The Dark Universe.
The name doesn’t exactly capture the imagination, does it?
But it rolls off the tongue better than, say, “We’re Rebooting All the Old Universal Monster Movies and Smushing Them Together Because ‘The Avengers’ Made a Bajillion Dollars, So Deal With It.”
“The Mummy” is the first entry in this monster mash-up that eventually will include new versions of everything from “The Invisible Man” with Johnny Depp to “Bride of Frankenstein” with Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s Monster.
It’s a fitting choice for the first Dark Universe film, because “The Mummy” already feels like several other monster movies, most notably “World War Z” and “An American Werewolf in London,” with touches of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” thrown in for good measure. What it doesn’t feel anything at all like is the series of Brendan Fraser “Mummy” movies.
Guiding us through all of this is Russell Crowe as Dr. Exposition, err, Dr. Jekyll, the Tony Stark-Nick Fury hybrid of The Dark Universe and all-around evil-ologist.
Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), we’re told as part of an exhausting amount of narration, was in line to inherit all of Egypt as the next pharaoh. Then her father sired a male heir, robbing Ahmanet of her birthright. So she summoned the god Set, was handed a magical jeweled dagger, some fancy tattoos appeared and her eyes gained a couple of extra pupils. After killing her family, but before she could give Set human form, she was mummified alive far away in what is now Iraq.
Which is where soldiers of fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson, “New Girl”) come in. The pair are charged with advanced reconnaissance, but their unofficial goal is to find as much treasure as they can carry and sell it on the black market before the rest of their unit arrives. “We are not looters,” they tell themselves. “We are liberators of precious antiquities.”
But when they find themselves under heavy fire in an insurgent stronghold, Chris calls in an airstrike that unearths the prisonlike tomb of Ahmanet, whom Nick accidentally frees, putting in motion her plan to use Nick as the vessel in which to summon Set.
As Ahmanet sucks the life out of various people, she becomes less and less dessicated while being able to command those recently deceased to rise as they flail about like electrocuted Jabbawockeez. From there, “The Mummy” is more of a zombie movie than anything else.
The creative team is like a who’s who of Cruise movies. Director Alex Kurtzman, who’s overseeing the whole Dark Universe, wrote “Mission: Impossible III.” And the script is credited to David Koepp (“Mission: Impossible”), Christopher McQuarrie (“Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” “Jack Reacher” and “Edge of Tomorrow”) and Dylan Kussman, who had a small role in “Jack Reacher.”
Despite all these connections, no one seemed to realize they were writing a script that, aside from a plane-crash sequence filmed in zero gravity, plays to exactly none of Cruise’s strengths. Considering that Nick is a thief and scoundrel who slept with Egyptologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) to steal a map leading to Ahmanet’s tomb, it’s hard not to think how much better Chris Pratt would have been in the role. And I say that as one of Cruise’s biggest, longest-tenured defenders.
Johnson, meanwhile, is perfectly cast and brings “The Mummy” some much-needed comic relief.
Despite all of Jekyll’s dire warnings, Ahmanet never really presents that much of a threat. Sure, she can command an army of the dead and briefly summons a sandstorm in the middle of London. But, through no fault of Boutella, she’s nearly as much of a drag as Dr. Jekyll.
“The Mummy” falls into the same trap as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” by trying to establish an entire cinematic universe in one, overly messy movie — albeit one that’s a hundred times more watchable than that superhero snoozefest.
For all its flaws, though, “The Mummy” ends more promisingly than it begins, which should leave moviegoers curious to see what The Dark Universe unwraps next.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.
Movie: “The Mummy”
Running time: 110 minutes
Rating: PG-13; violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity
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