In a blockbuster season dominated by sequels and superhero films, Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy does something unique for a production of its scale: it takes risks. Through casting, setting and the establishment of a new cinematic universe, this film opens audiences up to a whole range of new possibilities.
Standing front and centre is Tom Cruise. But he’s not the all-American boy we’ve come to know and love, but rather a brash and opportunistic soldier-of-fortune who is more concerned with getting out alive than saving the day. After unearthing the tomb of long-forgotten Egyptian Princess Ahmanet, Cruise’s Nick Morton unwittingly becomes her pawn to awaken an evil darkness that will consume the entire world.
While we’d normally see Cruise quickly stepping up to save the world, this time round he’s more worried about breaking the curse that is devouring him – something that completely caught me off guard as a long time fan. While his actions seem heroic, they’re more accidental than intentional, and his third act sacrificial moment really took me by surprise. I’m well versed in Cruise’s normal screen arc presence, but it felt refreshing to see him play a completely different kind of hero, and in my opinion made for a far more enthralling watch.
Facing off against Cruise as the principal antagonist is Sofia Boutella as the alluring and downright evil Princess Ahmanet. Her origin story is particularly vile and includes child murder and a pact with Set, the Egyptian god of darkness. But after she is robbed of her dark destiny, mummified alive and then resurrected through Morton’s actions, she sets her sights on reclaiming her destiny and using him to do it.
While most Hollywood big bads are big on talk, Boutella’s performance is largely non-verbal (save for a few lines in ancient Egyptian), and is instead driven by her physical performance. The actress uses her extensive training as a dancer to her advantage with some particularly unnatural movements. Boutella does some particularly evil things as Ahmanet and makes for a very threatening presence on screen.
Rounding out this core trio is Russell Crowe’s rather dapper British doctor, chemist, and historian Dr. Henry Jekyll. Jekyll provides the film with an omniscient presence and leads audiences inside the clandestine world of Prodigium; a secret society tasked with studying, hunting and destroying evil.
While at first Crowe’s Jekyll presents himself as helpful and sincere in his actions, it quickly becomes clear that he has ulterior motives for both Morton and Ahmanet. This is displayed by the character’s affinity for dissection, which he talks about with a sick glee, and his lack of sympathy towards Morton’s plight. Be aware that you will see Crowe morph into Jekyll’s hideous alter ego Edward Hyde, who encourages the good doctor’s darker thoughts and has his own desires for Ahmanet.
As a film that takes risks, The Mummy gets there with Kurtzman’s resurrection of the classic tropes of the Universal Monster movies. This is particularly relevant to the film’s shooting style. While the film is shot in colour, cinematographer Ben Seresin attempts to mirror the stark black and white look of the original films of the 1930s. He does this with deep shadowed lighting and the use of sets that lend themselves to gothic churches and underwater crypts. With horror cinema currently dominated by ‘found footage’, this style of filmmaking bucks the trend, while also making for a very scary watch with jump scares that certainly left me cowering in terror.
Hero universes are all the rage at the moment (you only have to look at the presence of the MCU and DCEU), and The Mummy is the first chapter in establishing Universal’s Dark Universe. This new interconnected series is set to bring to life their classic monsters such as Frankenstein and The Wolf Man back to the big screen, and Kurtzman and his team drop plenty of subtle hints for fans of what is to come. Most of this is seen in the bowels of Prodigium, with clear references made to Dracula and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I would also suggest staying for the end credit sequence for hints of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man as well.
At its core, The Mummy is just good old’ fashioned popcorn fun with plenty of intriguing action set pieces and chilling scares. If you love classic horror movies and are up for the unexpected then you’ll definitely dig this movie.
Image: Paramount Pictures