The Dark Universe is here. Unfortunately, its first outing is more of a small scare rather than a great fright. There’s a lot of great action sequences and glorious Tom Cruise stunt set pieces, but the overall plot just feels overdone and not that exciting. While the movie never really devolves into dumb box office nonsense, there are so many lost opportunities in this attempt at a launching a series of films honoring the iconic Universal monsters.
One of the film’s biggest sins involves the female lead Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). Jenny’s character is the equivalent of a brilliant damsel in distress. Her knowledge of the ancient evil is constantly displayed for the audience through her archeological acumen. But, it is rare to see Jenny fight any of the paranormal denizens. This is played up for humor throughout the film, yet in an age of Wonder Woman blockbusters, I believe Universal can up the ante on some of its female roles.
Moving onto the main antagonist, the Mummy, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) is originally frightening and appropriately menacing. Her decaying body and ruthless aggression is a welcome difference from the previous incarnation of the legendary monster. Sofia does a fantastic job playing this character, achieving a sinister tone for her immortal princess, yet as the film reveals the character’s overarching mission, I could hear noticeable groans throughout the audience. In a way, the whole movie exists just to establish a new character to be the central point of this movie universe. While this is understandable in the current state of box office economics, I left this movie more excited about the sequel, then the movie I just finished watching.
Now, this movie is not without some highlights. Kudos to Director Alex Kurtzman for orchestrating several fantastic dream-like sequences. Initially, the protagonist Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) suffers from the Mummy’s powerful influence. She inundates his mind with visions of the past and warped realities in the present. A particular scene involves a personal nightmare concerning rabid rodents swarming a dark alley and pinning down Morton. Kurtzman also excels at using the Mummy’s control over natural forces. The airplane crash is chaotic and tense culminating in a quick ending. Another favorite is the sandstorm within London featured in many of the trailer spots. While a little out of place within the film, the stunt is still eye-catching and once again ends in a peculiar way that is either result of a writer’s plot hole or an editor’s mishap.
Speaking of Tom Cruise, he basically plays different characters within the film. In the beginning, we get his usual unstoppable soldier routine, but as the story progresses and he becomes “cursed,” he also grows as a character. Unfortunately, the arc is very shallow and seems to revolve more around Jenny. The sacrifice trope is bailed out by some creative dialogue, but I would’ve preferred a different storyline for the “hero.” Cruise brings the star-powered performance that we would expect from him and that is not a bad thing.
A serious flaw within the film revolves around its shifting tones. A dark and brooding scene will be undercut by a cheap comedic gag. While this is distracting in some blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy, it is horrendous in a horror-action franchise. The future films should focus on blending intimate horror scenes with immense action stunts. This seems like a better course of action for this Dark Universe.
Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Russel Crowe) is the Nick Fury of this film series, intent on gathering up all of these monsters in order to fight other monsters. His fight scene with Cruise is memorable but far too short and meaningless in the grand scheme of the narrative. Jake Johnson provides comic relief in a unique way, but again the premise of his whole character really impacts the movie’s progression.
Overall, the well-made and solid attempt at launching a whole franchise of movies stumbled a bit. I am still intrigued to see where some of the current storylines will take audiences. However, the Mummy has not entirely set the bar very high for this dark universe.