It is on rocky ground that Universal Picture's Dark Universe launches, with The Mummy - the first in the cinematic film series hoping to follow in the successful footsteps of the MCU and DCEU, most notably - earning scathing reviews and an uninspiring box office footprint at this early juncture. Tom Cruise takes the lead and bears the weight of the franchise in this first outing, with Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson and Russell Crowe joining him in trying to get the Dark Universe off the ground running. The general consensus is that it is a resounding failure but is it too early to be calling time of death on the entire Universe?
During the New Kingdom era, Princess Ahmanet (Boutella) is stripped of her position as next in line to the throne after her father and his second wife give birth to a son; determined to claim the throne for herself, Ahmanet sells her soul to an Egyptian god who delivers her a dagger to transfer his spirit and murder her entire family. Before she can complete the ritual, she is captured, mummified, buried alive for eternity, surrounded by mercury so she cannot escape. In the present day, Nick Morton (Cruise) stumbles upon her tomb and accidentally unleash her wrath and revenge upon the entire world. Kickstarting a new world of Gods and monsters, The Mummy lays the foundations for the Universe to be built from, very much operating as an origin story for a wider-ranging story.
Is The Mummy a complete failure? No. There are moments here that are enjoyable and it exists in that 'it's fine, I guess' territory that more and more summer blockbusters are seemingly content in residing in. At worst, it feels like a missed opportunity that really derails in the third act, as the script becomes increasing incoherent and set pieces feel stitched together from various drafts with the thinnest, flimsiest of threads. Act one operates on a surprisingly sturdy basis; it sets the wacky, nonsensical tone early on, asserting a uniqueness with its awkward but endearing blend of horror, action and comedy. It really is all over the place, an error which haunts the entire film, but it can be forgiven in the first hour for moving at a relatively sharp pace and continually engaging with decent set pieces and interesting direction from Alex Kurtzman. As a point of comparison, The Mummy is a combination of Inferno and Power Rangers, two less-than-well received pictures from the past twelve months that, while riddled with flaws of their own, each had their strengths by outright owning their zaniness. At least The Mummy fully accepts and embraces its quirkiness.
Cruise and Wallis both deliver solid performances but the chemistry between them is never as palpable as you hope and they struggle to convey the idea that they are both performing at peak potential. Boutella camps it up to full effect, creating a genuinely intimidating monster that deserves its place as the first horror to launch the Dark Universe with. Other than those saving graces, The Mummy is a complete mess. As mentioned, the biggest, most irredeemable flaw is the lame script that struggles to get its own ideas off the ground and eventually resorts to simply stitching together scenes and set pieces to half-heartedly resemble a story, with little in the way of cohesion or tight plotting. It is during the second act and the transition into the third act that the cracks really begin to show, with a distinctively troubling and glaring effort to kick things off with the big finale completely crumbling; everything is drowned out by overwhelming, only passable usage CGI and special effects, with predictable play-out acting as the final nail in the coffin.
Admittedly, a number of the set pieces are quite thrilling, with the Iraq-set heist-like sequence at the beginning of the film exciting and luring you into a false sense of security, the exposition-fuelled flashback wonderfully and engagingly shot and presented, followed by a London-takeover sequence with flying glass and thrilling frenzy in the middle of the film. It is after this point though that everything collapses. Kurtzman does a decent job at trying to retain some of the wacky, messy but unique tone established early on but the complete chaos of the third act destroys his attempt, with the big finale dragging on for far too long, particularly when compared to the surprisingly spritely first and second act.
Also, can we please ban Hollywood films from creating a 'BBC News' mock-up because, in the midst of the often poor CGI and laughable moments, their attempt at our beloved news channel was the scariest of them all.
The Mummy is fine as a trashy piece of summer popcorn cinema but succeeds in doing very little else. While I am not yet ready to call time of death on the cinematic universe - after all, the DCEU have only just delivered a good film, four films into their Universe, in the form of Wonder Woman - this does make the future path a little more murky and uncertain. More so than anything else, The Mummy is completely forgettable and messy, rather than outwardly bad or offensive, with a little in the way of inspiration or cohesion. It has its moments and the first two acts are sturdy enough to extract some enjoyment from - but the third act is pretty close to an unmitigated disaster and deserves to be buried alive like our titular monster.
Summary: The Mummy is a passable, wacky, somewhat enjoyable example of trashy popcorn cinema for its first two-thirds but then descends into complete chaos for its big finale, causing a complete collapse. I'm not calling time of death on the Dark Universe yet, but this is hardly the most secure footing to launch a franchise from.