It’s not often that a film manages to review itself, but there’s a moment toward the end of The Mummy, Tom Cruise’s latest narrative-free stuntfest and the first in a threatened series of Dark Universe films, when one of the characters — I think it was Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis); frankly I don’t really care enough to remember which one — asks “What are we even doing here?”
Cruise plays, well, Tom Cruise, this time as Nick Morton, allegedly an American soldier in Iraq, but apparently one of that very particular regiment of especially mavericky soldiers who never has to wear uniform or address colonels as “sir,” who moonlights as a grave-robber alongside his mate Chris (Jake Johnson). They’re looking for a legendary village called Haram (honestly), which “the translator says means hidden knowledge” (no, it doesn’t). They blow up the village they’re in by calling in a drone strike which arrives in seconds and kills a bunch of nameless “insurgents” (it’s ok — wrap keffiyehs around their faces and you don’t need to give them names, much less individual characters), and they discover an Egyptian tomb buried deep under the village. In comes Wallis’ Jennifer, an apparently English Egyptologist whose accent, despite Wallis having been born in Oxfordshire, wanders between England and North America freely throughout most sentences, and the three explore the tomb.
You’ll notice, so far in this rather involved setup, scant mention of mummies. There is one, and she is, unsurprisingly, inside the Egyptian tomb in Iraq (which should, surely, make it Iraqi, but why start applying logic now? If director Alex Kurtzmann can’t be bothered to, I don’t see why I should). Her backstory tells how, as the princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) she made a pact with Set, the god of death, to take power from her father and brother, and how she’s punished by being wrapped up and buried alive. So she’s not, in fact, a mummy, but simply someone who’s got her bandages on a little too tight, but again, why start fussing about details now? Regardless, the sarcophagus is loaded onto a transport plane — a four-engine plane, and yes, there’s a point here — to fetch it to, presumably, America, but again this is not made clear. At any rate, as it’s flying over London, all manner of Bad Things start happening to the plane, including, as the pilot announces on the radio, “we’ve lost both engines.”
So the mummy that isn’t a mummy has finally made an appearance, and she’s trying to remake a dagger that was broken when she got her comeuppance so that she can complete her pact with Set and, well, who knows? Maybe Cruise’s Nick, who is killed, apparently, in the plane crash but somehow is restored to life in a way that is entirely glossed over. Maybe it’s Russell Crowe, who manages to chew significantly less scenery that I expected him to as, and I promise I’m not making this up, although I wish I were, Doctor Henry Jekyll. It’s entirely unclear what Jekyll’s doing in this film, since his last appearance in a film from the Dark Universe‘s Universal Monsters predecessor was Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Abbott and Costello did meet the mummy a couple of years later, so perhaps they introduced the two?
At this point, I really don’t care. There’s so very little in the film to make one want to sit up and pay attention. It’s under two hours long, which is something of a mercy — Batman Versus Superman went on for over two and a half hours, and Suicide Squad, which felt even longer, cleared the two-hour mark. But The Mummy isn’t as bad as either of those films. It’s simply dull. Cruise does his usual charming-but-dangerous turn, but when his character is exposed to actual peril, the limitations of his acting skills are thrown into very, very stark relief. Crowe clearly has enormous fun as Jekyll and, not entirely surprisingly, Hyde, but his character’s (characters’?) presence serves only to muddy further the already murky narrative waters. The absurd details — a mercury fountain, swimming zombie crusaders — are, indeed, absurd. And the story simply fails to engage on any meaningful level. It’s ostensibly a film about a mummy, but it’s really a Tom Cruise vehicle — just look at the poster on this page — and not a terribly good one at that.
There may, or may not, be a sequel on the cards. I do so very much hope there isn’t.