Almost three years ago, Universal Pictures announced that it was setting up a massive, inter-connected shared universe based on the studio’s library of classic horror monsters. This wasn’t terribly surprising, at all. They also announced that their Mummy reboot would be the first project out of the gate, also not surprising since it was already being developed for a few years prior with Len Wiseman directing, at one point. The casting additions of A-listers like Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe seemed par for the course, and even when the studio revealed that Sofia Boutella would portray the first female Mummy in history, I wasn’t tremendously impressed. Slowly but surely, almost like the curse of the Mummy herself, this movie started to take its hold over me, and I was surprisingly impressed throughout the entire endeavor.
It wasn’t even that long ago that I was Mummy-indifferent. Perhaps it was that impressive video of the zero gravity stunt from March (which looks amazing in the film, by the way), or the behind-the-scenes preview where the cast and crew showered effusive praise towards Tom Cruise for his work ethic and professionalism. It was also rather cool to see Universal finally officially unveil this franchise, known as Dark Universe, which will in essence center around a multi-national corporation known as Prodigium. This corporation is lead by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), and has certainly been around the supernatural block a few times, as we can see during a few scenes inside the company’s London headquarters, where ancient artifacts are being preserved and studied. When I finally sat down to watch this, there was a lot that surprised me, particularly Tom Cruise’s character Nick Morton.
Universal Pictures‘ marketing team deserves a gold star with an A-plus for their work on this movie, because they showed the audience what they already knew they were going to see anyway. They knew they were going to see a Mummy character doing some Mummy-type s–t, wreaking havoc with crazy sand storms and so forth. The trailers also showed us Tom Cruise doing his Tom Cruise-type s–t, falling from planes, running super fast, you know, the garden variety stuff. What they didn’t show you was Tom Cruise’s character Nick Morton is actually kind of a dick, which is actually quite the welcome sight after a string of fairly typical action characters over the past few years.
Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton was described in the Dark Universe announcement as a “soldier of fortune,” who, along with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), head into dangerous areas to retrieve valuable artifacts, or anything they can make a buck on. Nick and Chris aren’t exactly mercenaries, though, they’re just “dirty” soldiers, so to speak, since they’re still in active duty, under the command of Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance), who has caught on to their shady plans. But the air strike that Chris called in to save their lives inadvertently unearths an ancient mystery, which (conveniently…) archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) arrives just in time to solve. As it turns out, Nick and Jenny had a little tryst, although that ended with Nick stealing a map from her which lead them both to this site.
What they don’t know, at the time, is this site was created and hidden to keep an ancient evil out of our world, an Egyptian princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who has returned after being buried for thousands of years. The story is actually quite a lot more complex than I would have expected and it is paced quite efficiently, which is surprising seeing there were six different writers that worked on the script at various points in time. While, more often than not, that is not a good sign for any movie, often resulting in a muddled and confusing story, that isn’t the case here. It does help, of course, that the writers in question include writing heavyweights like David Koepp (Jurassic Park), Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation), Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange) and Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married), along with director Alex Kurtzman and actor-turned-writer Dylan Kussman. The result is an effective character-based narrative that serves as an incredibly solid foundation for whatever comes next, without the winks and the nods we have become accustomed to.
While there is no shortage of spectacle in The Mummy, with some top-notch action scenes handled deftly by director Alex Kurtzman, it becomes quite clear that the story is the top priority, not only delivering a complex narrative that is emotionally resonant and satisfying, but also cultivating compelling characters. On top of all that, it also thoroughly sets the table for this universe, and how there is an organization like Prodigium equipped to handle whatever monster hits the big screen next. Sure, there may be a minor joke or two that falls flat, and a questionable subplot that I wasn’t a huge fan of (which delves into spoiler territory so I won’t discuss further), but I was definitely surprised at how little I found wrong with The Mummy. For the record, there is no post-credit scene and there is no indication of what Dark Universe adventure may be arriving next. Regardless, if the filmmakers of the next Dark Universe pay as much attention to the story and character development as the filmmakers of The Mummy did, and that pattern repeats, this franchise will be in great shape, and this Dark Universe could actually become a guiding light for story-based franchises of the future.