There is much riding on “The Mummy,” more than its skeletal shoulders should have to withstand. Universal Pictures, the studio behind the summer horror-adventure flick, is kicking off its “Dark Universe” franchise with the film, its answer to the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. So it’s dusting off the familiar monsters that have graced cinemas for nearly a century, like “Bride of Frankenstein” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Those flicks were made in the 1930s, effectively inventing horror filmmaking as we know it.
“The Mummy” director and co-writer Alex Kurtzman is saddled with several enormous tasks to achieve in one film. The film has to reboot the “Mummy” films from the 1990s and early 2000s, it has to launch a new franchise and it has to be a Tom Cruise vehicle.
The first half of “The Mummy” shows promise. It’s the kind of rollicking, goofy 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 on Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), a pair of special-ops types who like to spend their time in Iraq hunting antiquities rather than stalking insurgents.
One of their escapades 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. Liberating the soul from its resting place could have deadly repercussions, as the protagonists soon discover when the mummy princess (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 guess who she thinks will be a perfect immortal mate.
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While Cruise is always a joy to watch onscreen (he might be immortal, as he seems to be aging in reverse), something isn’t 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 befuddled banter with buddy Vail and love interest Jenny. Cruise’s persona doesn’t 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 the princess 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 campy, scenery-demolishing performance as Dr. Henry Jekyll (and his troublesome alter ego). He steals the show in a role designed to establish the character for a spin-off film. There may be hope for this Dark Universe yet.
Rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity. 1:50. Fayette, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond.