There is so much riding on “The Mummy,” far more than its skeletal shoulders should have to withstand. The studio behind the summer horror-adventure flick, Universal, is launching its “Dark Universe,” with the film, its answer to the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. So they’re dusting off the familiar names that have graced cinemas for nearly a century now, including “Bride of Frankenstein” and “Creature From the Black Lagoon.” Those, and other monster stories, were popularized in the 1930s with the Val Lewton gothic monster flicks, effectively inventing horror filmmaking as we know it. Universal is hoping audiences might still have an appetite for these titles.
Therefore, “The Mummy” director and co-writer Alex Kurtzman is saddled with several enormous tasks to achieve in one film. The movie has to reboot the popular older series of “Mummy” films from the 1990s and early 2000s, it has to (hopefully) launch a new franchise, as well as the Dark Universe, and it has to be a Tom Cruise vehicle.
The first half of “The Mummy” shows tremendous promise. It’s the kind of rollicking, goofy, perfect summer fun to be found at the movies. After the legends are established, of crusading English knights and vengeful Egyptian princesses unleashing evil curses, we drop in with Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), a pair of special-ops types who like to spend their time in Iraq antiquity hunting rather than insurgent stalking.
One of their escapades involving a hasty airstrike unearths a secret tomb, and British archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) is on the scene to excavate the sarcophagus within; it’s confined in a pool of mercury, imprisoned in a series of traps and chains. As we have been informed, liberating this soul from its resting place could have deadly repercussions, and our protagonists soon discover this as well, as the mummy princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) lays waste to their cargo plane and sets off to repossess her sacred dagger from the knights who looted it a few centuries ago. She needs it to turn her “chosen” into a god, and you can imagine on whom she’s set her sights as the perfect immortal mate.
While consummate movie star Cruise is always a joy to watch on screen (he might be immortal, as he seems to be aging in reverse), there’s something that isn’t quite right here. It seems to be a problem with both casting and writing. The role demands that Cruise be a rakish, lady-killing bounty hunter, but also perform a kind of befuddled banter with buddy Vail and love interest Jenny. Cruise’s persona doesn’t quite jibe with that, though Wallis is perfectly cast as the intelligent and saucy academic.
“The Mummy” falls apart at the end, rattling its bones through a series of shockingly violent clashes with Ahmanet and her army of undead. Ultimately, despite her awesome powers, this goddess is reduced to participating in a love triangle with mere mortals. How pedestrian. The bright spot proves to be Russell Crowe, turning in a fully committed and campy, scenery-demolishing performance as Dr. Henry Jekyll (and his troublesome alter ego). He steals the show in a role designed simply to establish the character for a spinoff film. There may be hope for this Dark Universe yet.