Tom Cruise's 'The Mummy': Fun before it unravels

Film Review The Mummy
SOFIA BOUTELLA in a spectacular, all-new cinematic version of the legend that has fascinated cultures all over the world since the dawn of civilization: "The Mummy." From the sweeping sands of the Middle East through hidden labyrinths under modern-day London, "The Mummy" brings a surprising intensity and balance of wonder and thrills in an imaginative new take that ushers in a new world of gods and monsters.

The title character in The Mummy is a woman, and the story takes her from Egypt to Iraq to England, where folks can just call her mum.

Her sponsor on this journey is Tom Cruise, playing larcenous Army officer Nick who, with sidekick Jake Johnson, raids tombs in Iraq for treasure. He disturbs the grave of a wicked Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella), activating a curse that follows them both to London, where her sarcophagus is to be studied by Egyptologist Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) and her mysterious associate, Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

None of this, of course, goes according to plan, and Nick and Jenny end up fighting off hordes of zombies and the mummy princess, who has four irises and a bad temper. This is mostly played for laughs – the movie has the half-serious, jokey tone of the first Brendan Fraser Mummy movie, and Nick is a similar sort of rogue adventurer, with the same attraction to a smart, tough female associate.

This new Mummy, though, carries the burden of corporate ambition. Director Alex Kurtzman is not merely out to tell a story here, or to entertain. The job of The Mummy is to provide the foundation for a new franchise and extended universe, with a roster of characters (werewolves, vampires, etc.) that will grow and expand and compete with Marvel and DC in the fantasy-industrial complex.

It’s not far-fetched to think that one day, with ongoing consolidation, all of these characters will be owned by the same entity, and will appear in the same movie, in an extravaganza that might look like our recent Wizard World, with hundreds of costumed characters randomly bumping into each other.

What this means for cinema is probably a secondary question. As a harbinger, The Mummy is not encouraging. It’s brisk, competent, and kind of funny for about an hour – Johnson’s sidekick role takes an unexpected turn – before the sweaty labor of franchise-building starts to kick in.

While princess Four Eyes is ravaging London and building a zombie army and searching for the ruby stone that will activate the dagger of eternal life (don’t ask), writers digress to integrate the story of Dr. Jekyll and his cryptic organization.

This causes Crowe to give several pompous and poorly scripted speeches about the nature of evil – Jekyll is evidently in the business of studying, managing, and containing it. His insight derives from his own experience, suppressing the demonic Mr. Hyde. Thus is established the template for this new vision – tormented souls fighting internal battles and whatever new monster is next in line.

During the (yawn) zombie-army climax, characters pause to explain to us what is happening to Nick, so we don’t get lost on the way to the next movie/profit center.

It feels like a step backward for Cruise, who can rise to the challenge of inventive material like Edge of Tomorrow. And Crowe looks particularly bored with his new assignment. I’d bet he’d much rather star in a franchise built around The Nice Guys.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Mummy

Directed by Alex Kurtzman. With Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis and Jake Johnson. Distributed by Universal.

Running time: 2 hours.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (Violence, scary images, partial nudity).

Playing at: Area theaters.