Tom Cruise has always shown the energetic charm of a born movie star. Sometimes he coasts on it, sometimes he subverts it, but he never loses it. Until now.
There is plenty of blame to go around, starting at the top. “The Mummy” is Universal Studios’ attempt to create a superhero-style franchise machine, and it feels like someone filmed a pitch meeting and added CGI. Even Cruise can’t compete with this level of cynicism.
The script has three credited screenwriters (so assume at least six) and immediately establishes Cruise’s Nick Morton as the least likable character in the film. Nick is ostensibly an American soldier, but he spends most of his time looting ancient sites and selling his finds on the black market. He and his buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) literally fall into a major discovery, a massive Egyptian tomb somehow buried in the middle of Iraq.
Because they are arrogant, blundering jerks, Nick and Chris start stealing artifacts and firing weapons, much to the consternation of archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who wants to study whatever the bizarre structure is trying to conceal. That doesn’t seem too bright, either, considering the layers of supernatural protection surrounding this thing, but Jenny has her reasons.
Of course, the sarcophagus they take back to London contains a very annoyed mummy, but the twist this time is that it’s a woman, Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), who was buried alive after murdering her family and trying to summon the god Set thousands of years ago. She latches onto Nick as the new vessel for her plan, but it turns out she has a lot of competition.
This is where “The Mummy” unravels (sorry). What could have been an entertaining adventure gets bogged down in convoluted attempts to connect this story to the other classic Universal monsters set for reboots in the studio’s new “Dark Universe” franchise. (Coming soon: Johnny Depp in “The Invisible Man,” Javier Bardem in “Frankenstein” and director Bill Condon’s “Bride of Frankenstein.”)
Russell Crowe appears as the mysterious figure who ties it all together, and he has to over-explain ideas that will never make sense, no matter how scholarly his voice sounds. By the time we get to cinema’s most tedious sequel set-up, it is impossible to care.
Cruise just gets lost in this mess, and Nick’s attempt at redemption is as perfunctory as everything else. The real star is Boutella, whose own charisma quickly overpowers her co-stars. Ahmanet’s single-minded villainy and army of zombie minions would make her a much better choice for repeat appearances.
Yes, there are zombies, and they constitute director Alex Kurtzman’s only nods to real horror filmmaking. At least these scenes are scary and exciting. Kurtzman is usually a producer (he worked with Boutella on the “Star Trek” reboot), and he just doesn’t have the experience to direct something this massive. Not that anyone could do much with it.
But hey, it has zombies. That has to count for … something.
Read more of freelancer Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.
Rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.
3-D or not 3-D? The effect is barely noticeable, except in a couple of scenes. Don’t waste your money.