The Mummy is a failure in many respects. It is a critical failure, sitting at a 17% rating on RT, and is being panned across the board. Audiences have largely ignored it for Wonder Woman. The foreign box office is currently keeping it alive, as well as the small group of Tom Cruise fans stateside. The Mummy has been critiqued for being corporate made, a ploy for quick cash, and response to the increasingly competitive nature of cinematic universes. It is all of those things, and much more.
One of the films fatal flaws is that it is not a film. It is merely set up. This is illustrated through the lack of character development for the majority of the cast. What we know of them is told to us, rather than shown. Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) has the benefit of character development, but it is largely undercut by the attention given to the ‘Dark Universe’. Nick is said to be arrogant, cocky, and a thrill chaser. Most of this is shown in the first few minutes of encountering the character, but we never really know who Nick Morton is. He is our ‘protagonist’, whose arrogance endangers all of humanity. The characters that surround him also lack any character development. Vail (Jake Johnson) and Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) are interesting people and are obviously meant be modern takes on Evelyn and Jonathan (minus the sibling part) from the 1999 movie. However, what we know of them is that he is Nick’s best friend, and she is Nick’s girlfriend with a question mark.
The lack of character development can be blamed on the time being wasted on Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and his organization, Prodigium. Prodigium is essentially the SHIELD of this cinematic universe. The time spent on learning about Jekyll, his illness, and his organization, takes away from the much needed character development for Nick, Vail, and Jenny.
Vail dies and somehow guilds Nick as a ghost. Yet, we do not know how this is possible. What happened to his body after Nick shot him is one question that arises. How come our characters were not concerned when Nick was bitten, and when he was possessed by Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), killed someone and was subsequently shot by Nick? Is Vail aware that he is a ghost, is Vail’s ghost merely a trick from Ahmanet, or is Nick making this all up in his head? None of this is explained, and that is a big problem. The Mummy should essentially answer these questions because at the core the premise is understanding what is death, and what comes after death. Also the character Vail is used to utilize the Mummy’s power set, but there isn’t a point where that connection is made clear. There lacked any visual aid to establish that the Mummy is causing these problems.
Jenny’s last name is Halsey, and if this universe is to continue I bet she is somehow connected to Van Halsing. She is the Evie of the film, she is an archaeologist who is incredibly passionate about her job. For the lack of character development, Wallis makes up for it by giving Jenny great depth and likability. She isn’t as warm and sweet as Evie, but they have similar character traits. Both Evie and Jenny are very curious about artifacts and history. Both correct Rick and Nick (rolls eyes) when they mischaracterize or misname something. Also they are often the victim of our leads stupid mistakes. Also both die and are resurrected by their leading man. Honestly, were these parallels deliberate or lazy?
At the beginning of the film Nick steals a map from her. We do not see their interaction, we do not know why Nick targeted Jenny, we do not know how Jenny is possibly connected to Nick or Vail (who alludes to trying to be in a relationship with her). It is hinted that they have a longer relationship, but it is barley something we explore for more than 2 minutes. There are facts about this character that are completely sacrificed for the construction of this universe. We are to believe that Nick and Jenny share a connection, but we are are not privy to their interactions before the events of The Mummy, so when Nick sacrifices himself for her, it doesn’t feel genuine.
The character who gets the least character development, and quite shockingly, is the titular Mummy. Through a few scenes in Ancient Egypt and narration (not hers) we are told that she is cunning, ruthless, and power hungry. When a new heir is born she jumps straight into dark magic. There a couple of steps she must have taken to get to this point. We are never shown why she is so desperate to keep this kingdom, and all we see of it are sand dunes, and the inside of a palace. We do not know if she was influenced or coerced into going dark. Also, for someone who desired power why would she awaken a god that she would be a servant to? Nothing she did made sense in terms of her goals. For example, she could have simply poisoned the new heir who was a newborn. She could have done some political scheming and win favour amongst her people and members of the court. Why resort to becoming a servant to something more powerful than her? Nothing Ahmanet did made sense, because we never truly knew who she was at the beginning.
The Mummy‘s great mistake was not being about the Mummy. She should have been the soul of the film, instead the Dark Universe was. Filmmakers and studios need to learn that you cannot create a universe without have a solid foundation first. The studio should have been dedicated to putting the best Mummy film out there. The primary objective should have been to tell the story of the Mummy and Nick. What is it about Nick that made Ahmanet think he was the perfect vessel of Set, who incidentally is the real bad guy of this film. Jekyll makes an assumption as to why Nick, but nothing makes it clear as to why she will go through so much trouble to have him.
I think the best way to understand why this film was a failure would be to ask, what’s up with the double pupil eyes? The answer is, I don’t know, because the film fails to even explain that small detail, which happens to be highlighted many times throughout the film.
There is a long list of questions that will get the same answer, which is troubling because what the hell is the point of this movie. The primary objective should be to fully understand the world of the Mummy, who she is, her powers, and understanding the implications if she succeeds. All of this is shortchanged for the building of the cinematic universe.
I am not even gonna bore you with all that is wrong in terms of directing, editing, lighting (or lack thereof), or casting (*cough* Tom Cruise *cough*) because all those could have been forgiven if the movie bothered to be a movie. This is one massive product placement.
The reason everyone is bringing up how The Mummy from 1999 is better than this iteration is because that movie was made without the intention or expectation of a sequel. It is a great movie on it’s own. It does not feel like a chapter in a larger book, it was it’s own self-contained story. After becoming a financial success the sequel was green lit. The 2017 iteration already has the expectation of setting up not one or two sequels, but an entire franchise with up to 10 films already in development. You can sense that burden in this film, and that does not make for a fun movie going experience.
I hope studios can take a look at this and see the pitfalls they must avoid. Or perhaps look at the films in the last 10-15 years that were meant to be the first chapter of a larger universe. Did those films succeed, did these universes ever come into fruition. To name a few, Van Helsing (2004), Dracula Untold (2014), Prince of Persia (2010), and Jonah Hex (2010).
Universal must decide there next steps carefully, hopefully they learn from their mistakes. They are sitting on a treasure trove of fantastic characters and stories, it would be a shame to never see them fully realized.