‘The Mummy’ fails to reinvent a classic franchise

Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet, dealing with sand that gets everywhere.
Photo: Universal Pictures / Courtesy

Two stars

The Mummy Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella. Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.

The movie might be called The Mummy, but its title character is too often an afterthought, taking a back seat to the familiar adventures of Tom Cruise, action star. Cruise is the big name in Universal’s opening effort to establish a cinematic universe around its classic monster characters (see sidebar), and investing in his star power is probably a smart move when it comes to reaching international audiences. But just throwing money at the situation isn’t a formula for making a good movie, and The Mummy always feels like a marketing strategy first and a movie second (sometimes a distant second).

With Cruise in the lead, playing roguish American soldier and tomb raider Nick Morton, The Mummy is structured like a blockbuster action movie, rather than the creeping horror of its inspiration. Set in the present day (as opposed to the ’90s/’00s Brendan Fraser-starring Mummy movies, which were Indiana Jones-style period pieces), The Mummy follows Nick and his colleague/love interest Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), an archaeologist who works for the secretive Prodigium group, as they uncover the tomb of sinister ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) and inadvertently set her free. Ahmanet wants to bring Egyptian death god Set to life, and she chooses Nick as the vessel for Set’s resurrection.

Director Alex Kurtzman, mainly known for his screenwriting contributions to large-scale franchises (Transformers, Star Trek, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible), has trouble integrating Cruise’s larger-than-life movie-star presence with the more horrific elements of the story and the demands of setting up future installments in the burgeoning multi-film series. Nick’s incongruous one-liners fall flat, and Cruise has no chemistry with Wallis, whose character never develops beyond a tool for moving the plot along. Worst of all, Boutella, who gave a mesmerizing breakout performance in last year’s Star Trek Beyond, makes almost no impression as Ahmanet, who spends much of the movie held captive, even though she’s meant to be the main antagonist.

The only performer who comes off well is Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll, who runs Prodigium and of course hides his evil alter ego Mr. Hyde. A fight between Nick and a transforming Jekyll/Hyde is the movie’s most entertaining, playful scene, even though it has almost no bearing on the story. The rest of the action, even a highly touted airplane-crash stunt that Cruise insisted on performing himself, is mediocre, and without a truly threatening villain, none of it feels particularly consequential. The whole story lacks meaningful stakes, functioning mainly as setup for the various characters to appear in later movies. Some years down the road, Crowe’s campy Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might have their own promising adventure, but The Mummy gets the universe around them off to a pretty forgettable start.

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