While The Mummy isn't the big bang preferred to start the Dark Universe of classic monsters, it's a serviceable popcorn flick dangling hints of promising things to come.
That's more than expected from another take on Universal's least scary feature creature, whose most recent movies resembled bad theme park ride ideas on a drawing board. Swapping out Brendan Fraser for Tom Cruise was already a step in the right action hero direction. Or anti-hero, as it turns out.
Cruise stars as Nick Morton, a self-centered soldier of fortune, which gives the actor another chance to play our worst false impressions of who he is. That's when Cruise does some of his best work, lately in Edge of Tomorrow when detractors could enjoy watching his character die repeatedly. He's aware of that undercurrent, using it smartly in role selection.
Nick and Cpl. Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) run troops reconnaissance in Iraq, looting artifacts for black market sale. "Liberators of treasured antiquities," Nick spins. A mission gets hairy, a missile is dropped and an ancient burial site is revealed. Nick and Vail join archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) in exploring the ruins, maybe stealing a fortune.
It's a struggle tying this Iraq situation into an Egyptian curse, a 12th century London prologue among Crusaders and Russell Crowe as a present-day Dr. Jekyll and you-know-who. At times The Mummy is ragged as tomb wrappings, stretching even fantasy logic to pull it all together. Director Alex Kurtzman considerately adds enough camel spider and rat swarms to hold attention between grim warnings and exposition.
At the plot's core is Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a pharoah's daughter whose shot at the throne was stolen away. Ahmanet struck a deal with Set, the god of death, to someday take revenge on mankind. It's her tomb/prison in a mercury tank that Nick accidentally uncovered. She has an odd way of saying thanks. Just know there are spoilers to be preserved, the last thing I expected from another Mummy flick. Not to mention striking images like life-sucking soul kisses and the swimming dead, a first for me.
What does The Mummy reveal about the Dark Universe future? It won't be shy about shaking up convention, like Nick's dishonorable nature and flipping the title role's gender. Crowe's Jekyll/Hyde role may become the universe's axis but like Marvel's Nick Fury is unlikely to solo. Any movie in Universal's horror library is up for grabs, as Easter eggs at least.
The Mummy offers several such treats including a visual nod to Fraser's 1999 version and its then-state-of-art sand storm demon. We see a claw from The Creature From the Black Lagoon, a skull that could be Dracula's and a key character who could be the corpse pal in An American Werewolf in London reincarnated. Nice touches in a mid-bang start to a universe.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.