Many of us fondly recall watching Brendan Fraser trying to fight off Arabs and then accidentally stumbling upon an ancient burial chamber in Egypt, in Stephen Sommers' The Mummy (1999). The goofy grave robber Rick O'Connell became an iconic hero of sorts among monster-movie fans. 18 years later Tom Cruise takes over and it is a very different movie but not necessarily a bad one.
Unlike the 1920s setting of both the original 1932 Karl Freund film and the Stephen Sommers remake, the Alex Kurtzman directed film is set in the present day Iraq and London. The story revolves around a fictional Egyptian princess called Ahmanet who was supposed to ascend the throne of Egypt following her father Menehptre. However, she feels cheated when his young wife gives birth to a son, effectively negating her chances to become the ruler.
Ahmanet then makes a pact with Egyptian god Set who promises to make her queen if she finds him a human body to gain physical form. The pact curses her and she proceeds to murder her family, including the just-born male child to her father. After exacting her revenge she tries to resurrect Set in her lover's body but is caught by the royal guards who mummify her alive and bury her tomb far away from Egypt, in Mesopotamia.
In the present day, Tom Cruise's character Nick Morton steals a map from Annabelle Wallis's Jennifer Halsey and stumbles upon a tomb with his friend Chris Vail, played as a comic relief by Jake Johnson. One thing leads to another and Ahmanet assumes form once again, wreaking havoc on earth to complete her interrupted task; raising Set in a human form to rule the world together. It happens so that she has chosen Cruise as a vessel for Set because it was he who resurrected her.
The whole atmosphere of the film is quite dark and often scary. Children are best left at home with grandparents as certain violent scenes can genuinely scar them. Being a 'Mummy' movie, there are some obvious nods to both Boris Karloff's film and the one starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. Prince Ahmanet's backstory also somewhat resembles that of Arnold Vosloo's Imhotep. There's also another short reference to the 1999 'Mummy' film and its sequel which the fans will love. It's a brief glimpse of a particular Egyptian book that dealt with life and death. There are also some obvious similarities with 'An American Werewolf in London' also.
The cinematography by Ben Seresin is really good and effectively creates a dark atmosphere throughout in addition to the sprawling desert sequences, filmed in Namibia. Being shot primarily on 35mm film, the grain adds a grit and texture to the film that is lacking in most digitally shot features. The 3D is also functional, without any noticeable pop-outs. However, the background score left a lot to be desired. While composer Brian Tyler's score is mostly functional, there's barely any memorable theme here, unlike Jerry Goldsmith's grand orchestral notes in the 1999 film, or Alan Silvestri's more adventurous tunes in 'The Mummy Returns' (2001).
All the actors have been given good amount of screen-time and significance. Sofia Boutella was genuinely scary on her own right, not because of the make-up. Her performance draws you in and you don't mind the fake bandage-look at all. At times I found myself looking away from her face, especially those creepy green pupula duplex (in reality, there's something called "Polycoria") eyes of hers. As for Tom Cruise, he's undoubtedly the best action star on the planet.
The plot is quite derivative though, apart from being a set-up for the 'Dark Universe' films to follow, featuring classic monsters like Dracula, Invisible Man and Frankenstein. Russell Crowe was already introduced here as Dr. Henry Jekyll, head of a secret society called Prodigium, dedicated to hunting, containing and destroying supernatural threats. So, there's nothing "new" going on here actually. It's a bit of repackaging of some of the best "old" bits.
Most critics have been quite harsh with Tom Cruise's 'The Mummy.' It remains to be seen how it performs at the theatres in the long-run. It faces stiff competition from 'Wonder Woman' which has received overwhelmingly positive reviews as well as good box office returns. For now, 'The Mummy' remains a good one hour and 50 minutes of fun at the cinemas. Also, why would one miss a chance to see a really scary looking Tom Cruise in a 'Mummy' movie? Now that's the price of admission alone!