“Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters.”
Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll says these words to Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton in the latest version of “The Mummy.”
He’s really saying them to us, though, as the studio behind the film, Universal Pictures, is introducing us to its Dark Universe. The DU is the movie industry’s latest attempt to create an expansive series of linked films, a la the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Expanded Universe and, most recently, the MonsterVerse — inhabited by Godzilla, King Kong and, at some point in the near future, others.
Perhaps (or perhaps not) this gives a little bit of extra juice to “The Mummy,” the latest vehicle for Cruise and not exactly the most exciting-looking thing on the 2017 summer slate.
However, with its blend of action, spooks and laughs, some nicely filmed sequences and a decent effort by Cruise, this latest “Mummy” is, like many of the other recent big-budget, more worth seeing than not.
If you were looking to unearth something better than that, you’ll be disappointed.
Cruise’s Nick is a long-range recon man for the Army who, along with partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson of “Jurassic World”), has a habit of getting sidetracked on missions. The pair look for valuable antiquities they can sell on the black market.
It is in the pursuit of that not-so-righteous interest that Nick has taken advantage of Jenny Halsey (“King Arthur,” “Peaky Blinders”), a beautiful British officer of Cultural Heritage. After a night together, Nick stole a potentially invaluable map from Jenny, who has devoted her life to looking for magical finds buried in the earth.
Nick, Chris and Jenny soon find themselves begrudgingly working together to explore a just-revealed Egyptian tomb — in Iraq, not Egypt. Nick’s reckless impatience leads to the find of a sarcophagus that may contain an ancient evil.
(Spoiler alert: It does. In the film’s lengthy prologue, Dr. Jekyll — before we’ve been properly introduced to him, walks us through the story of an Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella of “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Star Trek Beyond”). Centuries ago, after her father had given birth to a son who eventually would inherit the pharaoh’s power, Ahmanet struck a deal with the God of Death and murdered her family, but she then was mummified as punishment before she could help the god take physical form and inflict evil alongside her.)
In the present, things start to go badly for all involved when the plane transporting Nick, Jenny, Chris and the mummy experiences multiple seemingly inexplicable problems, leading to a crash landing. The exhilarating sequence in the air is so well executed by director Alex Kurtzman and the film’s technical crew that it’s almost enough reason to see “The Mummy.”
Nick is later introduced to Dr. Jekyll, the head of the secret organization in London known as Prodigium that is protecting the world from supernatural evil. (And, as you may have guessed, Dr. Jekyll has a bit of a monstrous side himself.)
Our heroes must try to stop Ahmanet, who has chosen Nick to be the physical reincarnated God of Death, linking him to her via a curse. Feels like a bit of karma for the man, no?
“The Mummy” may be trying to be all things to all movie audiences. Those expecting an all-out action adventure like the 1999 version of “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser may a bit let down. So, too, may those thirsting for a classic slice of monster-based horror. Instead, it’s a bit of this, a bit of that.
It’s certainly a little strange early on to see Cruise sharing a bunch of scenes with Johnson, who’s basically clowning it up as a happier version of his “New Girl” character, also named Nick. Johnson adds a bit of flavor to “The Mummy,” as does Boutella, who has the scary-but-sexy mummy thing down. Halsey, meanwhile, is run-of-the-mill; it would have been nice if the actress opposite Cruise here had a bit more fire.
At the end of the day, though, this is a Tom Cruise movie, and Cruise is an asset. He brings his typical star power to the proceedings — and gets a few really good laugh lines along the way.
You can’t help but suspect those were penned by Christopher McQuarrie, one of a handful of writers on “The Mummy” and who has worked with Cruise on several of his better movies over the last several years, writing “Edge of Tomorrow,” writing and directing “Jack Reacher” and “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” to name a few.
Speaking of direction, Kurtzman’s is solid. Better known as a writer — he’s had a hand in scripts for installments of the “Transformers,” “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises — his lone previous directorial credit is the 2012 drama “People Like Us,” which received mixed reviews. “The Mummy” likely will, as well, but aside from a few dead spots, the movie jets along nicely and is relatively visually interesting, Kurtzman and company keeping things very dark and moody for the most part.
And the action is fun, especially when Ahmanet is kicking the tar out of Nick, which happens now and then.
Will you leave the theater dying for the next installment of the Dark Universe, with “Bride of Frankenstein” announced for 2019 and future movies planned classic characters including the Creature From the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Van Helsing and The Invisible Man? Probably not.
But, if your expectations aren’t too high, you should leave reasonably entertained — if not in a hurry to go looking for buried Egyptian tombs.
‘The Mummy’In theaters: June 9.
Rated: PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.
Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes.Rating (of four): 2.5.