Throw An American Werewolf in London, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lifeforce, the ’99 Mummy remake, and Dawn of the Dead: Zack Snyder Edition, into a figurative blender. Subtract everything you love about those movies and the misshapen, shambling, stitched-together mess that results would look a lot like Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy, Universal’s desperate attempt to kickstart their own interconnected cinematic universe to rival Marvel or DC and their multi-billion dollar grosses. Without any superheroes of their own, Universal did what any major studio with Fast & Furious money would do: They dug deep into their century-old back catalog and came up with the so-called “Dark Universe,” a shared universe starring Universal’s “famous monsters.” If the stillborn The Mummy is any indication, though, the “Dark Universe” has failure written all over it. And Tom “Mr. 120%” Cruise isn’t to blame, at least not completely. A badly underwritten script pieced together from the work of six credited writers deserves most of the blame.
The Mummy remake opens not with a bang – as every action-adventure film should – but with a definite whisper. Obviously worried that the average moviegoer wouldn’t get the concept or the idea behind a resurrected mummy wreaking havoc on the world, Alex Kurtzman delays the introduction of the modern-day setting or the supposed hero, Nick Morton (Cruise), a renegade U.S. Army officer and self-described “antiques liberator” (thief), to drop some heavy exposition on the audience involving the Knights Templar, a secret underground burial chamber underneath the London subway system, a super-secret, privately funded organization, Prodigium, and Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), the “mummy” of the title, an ancient Egyptian princess/Goth chick/tattoo fan/Enchantress wannabe buried alive for the grave sin of regicide (her father) and fratricide (her infant brother). Ahmanet wanted to rule Egypt as its queen, but ancient patriarchy being what it was (i.e., men first, women always last), her infant brother would succeed her father.
There’s more, of course, like how Ahmanet isn’t even the real Big Bad or the “ultimate evil” promised in the trailers: In exchange for giving Set, the God of Death, an earthly vessel (aka the “chosen”), she’ll get almost limitless powers, minus that whole serving “ultimate evil” for eternity. And Nick? After awakening Ahmanet from her millennia-long slumber (less an act of stupidity than greed), he somehow becomes Ahmanet’s latest chosen one. His handy new powers include the ability to walk away unscathed from the crash of a U.S. Air Force cargo plane (easily The Mummy’s best set piece), receive visions of the long-distant past straight from Ahmanet’s mind, and chat with his now dead, decomposing best friend, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), the obligatory sidekick/comic relief who’s rarely as funny or amusing as Kurtzman or his writing team think he is.
Then again, everything about The Mummy remake/reboot/re-whatever falls in the “obligatory” category, from the obligatory best friend, the obligatory romantic interest, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), a Prodigium-allied archaeologist, to the forced, sub-competent dialogue (“It’s not me, it’s you” as just one, cringe-inducing example), the obligatory CGI-heavy set piece every 10-15 minutes, the obligatory intro to the world of “gods and monsters” (and the “Dark Universe”) via Chief Exposition Giver Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), to the obligatory sequel-, franchise-, and universe-friendly ending. But what Kurtzman, his writers, and his producers can’t and won’t do (i.e., tell a coherent, compelling, one-and-done story) ultimately dooms The Mummy to failure. Someone at Universal must have thought, “If we build it, they will come.” They were wrong with or without a star of Cruise’s magnitude. Audiences still love Cruise when he’s playing Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible series, but they’re lukewarm when he’s not. In short, there’s no guarantee Cruise’s name will help box office wise opening weekend.
Cruise, an actor known for committing to a role with singular determination and focus (regardless of story quality), easily delivers one of the most bored, detached performances of his career. It doesn’t help that he has little chemistry onscreen with Wallis (he has more with Vail), but that’s as much a product of a script that can’t be bothered to spend a few minutes developing their relationship or why we should care for their relationship. Morton isn’t exactly a role model. He’s the prototypical, stereotypical “Ugly American,” robbing graves for profit with a grin and a shoulder shrug, lying to his military superiors about what he’s doing in the Iraq desert, inciting a confrontation with heavily armed locals (demerits for cultural and social insensitivity), and releasing the title character from her slumber to murder, maim, and set the apocalypse into motion (again with a grin and a shrug). He’s less Captain America and more Captain Un-America. Sure, Morton is on redemption road (insert multiple yawns here), but that doesn’t mean we should care for his redemption (we don’t). That’s far from good for a character meant to connect The Mummy to the rest of the Dark Universe and bring moviegoers along for the ride.