It’s difficult to remember now, 13 movies and counting into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just how unprecedented the “shared universe” concept is in modern cinema. This is a narrative superstructure designed not just to tie multiple movies but multiple franchises together. At one point it even had TV shows folded in there too but… well… let’s move on. (Oh you really should still be watching Agents of SHIELD by the way. The last couple of season and a half have been great.)
Anyway back around the time Tony Stark’s definition of a party got punched in the brain by the Hulk, it became clear that shared universes were a thing that movie studios could use to make even more money. For a while there was a firehose of announcements about them. A Robin Hood shared universe! A Godzilla and King Kong one! Maybe! Universal Monsters! The Transformers movies! Oh yeah, and DC playing catch-up.
We’ve seen the (often quite good) new American Godzilla and the trailer for the new Kong: Skull Island. We know, assuming Kong survives the just STAGGERING tonal dissonance of his new movie, the pair of them will come to very large blows in a couple of years. At one point Guillermo Del Toro was talking about Pacific Rim ultimately folding Godzilla in too but that seems to have fallen off the radar.
Elsewhere, Hasbro realised, after the catastrophically terrible Age of Extinction, that narrative coherence isn’t just for Christmas. It hired a fleet of genuinely very good writers, had them build a shared universe for the Transformers movies and, well, we’ll see the first fruits of that in The Last Knight in a few months. There are also reports that similar techniques have been used to tie together other Hasbro properties and a while ago we got pretty solid intel that GI Joe 3 would act as a backdoor pilot for MASK. That seems to have been side-lined as Dwayne Johnson became the busiest man in show business but the work was at least done.
And then there’s the Universal monsters. Universal made a lot of noise about its shared universe a couple of years ago, and it’s easy to see why. There’s a rich vein of connective tissue (probably stolen from a corpse or two but still – SCIENCE!) between those movies. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man and the others are all ripe for reinvention and since 2012 the studio has been working on that very thing. At one point Dracula Untold, the Luke Evans-fronted reboot, was going to be our first glimpse of that world via a tacked on coda but the film underperformed. Talk of the Universal shared universe went quiet.
The trailer for the new version of The Mummy hit overnight in the UK. If, like me, you were hoping for something along the lines of the magnificent Weisz and Fraser-fronted Mummy movies of the early 21st century then, well… you’re going to be disappointed.
So let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first:
- Yes, that’s Tom Cruise running. Again. Because when you have a schtick you WORK it.
- Yes, there is a near total lack of dialogue and absolutely none of the humour on display that made the Rick and Evie movies so damn charming and fun.
- Yes, the female lead appears to be a scientist whose job is to be rescued by Cruise and look worried.
- Yes, that is a LOT of CGI and not a lot of it is very good. At all.
But there is some good news. A surprising amount in fact.
A couple of years ago I wrote a good deal about this universe for a much loved and now defunct site called Film Divider. We were able to uncover some interesting stuff about these movies; at the time, the idea was that two human groups would be the connective tissue between the various properties. One would be a pseudo military organisation whose job was to locate and control artefacts of power.
Given that opening sequence and the small group of soldiers in a plane with a sarcophagus they have very clearly just nicked, we’re guessing they’re who Cruise works for.
The dubious agenda of this group is obviously still part of the movie too, and that’s been borne out by discussions of Nick Morton, Cruise’s character, as a fundamentally “bad man”. This is the logical extension of Rick O’Connell’s cheerfully arms’ length relationship with the law and gives Cruise a chance to do his “super competent maverick” schtick with, maybe, a light sprinkling of redemption. The fact that Morton pretty clearly seems to get killed and then get better in the trailer is interesting too. We suspect he’s either a one-shot character or his redemption and his resurrection are going to be tied very closely together. Either way, that double decker bus hit he takes looks both CRUNCHY and kind of fun.
So that’s a bit more interesting than “US military steal Mummy. Hilarity and faintly Christopher Nolan-esque plane based violence ensues.” Which is what it looked like we were getting there.
But the really interesting stuff in the background lies with the other human group: a scrappy team of hackers, archaeologists and mystics trying to stop the very worst elements of humanity getting their hands on what amounts to supernatural nukes.
Enter Russell Crowe, stage left, carrying the exposition ball.
Crowe is apparently the Nick Fury of this series. Even better, he’s playing Doctor Henry Jekyll who has become the voice of the Prodigium, one of these groups. His role is being kept deliberately ambiguous but his presence in the trailer suggests he’s where the shared universe very much comes in. It also keeps his role nicely ambiguous as to just which side the Prodigium, and he, are on.
A group of soldiers versus a Mummy? Not that interesting.
The sole survivors of a catastrophic archaeological robbery trying to stop a terrifying supernatural power that two separate human groups are battling for control over, even as it begins destroying the world?
Now you have my attention.
It’s not all good news. The original plan for the female lead was this fantastic combination of Evie from The Mummy and Lara Croft. The idea was she would steal artefacts for the highest bidder and then break into THEIR collections and give the artefacts to museums. She was a fun, hyper competent and very physical lead. Annabelle Wallis is definitely capable of acing that but we’ve got no evidence she’s playing anyone other than the usual Professor Lady character whose job is to screw up, get captured and get rescued. Here’s hoping there’s more to her than there seems. Likewise the always fun Sofia Boutella proved in Star Trek Beyond that she can carry a plot vital role. Hopefully Princess Ahmanet will do more than glower and grow extra irises.
The Mummy is never going to be as fun as the 1999 reboot. But judging by this trailer it’s not trying to be. Alex Kurtzman has a good eye for action and if the CGI can be focused up it won’t be noticeable. There’s still a lot to do but there’s also, just, enough here to hold my attention. The resurrection has begun. Here’s hoping this world of gods and monsters was worth the wait.
Article by Alasdair Stuart