FILM REVIEW – THE MUMMY. With Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson. Written by David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman. Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity. 110 minutes.
If you want to understand the summer movie season, the key word is “franchise.” Every studio wants a characters that they can use to keep churning out blockbusters because they’re presold: audiences already know what they’re getting. Paramount has “Star Trek.” Warner Bros. has the “DC Universe” of Superman, Batman and now Wonder Woman. Disney has both “Star Wars” and the “Marvel Universe” featuring the various members of the Avengers.
And so Universal is trying again to kickstart the franchise that helped define them in the 1930s and 1940s: the Universal monsters including Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and in the premiere offering of what is being billed as the “Dark Universe,” a new version of THE MUMMY. We can tell they’re serious about it because they’ve cast Tom Cruise in the lead, and have Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll which hints that, like the cable series “Penny Dreadful,” the characters in this Dark Universe are going to bump into each other from film to film.
The present story has to do with Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), whose military service in Iraq is simply an excuse to loot ancient artifacts for the black market. When they discover the tomb of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess buried a long ways from Egypt, it unleashes her on the world. Her goal is to complete a ceremony that will transform her lover into Set, the Egyptian god of war and violence, but associated with life and death in the movie. Since her ancient lover is long since gone, none other than Nick has been selected to take his place.
Once the pieces are all in place, archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) will try to save Nick while Ahmanet is restoring her own mummified body and creating a zombie army. Jenny works with Dr. Jekyll, but he needs to take frequent booster shots lest he turn into Mr. Hyde. While Nick is the ostensible hero of the film, he finds himself getting beaten badly by almost all the other characters, although he does survive a plane crash without a scratch on him.
There’s not much deep thought here–evil is bad, didn’t you know?–but the special effects are impressive, and the variety of tombs, museums, and laboratories where the story takes place provides enough visual stimulation to keep it interesting. As a summer “amusement park” ride, the film works fine, although Universal seems to have missed the lesson of the Marvel movies and has no “Easter egg” addditional scene in the closing credits.
What is a bit sad is to realize that Tom Cruise, who turns 55 on July 3, seems to be content in being an “action star.” It’s been a long time since “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Rain Man” and “A Few Good Men.” There was a time when his star turns allowed him to tackle more serious roles. Now he seems more interested in showing off his admittedly buff body. There’s nothing wrong with his performance here–he still knows how to turn on the charm–but when he breaks into a sweat it’s because he’s fighting a bunch of zombies.
“The Mummy” provides the requisite thrills and chills one would expect without much downtime. Whether Universal’s “Dark Universe” can rise from the dead as well remains to be seen.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.