'The Mummy': Will It Feature the Monster Audiences Are Expecting?

Watching the first trailer for Tom Cruise's upcoming actioner The Mummy, one thought immediately came to mind: "Where is the mummy?"

Oh, sure; the titular character definitely appears in the trailer — it's Sofia Boutella's undead monster, who brings men to their knees, a couple of extra irises for creepy effect and what appears to be clouds of destruction in her wake, much to the displeasure of Tom Cruise's apparently equally undead protagonist. But while Boutella's 5,000-year-old threat fulfills part of the Mummy idea that audiences will immediately recognize — she's ancient, she came out of a sarcophagus — she's also not really a mummy as people would expect.

It's not just a matter of the new mummy missing the bandages (at least, they are significantly fewer of them) but that so many of the other identifiers are seemingly missing, as well.

Some of those might be gone with good reason; you can't really have a silent, shambling monster these days, bandages or no, because the success of zombie fictions like The Walking Dead have re-contextualized them as a separate strain of the undead no matter what. But the combination of missing elements means that what is shown in the trailer bears more resemblance to Suicide Squad's quasi-historical threat the Enchantress than the mummy of popular culture … and that's not a good thing.

The Mummy, after all, isn't just a standalone project; it's the first in what's intended to be a series of features building out a shared universe based on the Universal monster properties. It's not too much of a stretch, then, to think that The Mummy will set the tone — and the approach — for the entire uber-franchise, making the genericism on display in this trailer all the more concerning: it's not just one movie that's abandoning expectations, it suggests, it's all of them.

There are plenty of reasons for adaptations and updates to jettison expected elements: They could be problematic for any number of reasons, or simply not as good as a new idea that can replace them and decontextualize the basic core concept of the story. Neither of those would appear to be the case here: There's no "wrapped in bandage" movement on Tumblr waiting to decry a traditional mummy portrayal as offensive, nor does what's seen in the trailer seem especially new or unique. Director Alex Kurtzman told reporters last week that he reveres the classic Universal monster movies and Boris Karloff's The Mummy in particular. I hope that's true.

It's possible that there are scenes unfinished and unready for a trailer reveal that show the monster audiences have come to expect. I hope so; the prospect of a shared universe built on ideas that are transformed into something almost unrecognizable by filmmakers afraid to embrace ideas and images just because they could be seen as hokey and old-fashioned is a sad one, and also one that misses one of the primary appeals of Marvel Studios' output: those movies aren't successful only because they share a setting, but because they embrace their source material and try to translate it without apology onto the big screen.

If there's one lesson that seems unlearned by so many studios attempting to build their own Marvels — be it Warners' DC properties, the upcoming Kong: Skull Island or now The Mummy — it's that sincerity and fidelity to the original can win over even the most cynical audiences. Here's to seeing an old-school Mummy wandering around Tom Cruise for at least part of the upcoming movie as a sign that Universal knows just how valuable the early monster properties really are.

The Mummy hits theaters June 9, 2017.

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