As an ardent fan of Tom Cruise’s movies, it didn’t take much for me to like the new reboot of The Mummy as part of Universal’s Dark Universe. It manages to tick off some checkboxes of the Brendan Fraser trilogy, maintaining a relatively light step while adding a bit more seriousness (since the entire Dark Universe’s success rests on the first monster movie). So when the masses at large and critics derided the movie, I was reluctant to watch it in theaters. In fact, I watched it from the comfort of my living room and maybe that helped in my favorable assessment of it.
The Mummy sees Cruise play Nick Morton, a military reconnaissance officer who moonlights as a treasure hunter in the Middle East with his companion Chris Vail (Jake Johnson). They investigate a burial site in Iraq occupied by terrorists, creating an unnecessary conflict requiring the help of the US military to bail them out. In the ensuing aftermath, they discover the burial site of an ancient mummy, the Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), embalmed alive for killing her father the king and her half-brother, with the intention of having the throne for herself. She attempted to do so by initiating a ritual, one which required the killing of a man to have the God Set (God of Death) to manifest himself in the dead man’s body. But before she could kill the man and bring Set into the mortal world, she’s restrained and embalmed alive. Tragic stuff. But warranted stuff for a daddy killer and a baby killer.
What makes the Mummy worth watching is Tom Cruise, and the many sides of Tom Cruise that we’ve been missing for a very long time. With most of his recent outings in franchises like Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible, Cruise plays the tough guy who knows what he’s doing. If he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he at least has a plan. This isn’t the Tom Cruise we see in The Mummy, far from it and it’s a welcome change. This Mummy review primarily looks at the film and its relative merits through the perspective of a Tom Cruise fan. If you find Tom Cruise repugnant or despicable for some reason (at least his acting abilities), I guess it’s time to close this tab.
Tom Cruise the Clueless
We start off with Cruise’s Nick and Johnson’s Chris perched on a barren mountaintop, looking down at a settlement held by insurgents. Chris lists all the reasons they shouldn’t go down there. Nick responds with “we can do this.” Chris continues with his protests, but Nick subdues him like he always does, mentioning they’ll be able to “slip in, slip out” just like they always do. The stage is set now and we assume this is Tom Cruise fitting a pattern. A pattern of roles where we can be reassured by his presence, that nothing terrible will happen to him or those around him.
But this is as far from the truth as possible. We cut immediately to Nick and Chris inside the settlement, running around like headless ducks evading gunfire. For once, Tom Cruise has no idea what’s going on. He simply doesn’t know what to do. As the duo manages to find a brief respite on top of a building, lying down on their stomachs for cover, Cruise confesses.
“Let me think!” He repeats this line multiple times before relenting. “I think we’re probably going to die.”
Well then, thank God for an airstrike that rescues them. Seeing Tom Cruise have all his bearings wrong and off-kilter is quite an enjoyable sight. When actors break the status quo by doing something out of the norm or returning to a different time in their careers, the results are always exciting. The Mummy is one such exciting result for Tom Cruise.
Tom Cruise the Scumbag
The Mummy is another deviation from Cruise’s more recent action movie roles. Going back to the previous examples, as Jack Reacher and Ethan Hunt, Cruise represents a brand of integrity not seen with other action heroes. With films such as War of the Worlds, Valkyrie, and Oblivion, we get a similar persona for his characters. They’re straight shooters who put others and a higher ideal before themselves. But not so with Nick Morton.
Nick Morton fits a recent trend where Cruise is more devious, starting with last year’s American Made, where the actor played drug smuggler Barry Seal in the 1980s. In The Mummy, Nick is a mercenary-type military officer but relishes his other vocation as a treasure hunter. He comes across a crucial piece of evidence, geographic coordinates on a letter directed to Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis ) from Henry Jekyll. It’s this letter that leads Nick to Ahmanet’s tomb, a letter he stole after a dalliance with Jennifer. Cruise is hardly the standup guy in this instance and lives up to this crummy reputation much later as well.
While transporting Ahmanet’s tomb in a plane, Chris, infected by a spider bite in the grave, acts out of sorts and starts to cut the ropes holding the princess’ coffin in place. A shitstorm ensues leading to one side of the plane ripping apart. Nick, wearing his good guy persona, puts a parachute on Jennifer and leads her to safety. He, on the other hand, is trapped in the plane until he crashes to his death. Ahmanet and the spirits, though, bring him back to life, giving Nick and Jennifer a chance to reconnect later in the movie.
She’s grateful that Nick saved her life, and there’s a point in which they become close and have a heart-to-heart. Jennifer admires Nick’s selflessness. He gave her the only parachute on the plane after all, but Nick responds with an unexpected answer.
“I thought there was another one.”
So much for selflessness. There’s definitely a character arc for Nick in the film and he does turn a new leaf at the end, but his starting point isn’t one to necessarily laud in any way. This “scumbag” attitude’s also in line with the previous Mummy entries with Fraser. Fraser and John Hannah were vital in creating a campy sense of fun with those films. Cruise and co are trying to do the same, but many audience members and critics struggle seeing an A-list superstar resorting to “hokey” antics. Personally, I found it refreshing to see someone of that caliber try something different. Cruise, through decisions of his own making, has been typecast as the “measured tough guy.” He is the quintessential action hero, with Dwayne Johnson right on his heels, if not already ahead. For the actor to take on a different role, one where he isn’t close to perfection in his morals and values is a welcome change. I’m all up for actors shaking things up and experimenting with roles, especially when it’s something people least expect out of them.
Tom Cruise the Desperate
Desperation isn’t a new feeling for many of Tom Cruise’s characters. If you’ve heard the phrase “desperate times, desperate measures,” you know it’s synonymous with the Mission Impossible franchise. In The Mummy, Nick Morton is just as desperate as Ethan Hunt, but the presentation of that desperation and the reason for the desperation are wildly different.
In Mission Impossible, Ethan Hunt goes out of his way for a greater good. In Rogue Nation, he’s trying to unravel a global crime organization in the Syndicate, risking his status as an IMF agent to do so. For The Mummy, Nick Morton becomes a desperate man when he unknowingly releases Princess Ahmanet from her burial ground, untethering the ropes and levers keeping her locked away from the outside world.
Ahmanet, keen on bringing the god Set back to the world and complete her ritual, decides Nick to be the ideal human vessel for the immortal to embody. Nick did release her after all. If she kills Nick, she will create a path for Set to inhabit the mortal world.
Nick, for obvious reasons, wants no part of this. For most of the movie Nick’s reason for putting an end to Ahmanet and the completion of her ancient ritual is himself, by and large. How do I stop this woman so that “I” don’t die? It’s not “How do I stop this woman so that the God of Death doesn’t rip the world apart?”
The focus is on himself, whereas with his other franchise outings, the focus has been on others. With The Mummy, Cruise starts off being selfish and moves towards a path of selflessness. At times, these deviations from typical Tom Cruise characters are a tongue-in-cheek response, especially in the first act’s setup where we expect Cruise to be in control. If the writers and director were self-aware in creating an ironic approach to Nick Morton, based on Cruise’s previous action heroes who were mostly beyond reproach, Nick Morton could in some ways be a genius character design in his own right. A character designed as the antithesis to Tom Cruise characters played by Tom Cruise himself.
Miscellaneous Reasons to Enjoy The Mummy
Other than Tom Cruise, The Mummy provides other reasons to be content, and somewhat hopeful about what’s to come. The film straddles a tightrope between being fun and dark similar to the previous Mummy movies. There are grand set pieces involving monumental scopes of destruction, and using London as a setting for an Egyptian Mummy to wreak havoc seems livelier rather than using less populated locales. However, the priority this time around though is not a single movie but rather a launch of a universe, namely Universal’s monster lineup.
We get the next possible movie hinted at through Russell Crowe’s Henry Jekyll, who’ll have his own standalone in a Jekyll and Hyde installment. Crowe occupies the frame whenever he’s on screen, the camera looking up at him to present a very imposing figure. When the doctor transforms into the evil Hyde, this intimidating nature is on full display. Veins bulging on his face. Voice disintegrating into a growl. Crowe’s scenes are hard to look away from and for good reason.
In the role of femme fatale, we have Sofia Boutella playing Ahmanet. In the original Mummy, we had Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep trying to resurrect his lover Anck-su-Namun from the dead. With the 2017 iteration, the gender roles have been reversed. The resurrecting is left to Boutella’s Ahmanet, whose ambitions can be deemed as being loftier than Imhotep’s. She’s trying to bring a god to the human world by sacrificing a man, much higher stakes by a long shot. Ahmanet is a one-dimensional villain, but seeing a lady take apart men and London provides thrills of another level. The feminist movement has had its victories most certainly.
As to Annabelle Wallis, she plays her part dutifully, but the script gives her very little to flex her muscles with. If there’s anything to her role, she serves to enable Nick’s narrative arc from helpless scumbag to selfless hero. It’s certainly one of the disappointments of the movie, coupled with a finale high on cheesiness and some plot questions leaving you confused as to the future of the universe.
As an ardent Tom Cruise fan, my take on The Mummy is certainly biased. However, I’ve done my best to present a case for the movie and how observing the film as part of a Tom Cruise anthology can yield an entertaining experience.
Looking at the movie holistically, a Dark Universe with numerous monsters populating the world is a welcome experiment, especially if it’s a connected realm without superheroes, but mostly flawed monsters and villains on the wrong side of things. However, given that the film wasn’t well received by audiences, critics, and the box office, it’s probability of being a reality is slim. It’s an exercise in wishful thinking at this point.
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