The Mummy showcases less of a failure to work on its own terms than a flat refusal for the sake of positioning the pieces for another cinematic universe. The opening logo for Universal Pictures revolves its central globe to reveal the words "Dark Universe," an ominous moniker that promises a lot more than this inaugural step in that direction can fulfill. The screenplay (by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman) is predominantly focused upon world-building of the expository sort, and there is so much dialogue that explains concepts surrounding and within this premise that any sense of joy or fun is buried underneath concerns of Very Grave Significance to everyone except the audience. Scratch that - it seems obligatory to the players in the movie, too.
The result is disastrous, though perhaps not unmitigated. Intrigue could very well exist far beneath the movie's exterior shell, but it seems impossible to grasp, both for us and for the filmmakers. The pieces are here for an enjoyable romp, right down to its choice of leading actor: Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a military man who, on the side, searches for buried treasure in the Mesopotamian region of Iraq with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson). Pinned down by insurgents, Nick calls in the cavalry, who bring with them a Hellfire missile and an archaeologist named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), with whom Nick predictably has a romantic history. The resulting rescue attempt unearths what seems to be an Egyptian tomb with a sarcophagus that exhibits strange powers.
For one, it has a hand in crashing the plane they fly out of the region, and for two, it seems to place a curse on Nick, who is then bombarded with visions of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), eventually the film's central threat. A prologue with accompanying narration explains her past: Seeking approval from her father, she grows jealous of his new child with a young wife, murders all of them in a rage, and makes a pact of immortality (or something) with one of her many gods. Meanwhile, Nick's curse is of great interest to Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe, for some reason), who is the head of a mysterious organization with an unclear purpose and carries alongside him a certain alter-ego. The screenwriters display little interest in either of these plot threads, neither of which, in any case, is substantive enough to sustain a movie.
Even the combined efforts of those two plot threads isn't enough. Ahmanet's power isn't shown in full until a generic climax in which she unleashes an army of CGI zombie warriors and explodes things in fits of rage. The prospect of a certain character's initiation into this "Dark Universe" holds only a vague promise, mostly in the nerd explosion that will take place once the other classic Universal monsters are introduced. Cruise's charm as a movie star who has barely aged since the height of his career in the 1990s and as an action icon who largely performs his own stunts is mostly functional here, and while Boutella certainly has an otherworldly physicality in her movements, the role is restrained to a lot of creepy death glares and interaction with or within digital or makeup effects.
That leaves only the passages that attempt to inject some weirdness into a dull mix and the action sequences, to which director Alex Kurtzman brings a whole lot of pyrotechnics and not a lot of genuine skill. The former mostly involve efforts to introduce a comic element in the form of Johnson as the sidekick in this adventure by way of an oddly forced subplot involving a second curse that only manages to elicit confusion. The latter seem as obligatory as everything else here, only the opening shootout and that plane crash offering mild, if familiar, entertainment. The other sequences, such as that climax, rely too heavily on choppy editing and sketchy visual effects to pass muster. They, too, are obligatory, and that's how all of The Mummy feels: It's just the lazy set-up for another franchise that needs, in the future, to try harder than this.
Tom Cruise (Nick Morton), Annabelle Wallis (Jenny Halsey), Russell Crowe (Dr. Henry Jekyll), Sofia Boutella (Ahmanet), Jake Johnson (Chris Vail), Courtney B. Vance (Col. Greenway), Marwan Kenzari (Malik).
Directed by Alex Kurtzman and written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman.
Rated PG-13 (violence, action, scary images, suggestive content, partial nudity).
Released on June 9, 2017.