It’s alive, it’s alive! Sure, “The Mummy” returns to the big screen, but Universal has revived its entire monster franchise, dubbing it, “The Dark Universe,” its answer to the “Marvel Universe.” This film is only the first in a series of interconnected movies, plots and characters populating a parade of onscreen monsters over the next several years.
During the Golden Age of Hollywood (’30s – ’50s), Universal developed a monster mash of remarkable stars, so intimidating, convincing and delightfully terrifying. We’ll always think of Bela Legusi as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman and Vincent Price as the Invisible Man. When Boris Karloff wasn’t Frankenstein, he was The Mummy!
It must be easy to create a monster movie, because there are so many, but the great ones are few and far between. Most are so cheesy; they’re forgotten before you get to the parking lot. So, Universal hired Hollywood’s finest to bring the monsters back to life. At this point, they will settle for an undead state, as the result is more glitter than gold.
Tom Cruise leads off as Nick Morton, soldier and small time con man in Iraq, looting ancient Mesopotamian treasures before ISIS destroys them. He and sidekick Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are having a smashing time. Vastly outnumbered by the enemy, they trade silly digs and insults while dodging bullets from automatic weapons.
After a bomb creates a huge hole in the unforgiving desert, a crypt is discovered deep beneath the ground. We learn from a long narration by Dr. Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe (we’ll get to that later), an ancient princess has been awakened. Her destiny was taken from her and now seeks revenge (what else?). With evil powers, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) is capable of terrors that defy human comprehension. Scared yet?
You might say “The Mummy” is a riches to rags story, but the Egyptians believed that death is just the doorway to a new life. Then, there’s a related story about English Crusaders from 1127 AD, but this whole thing takes so long to set up, we almost lost interest. Nick is challenged by attractive archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) who is nice enough, but generates zero chemistry with Tommy or her role
If you remember, Brendan Fraser turned in career performances in a couple of “Mummy” features in 1999 and 2001. Fraser is no Cruise, but helped make those monster movies a lot of fun. Here, Cruise makes an effort, but is given a clunky script by a committee of six, led by Christopher McQuarrie (“Jack Reacher”) and Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”).
Over many years of successful writing and producing, the superb Kurtzman has earned his shot at directing. Nice try, but good that he has something to fall back on. In spite of massive special effects and the team of writers, this story frequently drags, often feels disjointed and never feels riveting, compelling or remarkable in any way.
At 55 years old, Cruise just isn’t that same rascally character anymore, which should be a good thing. To his credit, he has matured and is best when the topic becomes more serious. But, the script too often dumbs him down. He makes the effort but excels in the action scenes, especially those taken on the “Vomit Comet,” which simulates the weightlessness of their damaged plane diving rapidly towards earth.
“The Mummy” is 110 minutes and rated PG-13 for violence, action, scary images, suggestive content and partial nudity. Released 85 years after the original, it isn’t a bad movie. It is mildly entertaining, has lots of “Boo!” flashes, adventures and the requisite number of rats and spiders. However, we expected more than a string of clichés.
Russell Crowe is introduced as Dr. Jekyll for his own upcoming feature in “The Dark Universe.” Also stay tuned for reboots of “Bride of Frankenstein,” “Invisible Man,” “Wolfman,” “Dracula” and more B-Movie fright nights. We so want these to be enjoyable and memorable, but maybe the first one was wrapped too tightly or was just cursed. Either way, Universal should heed Nick’s words, “We’ve angered the gods!”
Ron’s Rating: C- Leigh’s Rating: C+