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It should be no secret by now, but The Mummy -- which opened this weekend -- is not a great movie. Though it's likely to be saved by the international box office, the movie has flopped in the States, falling to the sword of the much more relevant and interesting Wonder Woman. The poor reviews and Rotten Tomatoes score aren't helping either. The Mummy just hasn't made the splash that Universal was clearly hoping for, and I can't help but think that if The Mummy had at least made one change to its ending, it would have at least gotten some attention: Tom Cruise should have been the villain.
Tom Cruise as a villain? Crazy, I know, seeing that he has cornered the market on handsome good guys. But in a cinematic universe called The Dark Universe, it seems like there's room for Cruise to dip his feet into murkier waters. The Mummy had all the pieces in place to do it, too, but it decided to go for a much more generic route. If it had decided to have Cruise break bad, then it could only have been in The Mummy's favor.
SPOILERS follow for the ending of The Mummy, but judging by the box office, you might not care too much.
In the final showdown of The Mummy, Tom Cruise's Nick Morton is facing off against the evil undead Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) in a tomb below the streets of London. Ahmanet has just assembled the pieces of a dagger with which she plans to plunge into Nick, allowing her master Set, the God of Death (and also apparently Satan) to possess his body so they can take over the world. In order to resurrect his love interest Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), Nick does the deed himself and gains his own mummy powers. Because he's Tom Cruise, Nick doesn't turn evil, and instead uses his powers to defeat Ahmanet and bring Jenny back to life. Sadly, Nick is cursed to live alone... yet, he can still go on adventures in Egypt with his best friend.
All in all, it's pretty Marvel-lite, as Nick is set up to play future roles in other Dark Universe movies. And that's fine. Turning these classic movie monsters into pseudo-superheroes is a logical decision for modern audiences, and if you've got Tom Cruise, then use him. But it made a lot more sense to turn Tom Cruise into the Thanos-esque Big Bad of the Dark Universe then it was to make him a hero, and The Mummy had everything it needed to make this happen, in a believable fashion.
When the audience is first introduced to Nick Morton, he's a jerk. He's a thief who uses his position in the military to steal ancient artifacts from other cultures and sell them on the black market. On top of it all, he's a womanizer who thinks that Jenny would be too embarrassed to admit she had a one night stand with him and then can't get it over when she says he only lasted 15 seconds. He's not a great guy, and The Mummy spends its runtime trying to convince you that, no, he is a good guy deep down. He has moments of heroism, but it's formulaic, and at the end of the movie, you don't believe that this is a man who would sacrifice his humanity to save a life. If anything, this is a man who would give in to that dark power for himself.
There isn't a whole lot of character in The Mummy after the plot gets going, but those opening 20 minutes teach us that Nick's main drive is greed. Imagine if the movie did a better job with the push and pull of Nick's consciousness. This is already personified (kind of poorly) in Nick's relationship with two women: Jenny and Ahmanet. Jenny continually tells us that Nick is good, while Ahmanet is trying to get him to be her undead hubby. The latter is far more interesting, as Tom Cruise has almost no chemistry with Annabelle Wallis. The whole movie, we're trying to figure out if Nick is ultimately a good person, or a bad one who's good at hiding it.
So, let's picture the same climatic showdown, but this time the movie has done its job and we are genuinely curious about what Nick is going to do. Does he reject the worst part of himself, or does he embrace it? Because it's the charming Tom Cruise and a typical blockbuster, we are hardwired to assume he will choose to be a hero. So, when he decides to take the dagger, reveal what a slime ball he actually is, and go full-on villain, the moment is even more shocking! It gives this cinematic universe some much-needed edge, and now we've got a compelling set up for future Dark Universe movies to tackle.
This villainous ending is not without its problems. The Mummy is still basically a prologue, but for a villain this time. It's also not a very rewarding ending, as you just spent some 120 minutes watching the main characters ultimately lose, though, if done correctly the movie would be thematically powerful (Universal monster movies were all about giving into the id and the struggle within).
There's also the problem of what to do with Ahmanet, as the heavily publicized female villain is now second fiddle to a man. A redemption arc could be the way to go there, as Ahmanet and Nick essentially switch morality. She learns she made a mistake and decides to help take him down while finding her place in this strange world. Maybe she meets the Wolf Man and dates Frankenstein; I'm just spitballing here.
Ultimately, this was not the road that Alex Kurtzman and Universal wanted to go down. If the Dark Universe does manage to make more movies past The Bride of Frankenstein, we are likely to see Nick Morton versus the forces of evil. While there's still every opportunity for Universal to realize the potential of what they are creating, one can't help but wonder when they will embrace the "Dark" in Dark Universe. But really, I just want to see evil Tom Cruise fight Dracula. Wouldn't you?