Because "The Mummy" marks the first step in Universal's attempt to build a new cinematic universe, it lays out a whole lot of unanswered questions. Just a few among the seeds planted in this weekend's big wide release: Who is involved in Prodigium, the monster-tracking organization at the heart of its new Dark Universe? Which monsters is the group tracking? What is that big fish hand in Dr. Jekyll's laboratory? Who did Russell Crowe eat?
The big question that “The Mummy” doesn't answer, however, is just why “The Mummy” needs to exist in the first place — beyond corporate imperative, of course.
Universal has long wanted to reboot its classic Monsters — like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Creature of the Black Lagoon — but its attempts, such as 2014's “Dracula Untold” and 2010's “The Wolfman,” flopped hard. Writer/director Alex Kurtzman was then brought in to reboot “The Mummy,” which was last a mildly successful franchise starring Brendan Fraser in the early 2000s. And soon enough, the plan became even more ambitious: Universal didn't just want a single reboot, but to turn these Monsters into a cinematic universe a la Marvel or DC Comics.
Well, they're not off to a very good start. Cinematic universes require you to care about characters and want to follow the consequences of their actions, and “The Mummy” is instantly forgettable, with characters that are equally unmemorable. Tom Cruise has spent three decades as the world's biggest action star because he's in great shape and he's charming as hell, but here, it feels like he's playing a simulacrum of a human. He seems to be playing a stock character, and the details in the script — he's Nick Morton, a member of the military who is more concerned with romancing women and stealing historical artifacts — are sort of irrelevant.
Maybe it's because we've seen him play this role so many times. Nick has a great smile, and woos women nearly half his age, and can run and jump like a man even younger than his bedmates. But there is no chance for any redemption, because he's not nearly as deep as the holes in the desert that he finds himself consumed by on more than one occasion.
He has no chemistry with Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), the younger woman dujour here, who teases him about the size of his manhood while giving dire warnings about the evil magic he's accidentally uncovered during a shootout in a ruined Iraqi city early in the movie. And as he's seduced by Sofia Boutella, who plays the ancient evil woman whose body he has freed — she's the titular Mummy, at least at first — he don't exactly believe she has anything on her agenda beyond taking his soul.
Meanwhile, the organization to which Halsey belongs, Prodigium, is a pale imitation of Marvel's SHIELD, but with scientists who travel the world looking for bad monsters. It's kind of like the League of Extraordinary Gentleman, except it's run by a bloated Russell Crowe, who kind of hams it up when he's awake. He's going to be the link in the Dark Universe, as Universal is calling its new series of movies, which doesn't exactly portend well here.
One bright spot is Jake Johnson, who plays Nick's zombified friend, except that it almost feels like he's in a different movie, such is the comic relief he brings to this weirdly apocalyptic movie.
That the stakes are so high already — this ancient curse is destroying all of London! — sort of take the wind out of future movies.
It's not all bad: Cruise gets to do some stunts, including one in zero gravity, and at least no one has any crazy super powers. But the sheer cost of buying a ticket isn't really worth it, not when this thing will be on cable for the next 20 years, just like the last “Mummy” adaptation.