The Mummy does not exist to push the boundaries of cinema. This middling reboot exists because Universal hastily tried to assemble its own cinematic universe, because Tom Cruise had a window in his schedule, and because no money-making franchise can lie fallow for too long. (It used to be novel that the mummy could come back to life, but these days, most franchises seem just as deathless.) Delivered with all the visual panache of someone saying, “Here, I guess?” The Mummy clunks along, leaving its stars looking vaguely embarrassed, until it finally … just … stops. To hope that this wan flop will launch an interconnected universe of successful blockbusters is the most dramatic case of ambition outstripping talent since Sheree from Real Housewives included “win an Oscar” in her ten-year plan. It just ain’t happening.
However, there is one moment in The Mummy where this whole boring enterprise rises fleetingly to the level of “so bad it’s good,” something so silly that it’s bound to be the only thing I ever remember from this whole misbegotten mishegoss. It’s the line, “Thanks for bringing me back from the dead, dude.” And to say more will involve SPOILERS.
Aside from Cruise, Russell Crowe, and a hairstyle played by British actress Annabelle Wallis, none of the characters in The Mummy live for very long. Emmy-winning super talent Courtney B. Vance is killed right away, comic relief Jake Johnson perishes not long after the mummy is dug up, and almost anyone else who appears onscreen is just cannon fodder for assorted monsters. Despite his early death, though, Johnson defies the odds and keeps appearing throughout the film.
You see, the mummy has managed to get inside Cruise’s head, periodically sending him important supernatural messages like, “The plot needs you to go here now.” Often, those dream trips take the form of Johnson, who’ll appear in visions to his former friend, coaxing him this way and that. (For someone who’s built his career on decisive, ultracommitted characters, Cruise is curiously passive in this film.) Anyway, it is what it is until the last act of the movie, where Cruise defeats the bad mummy by taking on magical mummy powers himself. He uses them to resurrect his drowned love interest and then, in the film’s final coda, we see Cruise and Johnson riding across the desert … only this time, Johnson isn’t just a vision. “Thanks for bringing me back from the dead, dude,” Johnson says helpfully.
When the line comes, the viewer’s patience has already been tested by two hours of slapdash meaninglessness. “Thanks for bringing me back from the dead, dude,” is just the final straw, one of the last expositional lines in a movie where everybody speaks in catch-up. It’s the kind of thing you script for a character when you just don’t care anymore, when Tom Cruise is like, “Wouldn’t it be funny to have Jake in the sequel,” and you’re like, “Sure, whatever, I have a massage at 4.”
Part of me wants to clap at “Thanks for bringing me back from the dead, dude,” just for being so brazen. Imagine if The Empire Strikes Back ended with Han Solo waddling into that iconic final shot, murmuring, “Hey, Luke, thanks for rescuing me offscreen.” There shouldn’t even be a corpse around for Cruise to resurrect, since Johnson’s body was likely blown to smithereens in a plane crash, but the film is betting that you don’t care about that, just like you probably haven’t cared about anything else they’ve shown you. It’s a blatant but still insufficient hand wave: “Just accept it. New Girl is back.”
But, boy, is that cynical. This nascent franchise is asking us to invest in these characters and their dramatic stakes, but nothing means much if those people are paper thin and the laws of life and death don’t apply to them, just as it barely matters if Cruise becomes a mummy if all it does it grant him X-Men superpowers he uses offscreen. In that way, “Thanks for bringing me back from the dead, dude” is sort of emblematic of the movie as a whole, treating this thing that ought to be a big deal with a half-considered shrug. If that’s what this monsters universe has got in store for us after The Mummy, don’t expect a long afterlife.