Its 12:43 pm
At the start of the week,an announcement came out that Universal Studios and Blumhouse are to team up and re-launch the Dark Universe that was conceived and launched in 2014 with Luke Evans starring in “Dracula Untold”.
Produced for 70 million,”Dracula Untold” made over 215 million dollars at the box office and seem to indicate that the Dark Universe could have a bright future. This led Universal to make a bold move by casting Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe in “The Mummy” remake in 2017. Expecting a massive breakout hit,”The Mummy” instead bombed at the theater and received poor reviews and just like that,the Dark Universe concept was dead.
About three weeks ago,I asked several film bloggers and film buffs to come together and offer their perspective on why “The Mummy” failed and how should have Universal proceeded in launching their franchise. Of course I had zero idea that this new partnership between Universal and Jason Blum would be happening but with BlumHouse’s track record of making great mid-budgeted films,the franchise has a real chance of taking off and becoming an event just as are superhero and James Bond films.
I had tried doing a round table once on the blog and while I sort of bobbled on it (sorry,Bobby),the concept have asking fellow film critics and film buffs has always stayed with me and I decided to once again to host this concept….I guess this round table idea could be my own Dark Universe,I flubbed it up the first time but now am trying again…..
This is what I sent out to my perspective guests on 17 Jan.
“Greetings from the cheetah and myself….. I was re-watching The Mummy remake from 2017 and I know it was a bad misfire for Universal’s attempt to launch their Dark Universe tentpole. What I am curious about is WHY did it fail in your opinion and what would you have done differently? I like to post your answers,3-5 paragraphs worth, along with mine and post it as a round table style entry. Is there anyone interested in doing this?”
The first person to respond was my long time friend Bobby LePire who writes for Film Threat. Bobby is the most prolific film watcher that I know and will watch just about anything put to film. You can read Bobby’s reviews on Film Threat.
“I am quite interested in this. For me, one of the reasons it failed, at least in terms of box office expectations is a bad marketing campaign. The story was never laid out in a way that made the scene look anything more than a usual mummy movie with big effects.
In terms of quality, it failed for a variety of reasons. The biggest one is Tom Cruise himself. I do believe he does not get the proper respect as a great actor that he deserves and he is damn great in the M:I franchise and as Jack Reacher; so action films like this and Cruise go hand in hand. But his character here is such a serious droll person, which is not something Cruise is good at. He is best with a spark of lie such as one-liners or intense gravitas, both of which his character lacks here. I would have swapped his role and Jake Johnson’s, and I think that would have helped.
Moreover, everything with Russell Crowe is terrible and awkward and shoehorned in. It does not work and stops the story proper dead in its tracks several times throughout the film. The MCU introduced Nick Fury after Iron Man ended for a reason. Universal would have done well to note such things. Finally, the mummy herself and the action are badly done. The effects are substandard for a movie with this budget, the design of the antagonist is unintentionally goofy, with the weird half eyes, and the editing is nonsensical. In short, The Mummy is everything wrong with studio film making- cynical cash grab where no one cared about the end product or if it made sense. I am glad audiences were smart enough to stay away.”
The next writer who chipped in is my good friend Romey who has jumped into the movie blogger arena,his movie review series,”Two Stacks Reviews” can be found here. He and I saw “The Mummy” when it came out and we had many talks about how they should have done the Dark Universe. You can read Romey’s blog by going here.
“I was asked what I thought about the 2017 version of The Mummy by Universal. The movie was supposed to be the cornerstone of of Universal’s monster focused Dark Universe.
As a solo effort it isn’t a totally bad effort but as a universe builder I must sadly disagree so much of the film and layout of it. The story is half baked and feels so under cooked. It could’ve been so much better and in my opinion it all boils down to 3 areas:
Casting: I,as a Tom Cruise fan, am a realist. The name alone draws interest in a film production and it also brings with a price because as one of the most popular and sought-after actors in the world he has to deliver a spellbinding performance and make the audience buy into the character he portrays.
Some recent films you can buy into his character, others you just see Tom Cruise such as this one. Directing Tom Cruise can also be a feat especially from the novice or unseasoned director such as this film’s director,Alex Kurtzman.
Kurtzman probably was star struck working with Cruise as most young directors would be but this never feels like his film or vision instead it feels like a supernatural Mission Impossible.
The villain: Having a female Mummy was a great idea and something different than the previous Mummy trilogy,unfortunately they cast wrong with Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet. She brings little menace to the character and aside from the special effects helping her out she’s a cardboard cutout villainess. She doesn’t even have the bitch aspect that makes a villainess standout and be unforgettable.
Setting: Placing this film in modern times was a huge mistake. To create something truly unique Universal should had it set somewhere around the aftermath of WW 1 and before the start of WW 2 or picked up after the last trilogy. Unfortunately they chose the modern era which isn’t always kind and doesn’t always work. To truly make it stand out they should’ve had it set in the past it would’ve made it feel unique and interesting as well as stand out.
Turning it around: First I’d scrap any plans for a Dark Universe till I got at least two moneymaking films in the theaters I’d set them in the early era and no later than the start of WW2 I’d also embrace the Mummy trilogy as well as the Van Helsing and Dracula Untold films and fold them into the Universe and last but not least take my time and have character driven stories and worry less about the launching of a Dark Universe and let the films build it.
I have following the next writer,D’enise,on Twitter for a long time now. I absolutely respect her loyalty to shows that she believes in. From the Arrowverse to Wynonna Earp,D’enise is the kind of viewer that every studio wants to impress. She promotes worthy shows relentlessly and has single-handedly coaxed me into giving any series on SyFy a chance. (I quit watching the SyFy Channel years ago). You can find D’enise on Twitter by going here.
I am a died-in-the-wool sci-fi fan and I will provide sci-fi TV series and movies a lot of rope to make their case and find their footing. This was the case with 2017 remake of the “The Mummy.” I loved, loved,loved the 1999 version with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. I enjoyed the 2001 “The Mummy Returns” but was disappointed with “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”, the only saving grace of that movie being the appearance of the Yeti. So, when the 2017 remake was announced I was excited. Even more so, that it starred Tom Cruise. Was it enjoyable for me? Yes? Enough to want a
sequel? Also, yes. But my expectations for the sequel was that it would capitalize on the some of the good bones the movie did have, i.e. Russell Crowe’s character, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, figuring more prominently and centrally to the overall lore, perhaps as the Nick Fury of the Dark Universe. I also thoroughly enjoyed Sophia Boutella as Ahmanet. She was the classic “villain you hate to love” and after Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, she was the most compelling character who I wanted to see continue in a sequel. Sadly, we may never see either of their potential come to fruition.
While I did enjoy the movie and wish for a sequel the movie had its struggles and none more so for me than in some of the key casting roles – starting with Tom Cruise. He was simply not right for the role of Nick Morton. And the less said of Annabelle Wallis’ useless and annoying Jenny Halsey character the better. And would some please explain the point of Jake Johnson’s character as SGT Vail? Re-watching this movie in preparation for writing this commentary I recalled a comparison meme I once saw on social media where it posits if the Avengers were made back into 90’s Tom Cruise would have been Tony Stark, Brad Pitt as Thor and Eddie Murphy as Falcon. Most, probably true, but if one were to watch said Avengers movie with said actors in said roles it would not have stood the test of time and would have eventually been rebooted. And rightly so. I realized the charismatic casting of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz could not be replicated, nor the actors themselves replaced. I even struggle with Maria Bello when she replaced Rachel Weisz as Evelyn O’Connell. It just didn’t work. Nor does Tom Cruise as a variation of Rick O’Connell.
What could the movie have done better? Aside from the casting, I would say the movie itself; make its case for being the “Iron Man” tentpole for the Dark Universe franchise which it didn’t. If one is going to build a universe – build it! There was a not a single bone thrown in the direction of movie-goers that even hinted at any form of world-building, let alone a Dark Universe! Franchise-building, yes, and if the movie’s storyline was compelling enough the movie would have been another franchise Tom Cruise
could hang his hat on, but unfortunately no. I am also of the belief if a movie studio plans to anchor an entire universe on a movie the Mummy was not the best, first choice. The studio should have started with a Dark Universe character not as well-known and developed a story arc around a world-view where characters like the Mummy are mentioned but not seen, added Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde as a guiding mentor and that would have at least got the Dark Universe off the ground. Then bring in the Mummy at the
midway point to enthrall fans and punch up the excitement for a Dark Universe as a whole.
I love the DC universe. Grew up on the SuperFriends, read the comics, and all that jazz, but world-building is not something one can just throw out there. One must develop a broad-ranging story built inside a compelling bubble well enough for moviegoers to want to know more. While characters may provide the flavor to a story it’s the world one builds around those characters that invests people. Exceptional world-building propels our imaginations to the point we want to step inside it, live inside it even. This remake of the Mummy barely had me knocking on the door.”
The last guest is Jim Morazzini who hosts the excellent film blog “Voices From The Balcony“.
The cheetah and I find ourselves checking out some excellent reviews and other content at “Voices”.
I like Mummy films, I grew up on the old Universal ones on TV as a kid. I loved Hammer’s reboot with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I even enjoyed the Brendan Fraser. But I couldn’t stand the Universal’s most recent attempt to reboot the character. The script is indeed dreadful, but for me the film was DOA. I knew it was going to be a disaster as soon as Tom Cruise was cast.
Cruise isn’t the worst actor in Hollywood, he can carry a drama or comedy if there’s a good script. But I’ll never understand how he got pegged as an action hero. He’s to soft and pretty boy looking to be convincing as somebody who’s spent time out in the elements and taken some punches. Compare him here to Harrison Ford in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and you’ll see what I mean.
As bad as it was, the script might have been saved, or at least made tolerable, with a more believable actor in the lead. But with both the writing and casting coming up short the film was doomed before the shooting started.
Another couple of drafts of the script and a more believable actor in the lead an we might be anticipating the next “Dark Universe” film.
The cheetah and my thoughts-
There were many mistakes made on “The Mummy” remake and the biggest to me was completely ignoring the Stephen Sommers’s trilogy. You had three films that clearly established the world where supernatural events happened and could have saved a lot of time and money in just picking up the events from third film.
By connecting the new story to the three older ones,you also would have had a built-in audience who loved the original trilogy and because all three films are still quite popular and are seen by a younger audience,they would have known the basic origin of The Mummy.
I agree that setting the story in modern times was a mistake,I think if Universal had set the film in the late 1950s,it would have enabled a more feels right passing of the torch from the O’Connell’s to Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton. Not only would this have been exciting but given that golden age of creature features was the 1950s,also a perfect homage to the era.
The casting could have been better…but casting Russell Crowe was PERFECT,he was the best thing about “The Mummy” acting wise. His Henry Jekyll was spot on,both understanding and compassionate and very fearsome when becoming Mr. Hyde. It was a brilliant coup to land him and I really hope he will return in the new films.
I didn’t have a problem with Tom Cruise,what I did have a problem was a 90 minute story which completely failed explain how Nick Morton went from greedy treasure hunter to willing to sacrifice his life for Jenny Halsey,a woman he slept with in order to rob her of a map. This is a problem in effect laden films of today,they rather put loud noise up and sell that as a movie. “The Mummy” biggest mistake was that 90 minute run time,if you add 30 minutes and show Morton discovering his soul (like maybe after that plane crash),it would have made a much of a connection with the audience. Because it doesn’t,it leads to the zero chemistry between Cruise and co-star Annabelle Wallis.
The biggest mistake in terms of casting was Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet aka “The Mummy”. The coolest thing about Sommer’s Mummy trilogy was that both Arnold Vosloo and Jet Li were quite dastardly and came across as real threats as Patrica Velaquez was in “The Mummy Returns”. But Boutella never was given a real chance to establish just how evil she was other then a few regeneration scenes. Part of this again goes to the short run time but the story also sort of made Ahmanet sort of a victim as shown in her short origin flashback. I thought that hurt her character as well.
I also agree with Romey’s comment about having Alex Kurtzman as the director,he was not the right man for the job. He was inexperienced and when looking at the behind the scene footage,you see Cruise directing far more then Kurtzman. How do you hand a man who had only directed one small film that had a budget of merely 16 million and yet it STILL lost money,the keys to what you hope is the launching of a new franchise? Well if Tom Cruise handpicks you,that’s how. Kurtzman was a mere figurehead and it shows in both on the screen and in the interview featurette on the BluRay.
A director has to have control,she or he is there to make the best film…while Cruise meant well in making this film but not having a experienced director helm this movie only weakened it further.
Going forward,I think BlumHouse needs to recognize the original Sommer’s trilogy as well as Sommer’s “Van Helsing” which was tremendous fun and featured some very good performances from Universal’s famed creatures. I know the budget won’t support the same caliber of cast “The Mummy” remake did but Russell Crowe has to return to the series,he is the perfect connection to the old and the new films.
I hoped you enjoyed our first real round table and if you like to be considered for the next one,drop a comment below and leave a film or TV series you think we should talk about. We are open to just about anything so don’t be afraid to share…..(no,we’re NOT going to do The Human Centipede,Paladin!!!)
Update: You can read the next installment of The Round Table by going here