If you’re a movie-producing entity currently without a “universe” (a.k.a. ever-regenerating franchise), woe unto you. So Universal has dusted off its classic 1930s movie monsters — Frankenstein, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, et al. — and set up “Dark Universe” to explore their exploits.
First out of the spooky shadows is Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy, which begins where any modern story about ancient Egypt does — in 12th-century England. But rest assured, this gets explained through one of many data dumps that bog down the action and actually end up confusing things. (Stuff we already know: A mummy is an ancient linen-wrapped dead Egyptian who, after his tomb is disturbed, hurts people until stopped.)
The twist is that this year’s mummy is a slinky Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella) who is killed during some palace intrigue, and inexplicably entombed (to presumed staggering effort and expense) in not-nearby Iraq. Said tomb, complete with a lake of mercury (!), is uncovered when a couple of present-day douchebag looters — Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and sidekick (Jake Johnson) — come under fire and call in a U.S. airstrike. (We have a bomb, available at the call of antiquity thieves, which blasts a giant hole while leaving the ancient artworks intact. Good to know.)
The dudes, plus a slinky archeologist (Annabelle Wallis) who suddenly materializes, descend into the tomb, where they retrieve the mummy; they fly it back to England and set a bunch of shit into motion. Chiefly, Morton gets mind-melded with the mummy, who appears moving pantherlike across sand dunes, while white gauzy fabric blows around her (a.k.a. high-end perfume ad). “You have set me free,” she whispers in ancient Egyptian. In London, Morton also makes a visit to the enormous underground Chamber of WTF, presided over by Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, played by Russell Crowe, who has clearly become stout eating scenery.
Meanwhile, Miss Mummy is sucking the souls out of unlucky bystanders, which has the effect of filling out what is a skin-colored leotard with hanging strips of fabric. It is very close to a “sexy mummy” outfit from a Halloween superstore. But I’m here for the makeup: Girl, those kohl-rimmed, super-smoky eyes!
Even as a popcorn film, The Mummy is rather dull and a tonal mess, shifting from buddy comedy to CGI-actioner to chick-rescue flick to the rare but still very real Tom Cruise bomb. It “wraps up” with an unearned act of self-sacrifice, and a completely stupid set-up for many movies to come. It is a brutal realization that The Mummy is just an incoherent 110-minute preview for unasked-for “Dark Universe” films. “Sometimes it takes a monster to defeat a monster,” intones Dr. Jekyll. And sometimes it takes an epically bad movie to stop other bad movies. Here’s hoping!