Never has intellectual property been a more valuable asset in Hollywood than it is today. In the age of franchise blockbusters, any almost marketable property can now be rebranded for 21stcentury audiences with a big enough movie star and sleek looking visual effects.
Over the last decade, all major studios have found their personal cash-cow which they can milk through a connected universe of characters and films. Disney has the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros have the DC Extended Universe, while Paramount has the much reviled Transformers series.
Universal Studios is the latest to join the club with The Mummy, which is set to be the first film of their Dark Universe franchise, which in turn serves a modern day update of their highly successful and influential Universal Monster series from the 30s and 40s, a series that arguably immortalised characters such as Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man.
Like all franchise movies, The Mummy has its priorities straight, as it is built around a bankable movie star, Tom Cruise. It attempts to offer a grittier, darker and less campy Mummy movie than those of yesteryears, and though it functions as a standalone film, it’s also greatly interested in world building and setting up future movies in the franchise.
Does it succeed in doing all this? Mostly, yes.
Does it succeed at being a good film? That’s up for debate.
Cruise stars as Nick Morton, an American soldier in Iraq, whose military service is just an excuse for him and his buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) to loot ancient artefacts and sell them on the black market.
His tomb raiding and treasure hunting finally catch up with him when he and Chris unearth an ancient Egyptian crypt beneath an Islamic State (IS) stronghold. They unwittingly unleash an evil force in the form of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who is ready to cause death, destruction and all sorts of supernatural mayhem after being mummified and buried alive in a sarcophagus for nearly 5,000 years.
Nick quickly becomes the focus of her grand plan. Being on the run and nowhere to go, Nick turns to a mysterious organisation, the Prodigium, led by Dr Jekyll (Russell Crowe) in hopes to get rid of the curse that may bring an end to mankind.
What The Mummy really gets right is that it knows what it is. It isn’t trying to be something it’s not by adopting a self-serious and unnecessarily bleak tone, like many other franchise blockbusters these days. And though it has its fair share of problems, it also has a popcorn sensibility, evident by some extremely entertaining action set-pieces along with a sense of humour that’s not as campy and overdone as the Brendan Fraser movies.
Screenwriter turned director Alex Kurtzman does well enough with the action set-pieces – most of them thrill, others feel weightless. But his film struggles and drags when it comes to setting the ground work for the Dark Universe, which is evident through the heavy dialogues, handed to Crowe in a gleefully hammy performance as Dr Jekyll.
It goes without saying that this is Cruise’s movie and while he’s nowhere near his best, he still manages to be engaging in the lead role and maintains good chemistry with co-star Annabelle Wallis. Boutella’s titular antagonist, however, fails to bring the menace necessary for the role and the lack of proper characterisation and a clichéd backstory makes her feel like little more than a traditional one-dimensional villain.
It is also worth noting that the film really loses steam towards the latter half and gets woefully predictable leading into its final action set-piece, which also features the destruction of yet another major city. But hey, at least it’s not New York this time.
The Mummy is plagued with many of the same problems that are clearly visible in most big budget blockbusters these days. But despite that, it manages to deliver on the popcorn thrills to keep you entertained. It’s nothing special, but it works well enough for what it is.