Universal Kicks Off New Franchise With a Bomb

Saturday, 10 Jun, 2017

It was reported for years that Universal Pictures was developing a rebooted version of its classic monster cinematic universe that would kick-off with The Mummy, but it wasn't until three weeks before that film's domestic theatrical release that the studio revealed an official title for the franchise - namely, the Dark Universe - complete with its own original, Danny Elfman-composed theme music.

This newest incarnation of "The Mummy" never establishes itself as a movie to jumpstart a would-be franchise. That's like "Fatal Attraction". Tom Cruise stars as an antiquities hunter who disturbs an Egyptian sarcophagus and awakes an evil spirit. Several of its problems can be found in another franchise worn out title - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Unlike the hit Brendan Fraser "Mummy" trilogy of first-rate comic adventures that began in 1999 (and gave Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson a memorable film debut), this misbegotten, incoherent "Mummy" is a muddle of too much exposition, too many exhausted tropes from past Cruise movies and some of the worst plotting and dialogue this side of a creaky 1940s radio serial.

But, also like Pirates, much of that rapid-fire pacing comes from just throwing moving parts at the screen. But "The Mummy" will be number 2 to "Wonder Woman" this weekend. "Don't forget to throw in Doctor Jekyll!" Tom Cruise will be the punching bag for why the film fails, but it's not Tom's fault. All these gimmicks come at the expense of characterization and story.

This being a Tom Cruise movie you know what to expect.

Cruise is entertainingly likable as the roguish, witty Morton, and as usual, does well with the action sequences (he's getting really good at running away from sandstorms). He's introduced as a looter who prefers the term "liberator".

Meanwhile, Nick's dead friend Chris (Jake Johnson) keeps showing up to guide him along the way. The other characters are just as reliant on tropes and persona. Movies aren't sandboxes and the only time I remember enjoying a character connect films was Michael Keaton's Ray Nicolette popping up in the Elmore Leonard adaptations "Out of Sight" and "Jackie Brown". Ahmanet was a female almost-Pharaoh whose power was usurped by a privileged boy baby. From there the movie makes a lot of illogical leaps that basically lead Nick to become the chosen one, which means the evil god Set will inhabit his body after a ceremony is performed by Ahmanet wherein she stabs him. Sofia Boutella's performance is negligible since it's predominately motion capture omnipotence and making googly-eyes in the desert at Cruise. Mysterious apocalyptic happenings (a swarm of crows, a horde of rats, occasional ghouls) prompt a series of helter-skelter chase scenes that eventually lead Morton and Halsey to Prodigium, a stealth organization led by the dapper Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) that controls monstrous outbreaks, including those of its schizophrenic leader.

The grander implications of Universal's "Dark Universe" remain ill-defined.

Over the years, Tom Cruise has been many things, but he's nearly never been marginalized - not in one of his own movies. Russell Crowe is his usual dependable self, hamming it up nicely as both Jekyll and Hyde. There are six writers credited on this film, and it shows.

Overall, this film is a mess, and doesn't bode well for the rest of the Dark Universe.