The legendary Boris Karloff portrayed many iconic characters throughout his long career—The Monster in Frankenstein (1931) and Imhotep in The Mummy (1932) are undoubtedly two of the most recognizable. Mr. Karloff's roles in these films are a fundamental building block in creating the foundation for Universal Pictures, which would go on to make the classic monsters we can all identify today.
And now, Tom Cruise has been chosen to lead the Universal Monster universe in a new direction, with a new franchise. In recent years, the actor has become somewhat typecast as the "smartest guy in the room" action hero, and he's actually quite good playing this character. Mr. Cruise has a charisma about him and a dedication to keep everything authentic, even down to performing his own terrifying stunts or taking roles earlier in his career that were different and out of character. This makes it all the more perplexing when you consider his completely miscast role in Universal's newest The Mummy, which is an introductory piece to the new Dark Universe concept that aims to bring all the classic monsters into the same united world. Mr. Cruise, talent and all, just doesn't belong in this film and the film itself is a terrible first step for the design of this monster franchise.
Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a soldier with a penchant for antiquities, ones that he steals and sells for his own gain. Nick has a sidekick named Chris (Jake Johnson), the voice of common sense to Nick's insane ideas. The two encounter some resistance in a small Iraqi village, but after calling in an air strike that decimates the area, a tomb is uncovered below the surface. The tomb belongs to a princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was banished far from her kingdom after murdering her family. Her vengeful resurrected body is unleashed on the world and Nick has been chosen to assist in her devious plan.
The setup may not be exactly identical to Stephen Sommers' The Mummy film that starred Brendan Fraser, though it does share quite a few moments, most obvious a giant dust storm with the face of the villain in it. However, it also pulls more influences from other films. You'll get an awful attempt to emulate a shining aspect of An American Werewolf in London, a piece of the underrated ’80s horror gem Lifeforce, and even a little underwater zombie mayhem à la Lucio Fulci's Zombie (all that is missing is the shark). While this film pulls material from some good places, it never fully assists the film in crafting anything that helps the story or characters.
Again, this franchise exists within the realm of the Universal Monsters. The film never hides the fact that this is basically Universal's version of Marvel's Avengers saga. You actually get the message loud and clear in the first few moments of the film. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing—in fact it's what many horror genre fans have been waiting for since they saw The Monster Squad or the Abbott and Costello Meet... films—it never proposes the material in interesting ways. Instead, The Mummy feels contrived and rushed. Characters are introduced and developed less by meaningful interactions and more by scenes of them running from one place to another either in search of or retreat from the monster.
Tom Cruise is the star here, playing what seems to be a bumbling thief who has heroic moments. But his character and performance don't match the tone the film is trying to achieve. The two female leads in Sofia Boutella as The Mummy and Annabelle Wallis as a researcher, are overlooked. Ms. Boutella has moments to shine when she actually gets to play the monster, but most of the time she is tied up or seen in flashbacks. Ms. Wallis is simple hampered with a terrible role as merely a liaison to Nick's adventure.
While The Mummy tries hard to bring in all the elements that make for mindless summer blockbuster fun, unfortunately it struggles to even be a film that distracts with visual entertainment for nearly two hours. The spectacle never feels big enough, the interesting characters are only provided a few real moments to be used, and the glaring plot holes consistently raise questions throughout. These are unfortunate mistakes that make The Mummy less of a step towards a franchise and more of a hasty step towards the exit from the summer cineplex.
Movie Score: 1.5/5
In case you missed it, read Heather's review of The Mummy (2017).