Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson
Rated PG-13 for Violence, Action and Scary Images, and for Some Suggestive Material and Partial Nudity
With the success of the Marvel and DC superhero "universes," Universal is hoping to duplicate its success. But instead of men and women dressed in leotards and motion capture outfits, Universal has decided to create a movie universe of classic monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Werewolf, and so on. With this new iteration of "The Mummy," their so-called "Dark Universe" doesn't get off to a good start.
Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Johnson) are two American soldiers who have a nice scam going: they draw out ISIS terrorists to ancient archaeological sites and then loot the area and sell artifacts on the black market. When the latest site puts up more resistance than usual, a drone strike opens a hole into the ground that appears to hide an ancient Egyptian tomb. Hired treasure protector Jenny Halsey (Wallis) arrives to take control of the site, barking orders to everyone. Nick inadvertently causes a scary looking sarcophagus to arise out of the ground. Little does he know that that puts a curse on him from Ahmanet (Boutella), the Egyptian priestess buried there, and she has special plans for him.
Calling this a remake/reboot/reimagining/re-whatever of the "Mummy" franchise that started in 1999 is a mistake. Apart from one blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference, this movie carves out its own identity and seeks to stand on its own. Gone are the pulpy adventure and quirky humor of the movies starring Brendan Fraser. This is a much darker film that leans more towards horror. Or at least it would if Tom Cruise didn't mug the camera acting like he's in an SNL skit.
Tom Cruise can be a charming and versatile actor, but either he's miscast, trying to salvage a badly written role, or simply not trying. It's as if he's wandered in from a sequel to the aforementioned adventure series. Even taking that into account, there's no calling his performance anything less than embarrassing. And in his mid-50's, isn't he a little old for this sort of thing? Cruise is beginning to look his age, and methinks he should leave the stunts to someone younger and concentrate on his skills as an actor. His co-star Annabelle Wallis isn't much better. Her acting has not improved since her one-dimensional turn in "Annabelle," and as a result she blends into the background. Her chemistry with Cruise is so non-existent that I was unaware that they were supposed to have any feelings for each other until the very end. Sofia Boutella doesn't have much to do other than look creepy, something that she accomplishes (make-up and CGI help). Russell Crowe appears to be slumming for a hefty paycheck. Only Jake Johnson is entertaining to watch (as usual), but he's just a minor character.
I really wish that studios would stop giving big budget movies to untried directors. Occasionally, that works, such as with Patty Jenkins and the much more entertaining "Wonder Woman" movie. Those are rare exceptions, and most such movies end up being bombs like "47 Ronin." To be fair to Alex Kurtzman (who did direct the low-budget drama "People Like Us" five years ago), this isn't an awful movie, but if Universal wants to get Dark Universe off to a good start, why not invest in a real script with a real filmmaker. This is a movie for someone like James Wan, who has proven that he can handle both action ("Furious 7") and horror (everything else). Kurtzman doesn't know what this movie should be (the half dozen credited screenwriters could be to blame), and as a result the film doesn't work. It's not scary, it's not thrilling and it's not fun.
Universal has made a huge investment and is desperate to get a piece of the "universe" pie, so unless this turns out to be a bomb of epic proportions (doubtful), it's a safe bet that we will be seeing more of the Dark Universe. I just hope the movies will improve in quality.