‘Tis the season of franchise building projects, mega collection of intricately profitable parts building into a solid narrative whole, resulting in not only mountains of box office cash, but also a guaranteed loyal following of action-hungry viewers to boot.
The Disney/Marvel powerhouse took an early lead with this starting in 2008 with Iron Man, followed by pretty much the majority of the Marvel roster of heroes made flesh on the big screen, leading up to next year’s Infinity War arc, gathering all of the individual heroes into one gigantic film.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that competing studios would raid their archives in search of a similar concept, allowing them to pool all of their property into one large crossover franchise of its own.
Enter Universal Pictures, what with their Villains Gallery of infamous monsters old and new, hoping to start what is to be known as “The Dark Universe” of films in years to come.
Starting with this year’s The Mummy, the idea is quite sound but the problem right off the gate is as clear as day: never start off your franchise with a Tom Cruise vehicle.
Now don’t get me wrong: I find Tom Cruise to be a solid actor with plenty of talent when it comes to maximizing the “bang for your buck” aspect of box office revenue. Why, most films with his name attached will likely ensure a pretty good return on investment. For that reason alone, I found Cruise to be the wrong choice for the anti hero of this story, given that the film should be focusing not on the overpowered protagonist, but on the titular nemesis.
The Mummy wastes no time providing ample exposition as to what is to be known as the studio’s Dark Universe: evil forces are at play in our modern world and a secret organization known as Prodigium (curated by Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde) is the group that bumps back whatever lurks in the shadows.
This premise, of course, is a great storytelling tool to establish the later monsters from the Universal Vault (namely, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Frankenstein, etc…) and their known existence by this franchise’s version of the B.P.R.D. (for you Hellboy fans out there), however when the camera is too busy being focused on Cruise, the narrative tends to redirect towards him at the expense of the very concept it was trying to exploit, to disastrous results.
The basic plot is pretty straightforward: not unlike Howard Carter in the real life 1930s, soldiers of fortune cum military scouts Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) stumble upon a sealed tomb in Iraq after ordering an airstrike against a group of insurgents.
Unaware that an evil force had been forced out of Egypt and sealed with mercury leagues out of its homeland, it doesn’t take long before the opportunistic pair realize that their latest find is more than a handful, when the vengefully cursed Princess Ahmanet, restrained for centuries after making a pact with the god Set, escapes and seeks to release her lord from the netherworld by way of a human host.
The story moves to modern-day London, where Morton and a knowledgeable archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis) connect with the members of Prodigium, the aforementioned group dedicated to eradicating monsters from the known world.
Whether Tom Cruise manages to save the day and the planet as a whole remains in suspense for much of the running time, with Ahmanet using all of her supernatural powers to wreak havoc on humanity. Oh my.
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