Universal’s Dark Universe has arrived, and it’s awful

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Mummy

Annabelle Wallis and Tom Cruise in The Mummy.

1-5-stars

It’s hard to figure out where to begin. Universal Studios, eager to get some of that sweet never-ending intertwined franchise money, has decided to weave together its classic monsters into what they call the “Dark Universe.” The end goal here is, presumably, to eventually lead up to an Avengers-type super-film starring Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, Quasimodo, the Mummy and Mr. Hyde as they face off against… I’m not sure they’ve figured that one out yet. Regardless of what the actual plan is, it’s extremely difficult to imagine it growing out of Universal’s first effort, the terminally patchy, stunningly uncreative The Mummy.

Mummy film, though it ports over the corny humour of the 1999 film starring Brendan Fraser. It’s not exactly an action movie, though it has ample space for star Tom Cruise to run and swim and hop over things. It’s not exactly a horror movie, though it does attempt a couple of feeble jump scares and cribs freely from sources as unlikely as An American Werewolf in London and Alien 3 (!). It’s not exactly a good movie (it is, in fact, awful) but to its credit, I will say this: where most blockbusters of this ilk delivered almost exactly what I expected, The Mummy did not. It hearkens back to a period maybe 20 years ago when effects-laden blockbusters were uncommon enough that they were often bizarre, patched-together messes. This is the world The Mummy inhabits – it’s less Iron Man and more Wild Wild West.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are military operatives who also moonlight as thieves and pilferers of hidden loot for fun and profit. Stationed in Iraq, they’ve been tasked by the shadowy Dr. Henry (Russell Crowe) into finding something or other. They stumble upon some hidden Egyptian ruins, which archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) assures them is wack. They only have time to load in a single sarcophagus before the shit hits the fan, but what a sarcophagus! It contains the body of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a cursed Egyptian princess who pretty much immediately starts fucking things up for our heroes.

I like to think that I have a decent idea of how Hollywood works, but I’m not sure I do. I certainly have a lot of trouble imagining the pandemonium that would somehow lead to this incredibly patchy, messy trainwreck. The amount of rewrites and random input from less-than-reliable sources really shows through in the final product, which lurches drunkenly between a corny comedy, a second-rate Indiana Jones clone, a zombie movie, a disaster flick, a regular Tom Cruise vehicle and, for at least a tiny little bit, an extremely cut-rate Bourne clone. Every scene in The Mummy seems to start from scratch tonally — its characters are never so thoroughly defined that their actions could ever seem contradictory, and yet the film manages to set the viewer adrift constantly.

A significant percentage of this has to do with Tom Cruise’s performance. He turns in one of the worst, most confused performances in his career as the dopey, roguish Morton. Written as the type of li’l stinker, self-aware manchild that Ryan Reynolds or Chris Pratt excel at portraying, Morton is meant to be both the comic relief and the heroic lead here, but Cruise seems completely baffled by what pass for jokes. He seems to be a big proponent of the “say it like it’s funny and they’ll laugh” school of comedy, which works great with the script’s “if it looks like a joke, sounds like a joke and smells like a joke…” approach to witticisms. There’s certainly an attempt to stretch Cruise’s wings as a po-mo action hero here (the post-Deadpool desperation practically sweats off the screen), but as good an action hero as Cruise is elsewhere, he makes a very poor (and very prone to mugging) self-aware one.

For a film this thoroughly patched together (let us marvel for a second at the large swaths of voiceover — from several different characters — that bookend the film), The Mummy does have the advantage of being pretty fast-paced and throwing its exposition at you with the most disinterested attitude imaginable. A bad blockbuster like the last Pirates of the Caribbean loses you pretty fast, but The Mummy has enough dumb twists and cheesy asides (peep that scene with Crowe going full-Oliver Reed as Dr. Jekyll and subsequently Mr. Hyde, a grey-faced Cockney rage monster) to keep you mildly interested, even if that interest is of the very same ilk you’d reserve for the sextape of a despised coworker.

The Mummy cuts closer to being so-bad-it’s-good than any other bad movie I’ve seen this year, but it’s neither accidental nor self-aware. It’s simply the result of jamming together what seems like 26 drafts of at least four very different movies all titled The Mummy. It looks like gross incompetence, it sounds like gross incompetence, it smells like gross incompetence, but really The Mummy is what happens when literally hundreds of people — from the drivers to the caterers right up to its humourless Scientologist star — are just punching a clock without ever taking a step back and looking at what horror they’ve created. It’s a big, slick, expensive, exquisite cadaver of a movie.

Of all the Universal monsters, The Mummy is also the one that most lends itself to a steely modern revamping — and they managed to fuck even that one up. I’m a little worried about what comes next, but don’t tell me you’re not at least a little curious. ■

The Mummy opens in theatres on Friday, June 9. Watch the trailer here:

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