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Mummy (2017), The (Blu-ray Review)

8 Sep, 2017 By: John Latchem

Street 9/12/17
Box Office $80.1 million
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.
Stars Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe.

This latest remake of The Mummy kicks off what is known as the “Dark Universe,” a shared reality consisting of reimagined versions of the classic Universal monsters. A Bride of Frankenstein remake is slated to be the next installment in 2019.

The thing about cinematic universes, however, is they tend to work best when the audience has some pre-established relationship with the characters. Movies based on the Marvel and DC Comics characters are natural choices because the comic books themselves are a shared universe, and frankly seeing that kind of storytelling on screen is something comic book fans are kind of used to already.

Sure, the Universal monsters did have their crossovers, but often it was in the form of less-serious spoofs, usually featuring Abbott and Costello.

Universal supposedly tried to start its shared monster universe with 2014’s Dracula Untold, but the tepid critical and commercial response to that film led to the idea being mostly abandoned (much in the same way the poorly received 2011 Green Lantern movie was thought to be the start of the DC cinematic universe, until Warner instead jump started it off the better-performing Man of Steel two years later).

So, this new version of The Mummy arrived with considerable marketing muscle, plus star power in the form of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe, just so everyone knew it was the start of something bigger to come. The line-up of subsequent movies was announced and the big actors cast to appear in them posed in a rather memorable photo that was hotly discussed on the Internet in early 2017, mostly because Universal was putting a lot of stock into its shared universe before the first movie was even in theaters. There’s even a big “Dark Universe” logo aping the Universal globe that pops up in front of the movie.

Anyway, when The Mummy finally did arrive, it generated a lukewarm response from American audiences and did enough worldwide (north of $400 million against a budget of $125 million) to push forward with the cinematic universe concept, even if some reflections on how to proceed might be justified. (Nevertheless, a Bride of Frankenstein directed by Bill Condon — who previously directed a biopic about James Whale, director of the original Bride, is an intriguing idea).

Which is all build-up to say this first entry is a mixed bag. By focusing on concepts and not the actual characters from the previous iterations of “Mummy” (the 1932 Boris Karloff version or even the 1999 Brendan Fraser version), the studio is asking for a much bigger investment from their audience. And the sparse story doesn’t seem like much more than an excuse to set up the particulars to exploit in future movies.

The audience’s entry point into the franchise is Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who starts off the film in a tomb of Medieval English knights who raided Egyptian artifacts during the Crusades. One relates to the story of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess who made a deal with an evil god for the power to eliminate her rivals to the throne. As punishment, she is buried alive in a tomb far from Egypt.

Cut to the present, where Cruise and Jake Johnson play U.S. Army scouts who use their reconnaissance missions around the Middle East as cover to find antiquities to sell on the black market. With the help of a Jekyll associate (Annabelle Wallis), they discover Ahmanet’s tomb in Iraq. (For a movie about an Egyptian princess, very little of the film actually takes place in Egypt.)

In taking Ahmanet’s sarcophagus back to London, however, the plane is attacked by more ancient evil forces and crashes. Cruise is supposedly killed, but comes back to life — only this time, instead of finding himself reliving the day, he’s been cursed by Ahmanet. And so he runs into Jekyll (and Hyde!) in an attempt to find a way to stop Ahmanet from terrorizing modern-day London, as references to future movies start popping up.

It’s a pretty straightforward template for action scenes and some impressive visual effects, and the plane crash, shot using actual zero-g aircraft, is quite a harrowing sequence. Otherwise, though, this isn’t the most substantive or fun adventure, so hopefully future “Dark Universe” installments can add to whatever this movie has already established to give it a bit more significance in the long run.

The Blu-ray does offer a healthy array of bonus materials that provides some good insights into what the film is trying to accomplish — especially in regards to the story arc of the Cruise character — a soulless opportunist whose encounter with Ahmanet gives him a reason to start caring about more than just himself.

The Blu-ray offers about 70 minutes total of behind-the-scenes featurettes covering the various aspects of the production, including a 21-minute interview between Cruise and director Alex Kurtzman. There’s an amusing bit in the stunts featurette that pokes fun at Cruise’s penchant for running in most of his movies.

There’s also a playful commentary track with Kurtzman, Boutella, Wallis and Johnson, in addition to five minutes of deleted and extended scenes.

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