As the startup of a new world-building, monster-centric Dark Universe, "The Mummy" is sometimes messy but also promising, the shards of enticing ideas glistening within a screenplay by David Koepp (2016's "Inferno
") and Christopher McQuarrie (2013's "Jack the Giant Slayer
") and Dylan Kussman that could have used another rewrite. The latest reincarnation of Universal Pictures' classic franchise (following the quaint 1932 original and its loose 1940s sequels, and the "Indiana Jones"-inspired, Brendan Fraser-led trilogy consisting of 1999's "The Mummy
," 2001's "The Mummy Returns
," and 2008's "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
") gets points for bringing gothic horror and quite a few of the iconic bandage-wrapped baddies back into the equation. It also doesn't hurt to have the ever-reliable Tom Cruise (2015's "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
") front and center. His character may be underdeveloped, but that doesn't stop the actor from injecting the part with a Cruise-worthy charm and eager-to-please stamina. No matter the project, one thing remains constant: he never phones it in.
Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) fancies himself and partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) so-called "liberators of precious antiquities," but really they're just common treasure hunters, constantly getting into sticky situations out of which they can barely escape. When they and archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) stumble upon an ancient Egyptian tomb beneath the sands of Mesopotamia, the trio cannot believe their luck. What they do not count upon is awakening the undead Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a murderous princess from the twelfth century who was mummified and buried alive before she could complete a spell to bring the God of Death into the world of the living. Surviving a plane crash in London but learning he has been cursed by Ahmanet, Nick inexplicably is drawn to her and her past even as he and Jenny race to stop the lifeforce-sucking mummy from engendering literal Hell to the planet.
"The Mummy" was directed by Alex Kurtzman, a filmmaker whose only previous feature was 2012's low-key drama "People Like Us
." He might not sound on paper like the ideal person to lead the forge on a modern action-horror reboot, but this arena is where the picture happens to be most successful. A few sensationally devised, cohesively delivered set-piecesone set on a swirling military plane nose-diving to earth, another pitting Nick underwater against a school of ravaging mummiesimpress with their go-getter inventiveness. Ahmanet's initial herky-jerky resurrection from her disturbed sarcophagus is ghoulishly inspired, aided all the more by the unsettling twangs of composer Brian Tyler's (2017's "The Fate of the Furious
") score. This scene and a few other creepy moments sprinkled throughout are effective enough to make one wish the makers had stuck to the classic corpsy look one thinks of when they imagine textbook cinematic mummies. Alas, the more victims Ahmanet leaves in her wake, the more she looks like an attractive young woman decked out in hieroglyphic tattoos. That's not nearly as interesting.
As the third act approaches, "The Mummy" slows down and retreats indoors to deal with an enigmatic, monster-studying secret organization called Prodigium, run by none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). This segment feels more than a little shoehorned in to set up future hopeful Dark Universe films; it's an all-business means to an end, and the movie bursts back to life the second it breaks free and back to the fight against Ahmanet and her zombie minions. At the center of the battle to save his own soul is Tom Cruise's Nick Morton; when he confesses near the end, "I've made so many mistakes," one cannot help but wish more had been learned about him and his past to lend the line the weight it deserves. As is, it comes and goes with little consequence as he and Jenny, played by the fetching Annabelle Wallis (2014's "Annabelle
"), befall their next hairy situation. When "The Mummy" bogs itself down in exposition, it loses its way. But when it sticks to thrills and spectacle and, you know, horror, there is unmistakably exciting potential in seeing the first glimpses of Universal's Dark Universe take shape.