For reasons not entirely known, Universal's new reboot of The Mummy contains Robert Louis Stevenson's classic character Dr. Jekyll. As played by Russell Crowe, the more respectable twin of Mr. Hyde is the head of the "mysterious" organization Prodigium, which tracks monsters, or something.
Ostensibly Jekyll is there to serve as a through line between The Mummy, the Bride of Frankenstein movie which will follow, and every other film in Universal's so-called Dark Universe. But there's an unintended irony in including him, because what Alex Kurtzman's Mummy reboot really needed behind the camera was a Jekyll of its own, the kind of mad scientist who could take the DNA of a pre-existing franchise and twist it into something completely new, something insane. Like all reboots, it needed a reason to come back into existence.
Hollywood gets a big, raging dollar-bill-boner at the prospect of any kind of reboot, sequel, prequel or cinematic universe, so it's really not a surprise that the Mummy's sarcophagus has been raided. In the absence of truly original blockbuster concepts designed to stand alone (try thinking of one, just one, since Inception), every studio from Universal to Disney to Warner Bros. has become a professional looter, an Indiana Jones looking for treasure in a folder marked "Box Office Hits of 1983." It's safer than raiding actual caves, because there are no spiders (unless they decide to remake the 1955 monster movie Tarantula, in which case we're all fucked).
Anyway, I digress. The Mummy is set to finish a distant second place in its first weekend at the US box office, lassoed into submission by Wonder Woman in her second weekend, which is not a great result. I'm not tolling the bell of doom or anything — Chinese and Korean audiences will go mental for Tom Cruise's reboot — but when a big blockbuster with an A-list cast fails to take off in America, it's usually a sign that, creatively, something has gone wrong.
Is The Curse Of The Reboot Really A Thing?
Strip away the bandages, and it's hard to see what the idea behind resurrecting The Mummy was — despite the fact that the Dark Universe is an assembly of monsters from classic literature (something Penny Dreadful already did so well on TV), Alex Kurtzman's movie isn't a horror film. It's not scary. Visually, the CGI duststorms Princess Ahmanet rains down on London are reminiscent of X-Men: Apocalypse and big-budget bomb Independence Day: Resurgence, another reboot nobody needed. It doesn't have the adventure movie vibe of Brendan Fraser's well-liked trilogy or the Indiana Jones films, and neither is it set in Egypt. So why make The Mummy at all?
The idea of putting Dr. Jekyll, Frankenstein's Bride, Dracula, Van Helsing and the Phantom of the Opera together in one big cesspit of depravity is legit quite exciting, but The Mummy feels so cynically designed to launch that universe that it forgets to justify its own existence with a memorable story.
The reason it feels like such a missed opportunity is that other recent Hollywood reboots have proven it is possible to resurrect a classic franchise and give it the kind of reinvention necessary to grab the audience's attention.
Take Kong: Skull Island — the world was hardly crying out for another King Kong movie, especially considering all are essentially the same story. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, though, skillfully weaved teases of the wider MonsterVerse (Kong and Godzilla will face off down the line) into a tight, well-paced adventure which resurrected the monster movie genre and tapped into the '70s war movie vibe of classics like Apocalypse Now. Excellent VFX work and a blood orange-soaked color palette differentiated it from the dominant bluey-grey blockbusters of today.
With Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller, one of the best directors working today, crafted an action movie which effortlessly fused two hours of almost non-stop action (filmed entirely with practical effects, clearly setting it apart visually from CGI-heavy cinema) with a whole gallery of layered female characters almost never seen in the genre. By removing Furiosa's hair, Charlize Theron was allowed to embody a badass action heroine viewed outside the prism of the male gaze. Perhaps in the hands of a filmmaker like Miller, The Mummy could've found something similarly interesting to do with Princess Ahmanet, instead of making her a clone of both the titular villain in X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad's vengeful sorceress Enchantress.
There's a pretty simple takeaway from Hollywood's mixed success with reboots in the past few years, and that's that, unless you're making a Star Wars movie, a reboot will live or die by whether it offers something different from the tidal wave of big-budget blockbusters around it and whether or not it presents a fresh twist on the original. We're not yet half way through 2017, and already the likes of Baywatch and Power Rangers have learned that lesson the hard way.
The Mummy will bank some decent dollar in Asia, and the Dark Universe will go ahead, but Universal would be wise to think about how Bill Condon's Bride of Frankenstein movie could swerve in a direction less chained to The Big Rulebook Of Doomed Reboots — if it embraces the horror of its characters, there might yet be life in this realm of monsters. Sooner or later, Hollywood will learn that if the sarcophagus is going to be dragged into the light, you'd better have a damn good reason for exhuming the dead.