Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Reserved Seating: The Mummy (2017)

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who wishes this one had stayed buried.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: The Mummy (2017) launches Universal Studios’ Dark Universe label and stars Tom Cruise as Nick Morton, a former U.S. military officer/adventurer, who mistakenly unleashes the titular mummy, Princess Ahmenet (Sofia Boutella), upon the world. With archaeologist Jenny Halsey in tow (Annabelle Wallis) and sporadic visits from his friend Chris (Jake Johnson), Morton tries to defeat the evil princess and rid himself of the curse she put on him.

In this clip, Cruise is taken to monster HQ and given the low-down on Ahmenet and the shared universe IP by Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe):

It’s a scene without much urgency or interest unto itself, there more or less to center The Mummy (2017) in its place as part of Universal’s “Dark Universe,” the Avengers-like (they hope) franchise built on milking 21st century cash from the Universal Monsters properties. Many people are upset by the idea of this shared universe (i.e., the hubris of announcing a franchise built on not even one successful movie that audiences like), but what grinds my gears the most about The Mummy (2017) is that it’s so little of anything. It’s like starting off your franchise with Jonah Hex. The movie has no flavor. The performances (save for maybe one) are indifferent. The plotting is whichever way the wind blows. The action is undercooked. The photography is unnecessarily drab. The visual effects feel stock. Other than Sofia Boutella looking great in the mummy makeup and not coming across as actively bored, there is nothing to recommend in The Mummy (2017). It’s the new nadir of blockbuster filmmaking, a distinction that keeps moving the goal post with every passing summer movie season. This is a movie for no one.

Rob: Especially not for Tom Cruise. One of the most baffling things about The Mummy is that Cruise thought he could pull off the Globetrotting Roguish Scoundrel role at age 54. Someone at Universal sold this to him with the promise he’d be the Tony Stark of this franchise, but he is horribly, horrendously, unforgivably miscast as Nick Morton, a character we’re told is a shithead without ever really understanding why. It’s truly remarkable to see the ripple effect of Iron Man and The Dark Knight resonate for this long and for studios to still not understand it. No one cares about a shared universe if it’s full of people we don’t like. Making something gritty doesn’t necessarily make it good. This is corporate committee thinking at its absolute worst, a colossal miscalculation that carries the extra emotional cost for hardcore fans of the Universal monsters.
As for the actual movie, I’ll repeat you by saying that it is catastrophically boring. The scares are telegraphed a mile away, the action is CGI noise, and the story stitches together a series of set pieces that actually de-escalate in tension as they go on. Why anyone would have any interest in returning to these characters or places is completely beyond me. One bright spot is Boutella, who, as you said, comes away mostly unscathed; she’s pretty captivating in the small amount of time she’s actually given as the title character. But The Mummy is mostly a bloated ego trip for Cruise and Russell Crowe, neither of whom are any real draw to audiences looking forward to more adventures with Gal Gadot and Chris Pratt. I don’t usually rant like this, but this movie is embarrassing and might have driven me off of summer blockbusters for the rest of this year.

Adam: This is the first time I could feel Tom Cruise not care. It was weird, because even in movies that I’m not a fan of I can tell he’s trying, and here it’s as if he just threw his hands up and quit. I hate seeing smart, talented people playing to under their own talent and intelligence and that’s all I could think of seeing Cruise and Russell Crowe in this movie. BTW...don’t be in a fucking monster movie if you won’t do the makeup! If you’re going to milk the monster tit, honor it and throw out your vanity of needing to have your face unblemished on-screen. Did Crowe even have any makeup? I don’t think so. It just looked like the laziest CGI they could have given him. Also, why not have good sets or production design? This is a $150M movie that looks worse than $20M movies. It’s full of really dim lighting and unimaginative locations that feel inorganic and underdeveloped. For example, the monster HQ is like two rooms and one is an office? Sigh. It’s a Mummy movie made by people who seem embarrassed to be making a monster movie. What they don’t know is that monster fans are embarrassed that these people are making them, too.

I don’t even think the movie is gritty, because that would be a choice and this is a movie that fails mostly because of its refusal to make any choice. It’s not trying to have it both ways. It’s trying to have it every way. I’m amazed that the filmmakers couldn’t figure out that Universal Monster movies are first and foremost supposed to be fun. The Brendan Fraser Mummy series knew that and were fun for the most part. I liked the ‘99 Mummy and the third one from ‘08 is so-bad-it’s-entertaining to me, but now I feel like I was maybe too hard on The Mummy Returns, which I thought in 2001 was a terrible blockbuster. I would take that movie over the ‘17 Mummy any day of the week.

There’s a moment in The Mummy (2017) that crystallized my biggest suspicion about why this movie feels so generic and copy-cat. MINOR SPOILER Jake Johnson’s character becomes a zombie in the first act. He revisits Tom Cruise to issue warnings about the mummy and how Cruise’s character is also cursed. This is 100 percent lifted from An American Werewolf in London to such an obvious degree that I think Universal doesn’t even care that they’re incestuously borrowing from other movies in their library. Here’s why. I don’t think many global audiences know what An American Werewolf in London is, or at least it’s not in the popular culture like it is in the U.S. and the UK. For example, I heard that Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story didn’t open well in China and it’s because the Star Wars saga never had nearly the footprint in there as it did in the United States and many other places around the world. Whereas an American blockbuster like The Mummy (2017) feels trite to American audiences, to many other audiences it is probably fresh and new and showing certain global audiences things they haven’t seen before. It’s all very depressing.
Rob: Yeah, the American Werewolf stuff was shockingly brazen, and you might be right with regard to the film counting on general audiences not being keen enough to spot it. It’s part of Universal’s cynical box-checking approach to storytelling; these are products, not films. Shared universe vanity card? Check. References to characters we’ve heard of? Check. Overwrought voice-over promising “a new world of gods and monsters”? Check. They’re expecting us to get excited about all the math they did, as if at this point a certain demographic is just going to accept a shared universe because that’s what we’re told to do. You can almost see the suits throwing up their hands and wondering what the hell audiences want from them.

The more I think about The Mummy, the more I hate it. And I’m not even that big a Universal Monsters fan! I just want a good story and good characters. If you want to build out longer arcs and threads that introduce the potential for more adventures, then do that! Don’t throw out a bunch of vague platitudes about how important it is to fight evil without explaining what that is and why we should care. Is Russell Crowe the Nick Fury of this universe? Did they actually think that would work? Why do they hate us so much? Call the Marvel films formulaic, but at least they’re fun and they try to be interesting.

Adam: Russell Crowe is SO the Nick Fury of this franchise. Look, this movie makes total sense to me. Universal is a business just like any other, and when do you usually get the most credit for an idea? Before it is executed. You can look great on a conference call or in a meeting by saying what you’re going to do (e.g. “Dark Universe,” Tom Cruise as the lead). It’s circumstantial return on investment that you can trace back to something that was successful elsewhere. Usually when you execute your lofty idea, that’s when the criticism starts to happen. This is a very easy movie to pitch and save your job for two years until it is actually released. I think this Dark Universe is done. What about you? Sometimes there’s a level of bad you can’t come back from.

Rob: I’m sure this will be another case of “Yeah, we screwed up, but just wait for the next movie!” It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Ghost Corps, the company Sony set up to handle the grand and sprawling new Ghostbusters Cinematic Universe before the reboot’s disappointing reception. That seems to be going nowhere. I want to say that Universal will try to learn from this (as Warner seems to be doing with their DC series), but I won’t be around to care. I think this period of blockbuster filmmaking (like this period of American politics) should act as a cleansing fire to weed out all the garbage and let us realign our priorities next time around.
Adam: I wish I could have gone into more specifics about this movie, but I honestly don’t remember much of anything from it. I sat there and gave it my full attention but it is so forgettable...like, to a shocking degree. That might be the movie’s saving grace. By the time the next Dark Universe installment is released/if they still go ahead with (Bride of Frankenstein), maybe people will have selective amnesia and just go to that and forget The Mummy (2017) even existed? This has to be the end of days, right? Like, movies have never gotten “better?” Maybe the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I guess, but I don’t know that first-hand. I’m trying to think of a time where Hollywood was like “This is bad” and then course corrected.

Rob: I think blockbuster filmmaking has always relied on formulas; it’s just that we’re of the age where we can really see this one running itself into the ground. Who knows what we’ll get next. I assume we’re both Mark Off for The Mummy?

Adam: I’m more of a Fuck Youniverse on it. One last thing...I find the recent trend of studios blaming bad movies on reviews and critics to be very amusing. Two reasons - a) It’s totally unfair to critics, but critics are also having thin skins as if they don’t realize that they’re job entails doing to studios what studios are now doing to them -- i.e. blaming when something is bad and b) Fandango owns Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango is presumably a site there to buy tickets and create demand for movies, yet they post the RT scores when you’re buying tickets as if to warn you away from buying their own product. It’s like if you went and got a box of Cheerios and it said on the box “This is shit.”

Rob: If studios and critics were in perfect alignment on every issue, I’d be very worried. The rest of it is just noise engineered to get people talking about movies during a period where the industry really needs to get assess in seats.

Adam: Cinema is in a really good place right now. Join me next week as I’ll be reviewing the new biopic All Eyez on Me, which does not look good, but I am fascinated by Tupac so I have to go. Rob will be off for a couple of weeks because he deserves better and I feel guilty making him watch so many bad movies this year. #JusticeForRob

Rob: It’s not your fault, buddy. It’s those critics! I’ll be back in a few weeks to talk Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Until then…

Adam: These seats are reserved.


  1. Nick Morton?! No thanks. If they give the main character a name that's better suited for an anonymous AAA relief pitcher it doesn't bode well.

    1. Nick, Chris and Jenny. Even the character names are bland and forgettable.

  2. I'm sorry that I can't comment on this much because I decided to skip it, but it's a shame Universal doesn't seem to get it when it comes to making these kinds of universes work. Maybe there will be some course correction in future installments? But it took DC a while to figure it out, so I won't hold my breath just yet for this world.

    I know how you feel on All Eyez on Me, Adam. I love me some Tupac and it would SEEM like a biopic centering on him would be pretty interesting, but it seems this one is just going to be a letdown. I hope the guy who plays Tupac at least does a decent job with his performance. *Shrug*

    1. Tupac is so interesting as a persona but from everything I've read this upcoming biopic is not the version anyone wanted. They don't have a lot of top talent involved.

  3. I was pretty entertained for the first 30 minutes or so once we get ast the obligatory exposition in the very beginning.

    It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it moves pretty quickly and there are some fun monster scenes and nice set pieces. That is until the movie is litterally yanked to a halt by Russell Crowe and the Dark Universe Machine (dips on that band name). The movie never really gets up to speed again and is marred by the looming shadow of having to fit in with the coming films that haven't even started shooting yet.

  4. Here's a fun activity: Compare that clip above of Russell Crowe's speech about evil to Donald Pleasance's speech about evil from the original Halloween, and see which actor is giving a real performance and which one is sleepwalking through the part.

    1. This reminds me of a Clooney quote about Batman and Robin where he said (I'm paraphrasing) "It's not something that allowed you to be good in it". I think that was more Russell Crowe's issue in The Mummy.

  5. Bummer. I'm a big fan of Universal monsters and this just makes me ... sad.

  6. 1) You missed all of the stuff they also lifted from "Lifeforce"...

    2) Why was this movie set in present day? Why is one of the first things we see is ISIS destroying artifacts? Let's start this "fun summer blockbuster" being reminded of Iraqi villages being bombed....
    Considering that Dr. Jekyll can probably pull being long-lived out of his ass and the fate of Cruise's character, they could have just as easily set this in the 1930's or any other time.
    3) I love all of the modern day motivation they gave the Princess when it came to her backstory. Besides the possibility that she may have ended up married to her Step-brother (see Cleopatra) and she'd rule anyway...there could still be a good chance that kid wouldn't live to see his teens due to anything from small pox to the flu (not to mention anything you could do to help the kid along, if you're so inclined). Immediately giving yourself over to the dark forces and murdering your family (and thinking you'd get away with it) is pretty stupid.