If you can imagine a summer would-be blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, directed by the guy who co-wrote “Transformers,” and penned by three writers whose résumés collectively include “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” and “The Tourist,” then there’s really no need to see “The Mummy.”
A formula, paint-by-CGI-numbers origin story that’s meant to be Universal Studios’ opening salvo in a sprawling “monsterverse” franchise that also includes Dr. Jekyll, The Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein’s Monster, Bride of Frankenstein and Phantom of the Opera, “The Mummy” does little to whet the appetite for what’s to come.
Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, a guy who serves in the armed services in the Middle East but spends most of his time with his pal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) being a part-time Indiana Jones on the hunt for buried ancient treasures to sell on the black market. When, along with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), they stumble across a huge, elaborate Egyptian tomb in Iraq, they know they’ve discovered something major. They get it taken to England for study, though monster hunter Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) has other ideas.
But by unearthing the grave of the murderous Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), they’ve unleashed an evil spirit who believes Nick — the man who freed her — is her soulmate, the connection that will give her the power to rule over all. That’s a problem because she’s a) irredeemably evil and b) Nick has eyes for Jenny and even an angry Egyptian wannabe goddess can’t do anything with that. But, like Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” she will not be ignored — not when there’s a $125 million budget and nearly two hours’ worth of special effects at her disposal.
“The Mummy” could have been a fun popcorn movie. Cruise is good at heading these sorts of things (see “Edge of Tomorrow”) and there are a few scenes — the airplane crash, the van accident, Ahmanet’s army of the undead swimming underwater — where the effects are impressive. But that can’t overcome the pedestrian nature of the story and the awkwardness the writers faced in trying to connect several of these Universal characters into one cohesive, cinematic world. As with “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” a few weeks back, the whole thing reeks of being a particularly acute case of corporate franchise fever.
Director Alex Kurtzman, who to his credit also wrote the far better “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Mission: Impossible III” but whose only previous stint as a features director was for the small-scale drama “People Like Us,” keeps the moving parts moving but doesn’t display much imagination beyond those big effects scenes. There’s little here that hasn’t been seen before.
Universal is counting on “The Mummy” and its successors to make it a competitor with Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC and their ever-expanding world of comic-book-based characters. Guys, you might want to have a backup plan.
☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson
Rated: PG-13 (violence, action and scary images, suggestive content and partial nudity)
Running time: 110 min.