It’s been a lackluster summer at the box office for most of the big studios as a number of tent pole films underperformed. Most of the thinkpieces that examined as to why audiences didn’t turn out in great numbers to the theaters point to a certain level of franchise fatigue, be it unnecessary sequels like Transformers: The Last Knight or underwhelming franchise starters like The Mummy.
In the case of The Mummy, it was a curious case of a studio putting the cart before the horse, announcing an interconnected universe of monsters in what the studio has dubbed the Dark Universe. The plan was for classic monsters to debut in their own movies before creating a whole new monster mash where they all unite, because the Hollywood groupthink led studios to believe the appeal of The Avengers was simply rooted in seeing crossover movie events. The Mummy was subject to plenty of bad reviews and the audiences in America just didn’t turn out for the first installment of the Dark Universe.
Alex Kurtzman’s film, his second feature as a director, isn’t a good movie for a number of reasons – it fails to capitalize on the charms of Tom Cruise and it prioritizes being more of a generic action movie over a revitalization of a classic horror series. What you’d find in the multiple pieces about the summer movie woes at the box office point to Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregator site that’s become an easy target for studio executives to anonymously blame for their bad movie’s performance. For the most part, however, it’s a ridiculous claim because often the movies with bad scores are really bad. But in the case of The Mummy there might be an argument to be made that the binary nature of Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t accurately reflect a movie’s quality.
Currently, The Mummy sits with a woeful 16% on the aggregator site. Because Rotten Tomatoes leaves no room for a mixed review, middling reactions are counted as a whole negative. This means that The Mummy, which is undoubtedly a bad movie, actually scores lower on the site than Baywatch, which was one of the most punishing experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater. The Mummy has an array of issues preventing it from being a quality piece of entertainment, but it wouldn’t even sniff my worst of the year list. There’s a line between soul-crushing awful and generic, entirely forgettable entertainment, and The Mummy really belongs in the latter category.
There are some good things about The Mummy. First of all, Russell Crowe as Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde is some inspired casting, and the veteran actor seems to be having a blast with the dual roles that are meant to serve as the Nick Fury of the Dark Universe. Secondly, there’s the plane crash that acts as the inciting event of the film. Tom Cruise, never one to shy away from outlandish stunts, presents his dedicated physicality to the movie in a set piece that him swirling around a crashing plane, which was filmed in a Zero-G plane. Finally, Sofia Boutella is marvelous as the mummy Ahmanet. Sadly, though, the actress is once again buried under layers of makeup much like she was in last year’s Star Trek Beyond. Boutella is a phenomenal screen presence that is captivating even when her character is woefully underwritten.
I don’t think there’s going to ever be a critical reevaluation of The Mummy. It’s a generic blockbuster that fails to stand out. It’s a shaky starter for the Dark Universe, but there are still aspects of the film that are interesting and it’d be wrong to judge future films based on this one’s failings. The film is now on Blu-ray for those who need a simple Saturday afternoon rental. For the few devotees of The Mummy, the Blu-ray has plenty of special features examining the making of the inaugural entry of the Dark Universe. I still think the path forward for the Dark Universe is to shun attempts to make it an action franchise and lean much more heavily on the horror roots. The Universal Monsters are horror movie icons, characters that laid the foundation for an entire genre. That’s where the Dark Universe belongs instead of trying to mimic the successes of comic book movies.