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The Mummy *|****

Tom Cruise in The Mummy

There’s a moment early in the desperate and downright embarrassing Mummy reboot that achieves a level of meta resonance that only monumentally stupid movies can achieve by pure coincidence as opposed to genuine self-awareness. The film’s first big action setpiece finds Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson running rampant across Iraqi rooftops while avoiding insurgent gunfire and as they duo drops to the ground for cover, Johnson yells the same four words that Cruise’s agent should have invoked when he considered taking this role: “what are you *thinking*?” It was the same sentence that kept popping into my head many times while watching Cruise in The Mummy, which squanders just about every good opportunity that comes its way and indulges in a host of bad opportunities that could have been avoided with even a modest degree of common sense.

Cruise stars as Nick Morton, a brash soldier turned smuggler who gets in over his head when he accidentally uncovers the tomb of the ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) with his partner Chris (Johnson) and chief archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). While transporting the sarcophagus on a military plane, a massive wave of crows causes a violent crash that leaves no survivors with the exception of Jenny, who is parachuted off the plane before it goes down, and Nick, who is seemingly cursed by Ahmanet’s ghost. The pair team up with Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), head of a secret society called Prodigium whose goal is to rid the world of supernatural evil, to contain Ahmanet before her plans to unleash the Egyptian god Set on the world can be carried out.

The Mummy is to be the first film in Universal’s Dark Universe, which is an attempt to incorporate vintage movie monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula into an all-encompassing franchise complete with cloying callbacks and Easter eggs that feel like product placement for the future film entries instead of clever bits of fan service. On a corporate level, this is Universal’s rebuttal to Disney’s Marvel Universe and Warner Bros’ DC Universe but the effort to emulate the world-building tactics used by those studios is as tacky as it is transparent. There’s something profoundly arrogant and cynical about making a movie that is as shamelessly mechanical and soulless as this while also presuming that the audience is already on board with more installments before they’ve even had a chance to experience the first entry.

Even if you strip away the context of Hollywood’s incessant addiction to franchise filmmaking, there’s still plenty in The Mummy that would qualify it as a total non-starter even if its mission was to just be a standalone popcorn flick. The script is nothing short of a disaster, rife with inane, ear-scraping dialogue so witless that it’s a miracle the actors could muster the courage to deliver the lines to one another and with characters so thinly written that they slip through one’s fingers like a fistful of sand. The director Alex Kurtzman is known primarily as a screenwriter for big budget fare like the Transformers and Star Trek series but in his first attempt at heading up such a spectacle, he fails to tell a comprehensible story or deliver any action sequences (save for the plane crash) that have any sort of momentum or vigor.

Still, much of the blame can rightly be put on Cruise, who turns in a charisma-free performance so listless that I wondered if he had been working through a concussion or two from bouncing around in zero gravity for his stunt work. I suppose it doesn’t help that he is saddled with a bumbling fool of a character who spends most of the story confused or defeated and the decision to misuse the talents of such a bankable star was likely embedded from the outset by executives at Universal who didn’t care if Cruise would be a good fit as long as the box office numbers could justify it. It’s too early to tell if they’ll learn their lesson this time around but if The Mummy is an indication of how the rest of the Dark Universe is going to play out, then we have a long dark road ahead of us.

Gods of Egypt *|****

Gerard Butler in Gods Of Egypt
Gerard Butler in Gods of Egypt

It’s hard to know where to begin with Gods of Egypt. I suppose it’s best to first ponder how a film this profoundly incompetent and mercilessly dull could ever merit a wide theatrical release in the first place. How a colossal failure like this could even get greenlit is beyond me. To watch this movie is to witness a production collapse at every conceivable level but Gods of Egypt is unique in one sense: it powers valiantly though its ridiculous story under the pretense of entertainment when most other bad movies would have the good sense to just throw in the towel early.

Set in a world that only vaguely resembles ancient Egypt, the plot begins with the coronation of the god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as the new leader of the land. After the ceremony is broken up by Horus’ bitterly jealous brother Set (Gerard Butler), a fight scene ensues that makes a battle from a video game like Tekken look credible by comparison and Horus is left eyeless and forced into exile. With the help of his grandfather Ra (Geoffrey Rush) and the mortal underdog Bek (Brenton Thwaites), Horus seeks vengeance on his warmongering brother and hopes to restore peace and order to the land that he was meant to rule.

If I had to pin the movie’s problems down to one point, it would be this: not one element of it feels remotely authentic or believable. Not only do the computer generated effects consistently look stilted and out-dated but they pervade every inch of every frame and call attention to themselves in a relentlessly unpleasant fashion. Everything feels about as far divorced from the live action format as you could possible get, which leads me to wonder why the producers didn’t just commit to creating an entirely animated film at the outset instead of clumsily inserting its stars in front of endless green screens.

The actors hardly add any degree of plausibility in their performances anyway. The cacophony of irrelevant and distracting accents makes for a shaky foundation to begin with but the more troubling aspect is how little it feels like any of the performers are striving for anything resembling honest human behavior. There’s a noticeable lack of chemistry between the actors and they all seem to be embarrassingly out of sync with one another. No one is spared from a sub-par performance here but the most egregious among them is Gerard Butler, who I have all but given up on entirely at this point.

Director (“victim” may be more fitting) Alex Proyas hit creative gold in the 1990s with inventive tales like The Crow and Dark City but he’s clearly lost his way since then and maybe this will be enough to steer him away from big budget fare in the future. Perhaps another director could have brought out the campy elements of this silly premise to push it into “so bad it’s good” territory but Proyas’ leaden sense of self-seriousness weighs things down indefinitely. It’s enough to say that Gods of Egypt is epically inept and one of the most truly bewildering experiences I’ve had in a movie theater.