For the majority of his four decade-spanning career, Tom Cruise has been the type of star where name is enough to get audiences in seats. For the blockbusters of 2017, it’s brand that matters more than anything, yet Cruise has long been his own brand. Because of this, Cruise is a relic of another time, a stickler for a Hollywood tradition that has passed him by. Despite this, Cruise has maintained a solid string of action films, from the long-running Mission: Impossible franchise, to welcome surprises like Edge of Tomorrow. What defines a Cruise film in this day and age is a certain amount of control from Cruise himself. Especially in his 2010s films, this has meant Cruise doing his own dangerous stunts, a refreshing lineup of platonic female costars, a penchant for solid action and of course, plenty of running. Cruise might not be necessarily with the times, but dammit, the man has been pretty consistent. That is, until he was overtaken by the Dark Universe.
The Mummy is the first film in Universal Studios’ “Dark Universe” cinematic universe, allowing them to dig up (literally, in this case) their own monster films in the hopes of turning them into a team of Avengers-like proportion. For the first time in years, Cruise succumbs to the film that he is in, rather than being the forefront, playing a character as bland, dimensionless, and stupid as the film he is in. Because of this, our intro to the “Dark Universe” doesn’t know how to use its main star, doesn’t know how to make an entertaining action film, and ruins the beginning of this world that no one asked for in the first place.
As Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll explains in the film’s exhaustive prologue, Ahmanet (Sofia Botella) was an Egyptian princess who made a deal with Set – the god of death – to bring him into a mortal form. When Ahmanet fails, she is buried alive far away from her home as punishment. Enter Nick Morton, played by Tom Cruise, who works for the Army in some fashion (it doesn’t matter), but mostly just uses this as a cover to steal priceless treasure from various ancient sites with his partner Chris (Jake Johnson). Using a map he stole during a one-night stand with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Frances Wallis), Nick inadvertently finds the tomb of Ahmanet and is accidentally cursed to become Set’s human host.
All of this setup leads to The Mummy’s finest scene, in which Jenny and Nick tumble through a plane hurtling towards the ground. Cruise and Wallis spent several days falling through the sky in the plane, the type of practical effect that Cruise thrives on. But then once the plane crashes, Nick wakes up in a body bag, and is thrown into a world of questions that are never sufficiently answered. Nick is now mentally linked to Ahmanet, who is after him, but also after a sword that she must stab Nick with to become Set.
In a search for answers, Nick eventually ends up with Jekyll and a group called the Prodigium, who is attempting to save the world from monsters. At this point, The Mummy makes its true intentions known: it is not simply the latest adaptation of The Mummy franchise, it’s setup for the films that are to come. The Mummy is just our inauguration into this universe. Rather than doing this in a more natural, thought out way, The Mummy stops its mummified action dead in its tracks to create this new world of vampires, wolf men, and dual identities.
The Mummy’s problems begin much earlier than than, right down to the banality of its characters. Jenny is nothing but a way to espouse information to the audience and make some sense of the script (written by Christopher McQuarrie, David Koepp, and Dylan Kussman). Ahmanet’s plans are never quite clear, yet can somehow pick up English only days after being dug up for thousands of years. Ahmanet is so overpowered, that she makes every fight sequence irrelevant and dull. Most of her performance is standing around, looking menacing, but really just coming off like a combination of Suicide Squad’s Enchantress and Grimes.
But it’s Cruise’s Nick that becomes the most vapid of all. Nick is so ignorant, despite being a treasure hunter, has no idea what hieroglyphics or sarcophaguses are. Nick is emblematic of The Mummy’s many flaws. He’s either horrified, or trying to crack a joke, and not pulling off either. His choices are completely reliant on what the script wants him to be at that very moment. There’s even one point in which Jenny explains why she thinks he’s a good guy, and even Cruise doesn’t seem to know that that was part of his character.
There’s a general uncertainty at to what the hell The Mummy actually is. It’s the film’s trifecta of writers and poor choice of a director in Alex Kurtzman (whose only other film is the forgettable People Like Us) that throw stupid mythology building, unmemorable action, and nonsense characters and writing together in the hopes that some combination turns this into something bearable. But The Mummy fails on every count, a film that simply doesn’t know how to do anything right, not even make this film into the dumb fun it could’ve been. If this is a sign of things of things to come, let the Dark Universe stay dark.