Dark Universe is a very cool concept: a shared cinematic universe where all the classic Universal Studios movie monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, Van Helsing, The Wolfman, etc.) are given a new spin for a new generation and set loose in this horror/adventure sandbox. The first film to come out of that concept is The Mummy. It has the star power of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, the interesting idea of making the mummy female, and the trailers made it look like an action adventure/horror blast that would kick off this new world of “gods and monsters”. Then, until Transformers 5 and The Emoji Movie came along to save it, the film was saddled with the title: “Worst Reviewed Film of Summer 2017.” Is it really that bad? Let’s put it this way: the Dark Universe’s chances of success are pretty dim after this dull opening installment.
The Mummy spends all of an eight minute prologue in ancient Egypt before we’re introduced to Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), war profiteering soldiers in Iraq, who stumble across the mummy’s prison/tomb. They’re almost immediately joined by Annabelle Wallis’ character but as she becomes completely irrelevant except as a sort of puppy following the action, I’m not going to bother to Google her character’s name (she really does just vanish). To give The Mummy a little credit, all of the production values are up to par and probably the coolest set piece in the film is the discover of and design of the mummy’s prison. Would that the rest of the film had been so original. Anyways in the time-honored tradition of people who can never NOT open boxes, they set the mummy free, she decides Cruise is her yummy chosen, and spends the rest of the film having annoying, constant mental conference calls with him that leave Cruise poleaxed, stumbling around dazed and confused for most of the film.
The decision to make the mummy female could have been an interesting twist if they had made her a character and hadn’t just sexualized her. She gets a bit of a back story, but all she really wants to do is rebuild herself by french kissing the life out of anyone she runs across, mentally giving Cruise love noogies, and ultimately she’s just a girl, looking to stab a guy with a sacred dagger, so she can fill his body with the soul of her man (or the manifestation of evil, don’t over think it), so he can love her and possibly destroy the world. Her initial rampage is curbed by the B.P.R.D. (actually they don’t have a name, just they blatantly rip-off Hellboy’s support group, so that’s how I’ve been referring to them).
The faux BPRD is run by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Crowe), and it’s here that we’re teased with all kinds of easter eggs to possible future installments and other monsters, and it should be really cool….except Russell Crowe is sleepwalking through this film. After a stunningly unimpressive last decade, I wonder if Crowe really cares that much anymore or if the script just diminished both he and Cruise (even Tom’s usual manic enthusiasm and multiple frantic running sequences aren’t heartfelt). If you don’t know that Dr. Jekyll is also split personality with an evil flipside named Mr. Hyde (seriously, if THAT is a spoiler to you), I demand you shuffle your way back to whatever place was supposed to teach you English and slap them with five bound up copies of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson’s book isn’t even 150 pages so you need five or so if you’re going to get the concussion you deserve. Crowe’s Mr. Hyde is spectacularly unimpressive, and you’d think he’d have come up with a better anti-serum delivery system than a quad syringe the size of an Olympic torch. But even if he transforms, all you get is a Cockney accent and increased strength….sooooo yeah.
While dealing with Cockney Russell, the mummy escapes and then goes about wrecking London. Honestly, what is it that makes the film industry hate London so much? The city gets destroyed at least four times a year. Mix it up. Flatten someplace else that has landmarks. Oh, the movie…I’d honestly let my mind wander because that’s what it did during most of the two hours it was playing. Look, it’s not the worst blockbuster I’ve ever seen (I have a candidate for that I need to write-up here soon). It’s just a lazy film. It’s unoriginal, uninspired, and poorly written. It’s boring, and any action or excitement you thought you were going to get in the film, you already have seen in the trailers.
In the end, the film makes it clear that Nick Morton (whatever he is now) is going to be the central hero of Dark Universe, but there’s not another Dark Universe film scheduled to be released until February of 2019 when Bill Condon is going to try to remake one of the first great sequels in cinema: The Bride of Frankenstein. Should Universal stick with this and push forward, having Cruise as your central hero in a shared universe is a dicey idea. Tom’s in his 50s now, hard as it is to believe, and Mission: Impossible 6 just had to shut down for two months after the actor broke some bones doing stunts for that film. His action days are numbered, and I don’t know what kind of contract he has, but I’d be hesitant to return as this profoundly uninteresting character. The Mummy is technically proficient, but if you want to build a long-standing story you need the foundation of a well-written first chapter and The Mummy is so underwhelming that the Dark Universe may be a one-and-done concept.