It appears that Universal can’t just settle for a good thing. Although they’ve created a multi-billion dollar franchise in The Fast and The Furious films, they’ve become anxious for a more expansive saga to call their own. Hence, the Dark Universe, a star-studded attempt to bring their classic monster movies roaring back to life. You’d think that they would wait for at least one success before rolling out the welcome wagon, especially after the failure of Dracula: Untold but here we are. Rebooting a reliably successful property like The Mummy seems like a good place to start, especially with the clout that Tom Cruise brings to the table. However, this film seems awfully confused about what it wants to be. Are we watching a lighthearted adventure movie or a trailer for what’s in store next.
The first hour of The Mummy is an affectionate and highly enjoyable tribute to the classic adventure movies of yore. In fact, it very much feels like an adaptation of the popular Uncharted video game series, the best modern revival of the genre in any medium. The Iraq-set opening action sequence is terrific, full of the humor and lighthearted thrills that one might expect. Cruise’s Nick Morton perfectly anchors the proceedings. He’s a quippy scoundrel who never follows orders and is more interested in stealing ancient artifacts than salvaging them. Certainly nothing original, but Cruise’s affable charisma keeps it fun, especially since Nick is not nearly as stoic and fearless as the likes of Ethan Hunt or Jack Reacher. The pacing is also lightning fast as director Alex Kurtzman manages to escalate the insanity with the next two set-pieces.
Everything then grinds to a screeching fault when we’re forced to spend a great deal of time inside Prodigium, Dr. Henry Jekyll’s (Russell Crowe) monster hunting organization. Here, we’re given a massive exposition dump about the overly convoluted backstory of our scorned Mummy (Sofia Boutella) along with tidbits about the universe that we’re going to see unfold in future films. The problem is, we don’t truly care about what’s going on in this single movie, let alone ones that are coming after. There’s also an awful lot of time dedicated to Nick spending time with Annabelle Wallis’ astonishingly bland Jenny, who seems to have intentionally been endowed with zero personality traits. Meanwhile, Crowe does what he can with a one note character, ironic for a man with multiple personalities.
There’s so much jumbled nonsense that one might forget that The Mummy is even there. Boutella remains a fascinating performer, once again relying on physicality to sell the character. Unfortunately, she’s given little to do beyond making scary noises, rubbing herself suggestively and raising her arms to send mummies after our main characters. She only really gets involved in the action during the film’s climax and by then it’s really hard to care.
The film relies too much on milking the formula that made the previous Mummy series such a big success. It would’ve been wise to take this in a different, perhaps more horror based, direction. Kurtzman reluctantly includes a couple of creepy sequences but they’re often little more than lead-ups to an unsatisfying jump scare. There was a major opportunity here to play with the haunting imagery of ancient Egypt. This could’ve had an otherworldly tone that disoriented us, making us fear what we don’t understand. Instead, we’re spoon-fed absolutely everything we need to know several times and eventually it all completely buckles under its lack of anything unique.
That said, The Mummy still remains a very watchable film. The first half establishes such a strong momentum that it takes a while for the good will to run thin, leading to a summer movie that does often deliver on the thrills that it promises. It’s little more than that, though. If Universal really wants to craft a years-long franchise here, then they’re going to have to do something that makes it unlike anything else on the market. For now, we’re left with what is essentially just another superhero universe, even if our new founding characters have a few more scars and warts than normal.