'The Mummy' Is Terrible and That's Why It's Great
The Dark Universe franchise kicks off with a frustrating mess of a movie that I secretly enjoyed watching.
No, The Mummy is not a good movie. I'm aware of that, and I agree with critics that it's plainly bad and gets progressively worse as it chugs along. But I still liked it—or at the very least, thoroughly enjoyed turning off my brain to watch—and I'll probably watch it again, likely when I'm too lazy to find the remote to change it. I can't help that love terrible movies, and especially terrible movie franchises. And The Mummy is more than a bad movie; it's a master class in fucking yourself over.
Directed by Alex Kurtzman, this franchise reboot stars Tom Cruise as Nick Morton, an antiquities thief antihero who's neither "anti" nor "hero," and Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet, an Egyptian princess-turned-titular mummy after being buried alive. The film runs through the major plot details primarily via voiceover and flashbacks (a mythical dagger, patricide, summoning gods—you know, normal stuff) before jumping to Nick and reluctant best friend Chris (aw, Jake Johnson!) searching for shit to steal in Iraq. Also, there's Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), Nick's undeveloped and forgettable love interest whose name is only memorable because of how Cruise shrieks it at one point. Jenny exists simultaneously to make fun of Nick's quick trigger in bed and reassure him that there's a "good man" inside of him.
Long story short: they end up unleashing the imprisoned Ahmanet, Nick becomes cursed, and he eventually has to fight her, himself, the undead, gravity, and a truly terrible script. It's one of those movies that is impressive in how low it sinks, one that doesn't quite seem like it should exist—and yet, it does, and we're supposed to buy into it. And sorry, but I kind of did.
There are some cool-enough flashback scenes bolstered by Boutella's pissed-off performance (unfortunately, she doesn't get much else to do besides "look hot in bandages"), and Tom Cruise's usual action antics, like the hyped-up plane scene that features Cruise almost dancing in zero gravity. But the relationship between Nick and Jenny is so painfully awkward that it just highlights how Nick has more chemistry—and sexually-charged scenes—with Ahmanet. (Though, to be fair, the killer make-out sequences of the mummies sucking the life out of people also have more chemistry than Nick and Jenny.)
Because The Mummy doesn't just want to be good at one genre, it instead fails at trying to be all of them, resulting in a mixed bag of question marks. The cast stumbles through the script, not knowing which emotions they're supposed to convey and often going for comic desperation. There are clunky, comedic lines that fall so flat they resemble watching a sitcom without a laugh track. The amount of times characters utter the word "monster" with grave seriousness is almost worth the price of admission, or at least a drinking game.
Most of the action is laughable, and the scenes in which various characters casually fight mummies are frequent but devoid of all thrills: some kicking and bone-cracking, a few scenes of mindless chit-chat, and then they're right back at it! There's the equally casual destruction of London through a sandstorm; bystanders are chill as they watch it for a few seconds, before realizing that they should probably get the hell out. But we never feel like the characters are in any danger—and even if they were, there is no indication that we should care.
That question of whether or not to care is an unintentional driving factor in the movie, one that makes it almost fun to watch it progress from silly beginning to cheesy end. The Mummy is somehow confidently unsure of itself, despite being attempt at a blockbuster franchise. You see, it's the official launching pad for Universal's "Dark Universe," a new movie franchise in the vein of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but based on famous monsters such as Creature from the Black Lagoon (2019) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (TBA). Being part of this Dark Universe is actually The Mummy's biggest fault—and it doesn't bode well for the upcoming movies each of which, I'm sorry to say, I will also see.
It's telling that the film comes to a screeching halt when Russell Crowe shows up and introduces himself as Dr. Jekyll, which was greeted by groans and boos from the crowd in the screening I attended. This is when The Mummy ultimately lost even me, someone who's unabashedly greedy for bad movies: the film becomes shackled by world-building and the weight of carrying the shaky beginnings of what is supposed to a series of mega-hits. But watching this universe begin with such a confusing, paltry effort is unintentionally hilarious, and it makes for great Hollywood schadenfreude. It's almost as if Universal picked a random movie from USA or Spike's edited weekend afternoon lineup and decided, "Yes, that should be the first movie in my giant franchise." It's a terrible idea! I love it!
An edited-for-television cable movie is actually the best way to describe The Mummy—and, well, that's my favorite type of movie. This isn't a movie for critics or for fans, but for the bored. The Mummy is a movie you should watch for free (please don't see this in theaters—don't encourage Universal by giving them your money), and with no thoughts attached. The Mummy is perfect for half-watching in the background while playing repetitive iPhone games, flipping back-and-forth to during the commercials of another equally-terrible action movie, or putting on the television while your friends are over just to guess how long before they figure out what it is and demand you turn it off. Then, you can secretly watch it alone, gleefully hating every nonsensical moment.
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