‘The Mummy’: Why Tom Cruise Couldn’t Top Brendan Fraser
The 1999 film harkened back to ‘Indiana Jones,’ while the new installment is more interested in setting up a shared universe.
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” is a question that Tom Cruise poses multiple times in The Mummy. The 2017 film may be a revival of the iconic horror-movie character from Universal Pictures, but that question suggests something more in line with the Indiana Jones films, as does the fact that Cruise’s character is a treasure-hunter at his core. Tom Cruise may not be the first choice to play an Indiana Jones-esque explorer, but it’s hard not to make the connection, especially considering that this isn’t the first stab at a Mummy remake from Universal; a 1999 version, starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, owed a great debt to the Indiana Jones series. Unfortunately, the 1999 film did a much better job of paying homage to Harrison Ford’s adventurer.
Director Stephen Sommers’ take on The Mummy arguably made more sense in placing its hero, Rick O’Connell, as an Indiana Jones type; the film takes place in 1926, roughly a decade before the first three Indiana Jones films. The new version of The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman, takes place primarily in the present day, excluding a couple of exposition-heavy flashbacks. But it’s hard for the kind of spirit evinced by the Indiana Jones films to be replicated in the present. (It’s no coincidence that last week’s exciting Wonder Woman movie, a welcome throwback to the upbeat comic-book adventures of old, takes place a hundred years in the past outside of brief bookends.) So perhaps another complete Indiana Jones-like version of The Mummy would have been impossible.
However, the new movie does try to echo the Steven Spielberg-directed films in fits and starts. Cruise plays Nick Morton, a military man/treasure hunter, an inverted version of Harrison Ford’s hero. He has a push-pull relationship with archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) that’s sometimes reminiscent of the failed romance in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (at one point, as in the 1989 film, Nick and Jenny wind up in an overturned tomb, with only a few inches of breathable air below a vast ocean of water). Nick’s friendship with his fellow soldier of fortune Chris (Jake Johnson) feels similar not only to Indy and his trusty sidekick Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), but to the ‘99 Mummy, with Rick O’Connell’s contentious relationship with the shifty Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor).
Thus, there are elements of the Indiana Jones films in this new Mummy, which means that there are also more than a few elements of the ‘99 Mummy here. (One image that’s hard to forget, and is repeated here: the mummy’s roaring face appearing at the front of a massive sandstorm.) Largely, this new Mummy exists less to weave a rousing adventure yarn or to embrace the old-school horror of the 1932 original. No, this Mummy is all about building out the shared universe of characters known as the Dark Universe. After the Universal Pictures logo, the Dark Universe logo makes its first appearance on the big screen, leading into a narration from Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll; this functions as a statement of purpose much more than any of Cruise’s derring-do ever could.
The continuing success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been arguably one of the most important points of mainstream cinema in the 21st century, for better or worse. It’s only because of the MCU that we have a DC Extended Universe, or a would-be six-film franchise about King Arthur, or an ever-expanding series with Jekyll, The Mummy, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Invisible Man and more. Putting the cart before the horse didn’t work for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and the jury’s out on whether it’ll work for The Mummy, though the early reports (and the film itself) aren’t encouraging. With the summer movie season approaching its halfway point, what would be nice is if studios like Universal take a lesson from the two biggest creative successes so far: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Wonder Woman. The lesson should not be “Build out shared universes instead of telling interesting stories.” The lesson should be “Make movies that are fun.”
The Mummy (1999) was not made in a vacuum: Universal was hoping to revive its 1930s-era horror-movie characters into a big franchise. (Sommers, after his two Mummy movies, directed Van Helsing, which would have further expanded the series.) But it manages to both be heavily indebted to the Indiana Jones films while also being a fun, rip-roaring thrill ride of its own. The new Mummy wants to be too many things: a shared-universe kickstarter, an exciting adventure, a swooning romance, etc. So it’s unable to be good at any of those, especially its attempt to mirror Marvel’s success.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with remaking The Mummy; the 1999 film (itself a remake) is a lot of dumb fun, but just that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a studio wanting to create a franchise for itself to rake in cash a la Marvel. But The Mummy (2017) falls into every possible trap by focusing too much on the long con of getting audiences to buy into a decade of movies, instead of focusing on the story it’s supposed to be telling, even if that story is mildly derivative, as the ’99 film was of the Indiana Jones films. By aiming too high, the new Mummy falls very far.