The reviews are starting to pour in for the latest iteration of The Mummy, in theaters later this week. And so far they are… not good. Certainly not the reaction Universal must have been hoping for, considering they have hung their entire “Dark Universe” franchise on this movie as a foundation. We will be offering up our own take on the film later this week, tackling the important questions like “Is it worth watching?” and “Is it better than the Brendan Fraser one?” (IS ANYTHING BETTER THAN THAT MOVIE, I THINK NOT). Personally, I haven’t seen this latest version yet so I can’t really confirm or refute any of the reviews I’ve read so far. But one hot take did give me pause: IndieWire’s David Ehrlich and his confident assertion that The Mummy is “the worst movie that Tom Cruise has ever made” — a sentiment that is repeated in the title of his review.
I can’t say for sure that he’s wrong, because as I mentioned I haven’t yet seen this movie. Furthermore, I haven’t seen every movie Tom Cruise has ever been in. C’mon — did anyone actually watch Knight and Day? But one thing I know for sure is that Tom Cruise has been in at least one other truly godawful movie: 2005’s War of the Worlds.
I realize not everyone agrees with me. War of the Worlds is a Steven Spielberg movie with a respectable score of 73 on Metacritic. Other Tom Cruise vehicles have far worse average ratings (even Edge of Tomorrow only nets out with a rating of 71). And yet. AND YET. No other Tom Cruise movie I’ve seen has made me as viscerally angry as this one. I was so angry that I somehow managed to scrub my memory of all details regarding the plot, the visuals, or any other aspect of the movie. All I was left with were some weird flashes of apocalyptic mayhem and the certainty that whatever actually DID happen in the film, none of it was worth it.
So, in the effort of being vaguely journalistic, I did some research to refresh my memory. Read some reviews, looked up the plot synopsis, even checked how it compares to the original H.G. Wells story. Because War of the Worlds, much like The Mummy, is an iteration of something that has been adapted several times before in different ways. And in doing so, I managed to dredge up some actual reasoning behind my seemingly irrational response. So, spoiler alert for a 12-year-old movie based on a book that’s over a hundred years old:
That. Fucking. Ending.
Look, I get that aliens getting killed by Earth microbes is the actual ending of the original story, and really I don’t mind it as a device. It’s clever, it’s faithful, and it allows the invasion to be terrifying without requiring the human population to somehow rise up and defeat the aliens. An unimaginably large threat beaten by an unimaginably small detail — there is symmetry to that. But it didn’t fit THIS movie, which was somehow a post-9/11 allegory for terror and the ways humanity deals with fear and loss of control. So the film, which took pleasure in ratcheting up the tension for its entire runtime, ended in a whimper without any catharsis. Humans were powerless and meaningless.
But I can’t really blame Tom Cruise for the ending. Everything else I hated can be pegged to his character, however. In the midst of the invasion, Tom Cruise plays a Tom Cruise-y divorced dad who isn’t very good at taking care of his kids, but you know he’s going to go on a journey and become a better father because their lives literally depend on him. And he’s basically still a failure! I remember yelling at the TV when he lets his son, played by Justin Chatwin, run off to join a battle at one point. When faced with a choice between his kids, he chose to let his son die to save his daughter. Which… would be fine, if it was a real consequence.
But the son doesn’t die. We don’t know how or why, but when Tom Cruise makes it to Boston to reunite his daughter with his ex-wife, HIS SON IS ALREADY THERE. Needless to say, I yelled at the screen again. And then apparently actively removed the experience of watching it from my brain.
So sure, maybe The Mummy will be the worst Tom Cruise movie ever. But it sure as shit isn’t his only bad one.