Critical Mass: Universal's first Dark Universe flick is dead on arrival
Universal’s first foray into the depths of its Dark Universe probably would have benefitted from a brighter guiding light.
After spending over three decades dazzling audiences across large-scale action-adventures on the big screen, Tom Cruise’s latest genre spectacle, The Mummy, is set to unravel in theaters this Friday. Movie critics, however, got a peek under wraps this week, as movie reviews for the blockbuster project debuted online Wednesday morning. The consensus? According to a vast majority of them, perhaps this romp should’ve remained buried.
EW’s Chis Nashawaty says “the story feels as stitched together as Frankenstein’s monster: a little bit of An American Werewolf in London here, a little Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade there, some Jekyll and Hyde as frosting,” adding that, while Cruise is the film’s “secret weapon,” the project ultimately “feels derivative and unnecessary and like it was written by committee (which a quick scan of its lengthy script credits confirms).”
The Mummy stars Cruise as Nick Morton, a globetrotting explorer who accidentally unleashes an unspeakable, ancient Egyptian evil into the world in the form of Sofia Boutella’s Princess Ahmanet, a four-pupiled, reawakened royal wreaking havoc on earth during her multi-millennia quest to find a mate.
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Cruise boards the franchise at the top of what Universal hopes to mold into a successful worldwide cinematic universe, with subsequent entries planned to feature the Invisible Man (Johnny Depp) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Javier Bardem). It was previously brought to life by the studio throughout the 1930s and 1950s, with actors from Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. lending their acting talents to the series; it was later popularized for contemporary audiences by the likes of Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and more in a three-film revival released between 1999 and 2008.
While the current Mummy release charts familiar territory for its A-list star, IndieWire‘s David Ehrlich calls the film “the worst Tom Cruise movie ever.”
“It stands out like a flat note on a grand piano. It’s not that Cruise hasn’t had misfires before (and between Rock of Ages, Oblivion, and [Jack Reacher], they’re happening at a faster rate), but The Mummy is the first of his films that doesn’t feel like a Tom Cruise movie,” he continues. “It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that it never could have been good. It’s an irredeemable disaster from start to finish, an adventure that entertains only via glimpses of the adventure it should have been. It’s the kind of movie that Tom Cruise became a household name by avoiding at all costs.”
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Similarly, Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman criticizes director Alex Kurtzman’s treatment of the material, which he indicates played better as “empty-calorie creature-feature” fare in the previous Fraser flicks.
“It will grab ideas, motifs, and effects from almost any genre and jam them together, palming off its grab-bag quality as ‘originality.’ Scene for scene, The Mummy has been competently staged by director Alex Kurtzman, who has one previous feature to his credit (the minor 2012 Chris Pine heart-tugger People Like Us) and has never made a special-effects film before,” Gleiberman writes. “Yet competence isn’t the same thing as style or vision. The Mummy is a literal-minded, bumptious monster mash of a movie. It keeps throwing things at you, and the more you learn about the ersatz intricacy of its ‘universe,’ the less compelling it becomes.”
Whereas other critics have championed Cruise as the sole bright spot in the production, The Hollywood Reporter‘s John DeFore actually calls Cruise “weirdly out of place” as he plays a character who’s “a stiff” in a “limp, thrill-free debut” for the Dark Universe.
The Verge‘s Tasha Robinson, despite writing a more positive review than her peers, perhaps best sums up the critical consensus, explaining: “The Mummy is a relatively functional creature-feature movie, packed with oversized action sequences. But it reminds viewers at every turning point that it isn’t a story so much as a prologue, a brand-deposit setup meant to whet their appetites for more Dark Universe. The approach may pay off in the long run, but in the short term, it feels like sitting down for a movie, and getting a feature-length trailer instead.”
The Mummy opens in theaters this Friday, June 9. Read on to find out what these and more critics are saying about the film.
Chris Nashawaty (EW)
“He may not be totally comfortable selling some of the film’s jokier moments, but at 54, he’s a seasoned pro at selling narrative silliness with a straight face, a clenched jaw, and an inhuman sense of commitment. I’m not sure that this aimless, lukewarm take on The Mummy is how the studio dreamed that its Dark Universe would begin. But it’s just good enough to keep you curious about what comes next.”
David Ehrlich (IndieWire)
“The Mummy, much like the enduringly delightful 1999 version, tries to juggle a number of different tones, often alternating between action, horror, and comedy within the span of a single scene. That would be a difficult feat for a dexterous master like Bong Joon Ho, but for Alex Kurtzman — whose only previous directing credit is for a limp 2012 Chris Pine weepy called People Like Us — the challenge is clearly beyond his talents. The laughs are few and far between, as neither Johnson nor Cruise has ever been forced to parrot such weak banter, and the jump scares are haphazardly peppered into random scenes, as though that might be enough to indicate a sense of impending doom. It’s even worse when Kurtzman tries to meld those two modes into one, this tonally scattershot movie paying a half-assed homage to An American Werewolf in London before abandoning the idea in favor of generic genre sludge.”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“It’s here that you begin to divine the film’s basic strategy: It will grab ideas, motifs, and effects from almost any genre and jam them together, palming off its grab-bag quality as ‘originality.’ Scene for scene, The Mummy has been competently staged by director Alex Kurtzman, who has one previous feature to his credit (the minor 2012 Chris Pine heart-tugger People Like Us) and has never made a special-effects film before. He knows how to visualize a spectacular plane crash, or how to play up the Dagger of Set — a mystical weapon of death that needs a giant ruby to complete it — so that it doesn’t seem as chintzy as something out of a National Treasure movie (which is basically what it is). Yet competence isn’t the same thing as style or vision. The Mummy is a literal-minded, bumptious monster mash of a movie. It keeps throwing things at you, and the more you learn about the ersatz intricacy of its ‘universe,’ the less compelling it becomes.”
John DeFore (The Hollywood Reporter)
“It’s no surprise that the action to come has vastly more in common with the CGI bombast of the Brendan Fraser-starring Mummy films than the quiet, slow-creeping horror of the version Karl Freund directed in 1932. What is surprising is that this film’s action makes one slightly nostalgic for the 1999 incarnation, or at least prompts one to ask if it wasn’t maybe more fun than we gave it credit for. So much of the action takes place in monotonous half-light; so little of it displays even the ambition to show audiences something new — unless we count the Mummy’s eyes, which have two irises each, for no apparent reason other than somebody thought that would look cool on a movie poster. The most involving scene by far shows Morton swimming through underwater crypts, trying to save Halsey from Ahmanet before he either drowns or is destroyed by the zombie warriors swimming behind him. But that sequence lasts just a minute or two, and is immediately followed by a Morton/Mummy standoff in which Cruise fails, rather spectacularly, to wring a laugh out of a kiss-off line one hopes neither Koepp, nor McQuarrie, nor Kussman would admit to having written. It’s the kickoff of a climax that requires more heroic self-sacrifice from Morton than we have any reason to believe he’s capable of. Unless, that is, we have a financial interest in the sequel set up by Jekyll’s longer-than-necessary final voiceover.”
Tasha Robinson (The Verge)
“The Mummy is a relatively functional creature-feature movie, packed with oversized action sequences. But it reminds viewers at every turning point that it isn’t a story so much as a prologue, a brand-deposit setup meant to whet their appetites for more Dark Universe. The approach may pay off in the long run, but in the short term, it feels like sitting down for a movie, and getting a feature-length trailer instead.”
Stephen Witty (New York Daily News)
“This Mummy just has Tom Cruise doing a Tom Cruise impression (don’t walk when you can run, don’t fall when you can tumble). And silly plot gimmicks that feels stolen from an “Avengers” script, from a magic rock everyone wants to an open ending that basically says ‘Stay tuned!’ Don’t. Sofia Boutella — the Algerian dancer who brought some mystery to Kingsman and Star Trek Beyond — is certainly eye-catching as the ancient enchantress. And for the geekiest fanboys, searching the scenes for in-jokes, the movie offers lots of trivial gifts. But The Mummy movie itself? This is one present you don’t want to unwrap.”
Chris Hunneysett (The Daily Mirror)
“This big budget action adventure lumbers into cinemas and begs to be put out of its torment. Long before it ended, so did I. Though the world is threatened when an ancient terror is unleashed, a directorial dead hand can’t muster a sense of fun, danger, mystery or suspense… This stumbling mess is intended to be a franchise starter for Universal Studio’s Dark Universe. It’s a series of connected films rebooting classic movie monsters such as the Wolfman… Next year we’ll have a new version of The Bride of Frankenstein and Johnny Depp has been announced as the Invisible Man. After this dull horror show, that’s a truly terrifying prospect.”
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
“The Cruisemeister himself is left high and dry by plot lurches which leave him doing his boggle-eyed WTF expression. In one scene he is nude so we can see what undeniably great shape he’s in. The flabby, shapeless film itself doesn’t have his muscle-tone… In the end, having encouraged us to cheer for Tom Cruise as an all-around hero, the film tries to have it both ways and confer upon him some of the sepulchral glamour of evil, and he almost has something Lestat-ish or vampiric about him. Yet the film really won’t make up its mind. It’s a ragbag of action scenes which needed to be bandaged more tightly.”