The Scorpion King spin-offs).

But this new Mummy movie has been widely touted as the kickstarter of Universal's new Dark Universe, which has a Bride Of Frankenstein remake (supposedly starring Javier Bardem) in the works, as well as retreads of The Invisible Man (supposedly starring Johnny Depp), Dracula, Wolfman, the Creature From The Black Lagoon and more.

Let's break this down for one moment.

Is The Mummy any good? Not really, but it's OK.

Is it good enough to launch a franchise? Absolutely not.

None of this would really matter if The Mummy's franchise-building didn't get in the way of it being a decent film.

On it's own, The Mummy regularly skirts close to being great. There are some very cool sequences, including an exhilarating plane crash, Cruise's character Nick Morton gradually losing his mind in the back alleys of London, some zombie jump-scares and chases (including one underwater), and an ambulance crash. It's predominantly enjoyable in a dumb way, and even offers some nice horror touches and atmospheres.

It also features a Cruise character that's close to being genuinely interesting and not just another rendition of Cruise's Interchangeable Action Man (see the M:I films, Jack Reacher 1 & 2, Oblivion, Night & Day). Morton is his attempt at a loveable rogue (and, initially, an Indiana Jones cypher), and is far more flawed and intriguing than any of his recent action creations.

But all the while, the film has one eye on the future, and this repeatedly drags it down. Much of this centres on Crowe's Dr Jekyll, who plays a surprisingly large role. There's a fairly major subplot going on with his character (no points for guessing what it involves) but at no point does any character say "what's his deal?". Instead, Jekyll is left to wander around spouting non-sequiturs and exposition about his secret monster-hunting organisation Prodigium. It's jarring, largely superfluous and continually derails the film's flow. It should be noted it's not a bad performance - it just smacks of a character being wedged into a film for no good reason as it detracts from the whole Mummy thing that's going on.

Outside of the franchise stuff, there are other flaws. Johnson's character pops up unnecessarily (and annoyingly) throughout the film, the Mummy's powers are seemingly limitless with new skills popping up all the time, and Wallis' headstrong archaeologist Jenny Halsey waivers between being good and frustrating (insane drinking game suggestion - drink every time Halsey says "Nick". You'll be dead halfway through Act II).

It feels like The Mummy could have been good. If Cruise's character was edgier, if Johnson wasn't in it, if Dr Jekyll wasn't in it, if the ending was bolder - all these things point to a solid Mummy that could have even topped Brendan Fraser's 1999 outing.

But instead, we get a pilot to a series that wouldn't be picked up by any network.

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