Given that “Spider-Man” is getting its third reboot since 2002, it’s a small miracle that Universal waited as long as it did to resurrect 1999’s wildly successful sleeper hit “The Mummy.” In the middle of franchise mania, the studio is launching its very own universe of monster flicks, and the Tom Cruise-led action thriller heralds the start of a world that may include “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Invisible Man” and “The Wolfman,” to name a few.
That’s some pressure the movie doesn’t shoulder well, considering it’s hardly the unqualified success of other trial balloons, like “Iron Man,” “X-Men” or even “Man of Steel.” In fact, “The Mummy” might make a viewer wonder whether this universe will even take off at all.
It won’t be for a lack of star power. Cruise plays Nick Morton, a brave, foolish soldier of fortune who, along with his buddy Chris (Jake Johnson), scours the Middle East looking for antiquities to loot and sell on the black market. During one such trek he stumbles upon an Egyptian crypt. But as his recent bedfellow, archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), breathily describes it: “This is not a tomb – it’s a prison.”
We already know what that means, thanks to some thoroughly informative voice-over narration by a certain Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who reveals the identity of the woman buried at this site. The daughter of a pharaoh, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) made a pact with Set, the god of death, before murdering her father, his wife and their newborn baby so that she could take the throne. She was caught before she could carry out the prophesy – using a fancy dagger to kill a man so that Set would have his very own body – and was mummified and buried alive far from Egypt.
She’d be forever stuck under a pool of mercury if Nick’s reckless gunfire didn’t upend the complex cable-and-pulley system holding her there. She appears to Nick in one of many daydream sequences to say how pleased she is with this turn of events, although once again Jenny is on hand to overexplain things: “We’ve angered the gods,” she laments.
The rest of the movie, directed by Alex Kurtzman, is mostly chase scenes with the mummy on the loose in England, kissing innocent people to death, sucking the life out of them and then reanimating the corpses to create her own zombie army. In fact, “The Mummy” has more in common with “The Living Dead” movies than the 1932 horror film or its 1999 remake, although the dead aren’t the only ones working for this villainess. She also has rats and spiders on her payroll, among many other creepy-crawlies designed to make the audience squirm and shudder.
Nick joins forces with Jenny and her boss, Jekyll, who is hammered into the story so that we don’t forget this is the start of a franchise rather than a stand-alone movie that already has plenty going on without yet another plot thread.
Some of the action is thrilling, especially a brilliantly choreographed plane crash that has Nick and Jenny tossed around the cabin before he straps her into a parachute and pulls the cord, whisking her out into the sky. The movie also has a few genuinely funny moments. When the mummy ominously runs her long nails over Nick’s torso, he starts giggling; he’s ticklish, apparently.
But the big thrills and few laughs are no match for the cumbersome, convoluted story, not to mention the nonexistent chemistry between Cruise and Wallis. (We’re not going to pin the blame on her considering the way her connection with Cillian Murphy popped off the screen in “Peaky Blinders.”)
The whole thing culminates in an underwater chase scene that’s painfully lugubrious. After the fast-paced thrills of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, among other action movies, seeing Cruise breaststroke away from some zombies is bizarre and comical. If something is in fact being launched with “The Mummy,” it’s not off to a very snappy start.