The latest incarnation of Universal Studios’ classic horror chiller “The Mummy” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) doesn’t deliver the same caliber of silly, scatterbrained shenanigans of the Victorian-Era, comedy of errors “The Mummy,” with Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah. Director Stephen Sommers’ “Mummy” (1999) and “The Mummy Returns” (2001) amounted to a tongue-in-cheek homage to the sinister Boris Karloff/Christopher Lee accounts of that timeless tale of evil unwrapped. Comparatively, the new “Mummy” is neither grisly nor will it afflict you with ghoulish nightmares. “People Like Us” director Alex Kutzman and three scribes—“Jurassic Park’s” David Koepp, “Jack Reacher’s” Christopher McQuarrie, and “Burn’s” Dylan Kussman–provide audiences with plenty of action, a rollercoaster pace, and a shorter-than-average running time, ten minutes under two hours. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise stars as an amoral Indiana Jones opportunist in search of antiquities. The newest spin amounts to a careening joyride of spectacular set-pieces with surprises that veers erratically from giddy light-comedy to gritty light-horror. Some movies are remarkable from fade-in to fadeout without a single bad scene to mar them. This new “Mummy” racks up one memorable scene after another, but this breathless yarn begins to implode under the weight of its complex ‘Dark Universe’ scenario. Critics and audiences alike haven’t embraced the spirit of this madcap melodrama that christens Universal Studios’ efforts to forge their own cinematic horror universe. Marvel Comics/Disney and DC Comics/Warner Brothers have created universes for their respective phalanxes of superheroes so they can cross-over without stepping out-of-bounds. Unfortunately, “The Mummy”—the opening gambit in Universal’s Dark Universe—stumbled at the starting gate. Historically, Universal established its reputation back in the 1930s with its Golden Age supernatural creature features: “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Wolf Man,” “The Invisible Man,” and “The Mummy,” later adding “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Ironically, Universal has appropriated Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” ostensibly a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer property, to cross-over with “The Mummy.” Since Stevenson’s story molders in the public domain, anybody can adapt it without fear of copyright infringement. Oscar winning actor Russell Crowe takes a peripheral role in “The Mummy” as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Basically, he constitutes the equivalent of a behind-the-scenes Bruce Wayne with deep pockets to do as he sees fit. Presumably, if the Dark Universe endures, we may learn more about enigmatic Dr. Jekyll’s ambitions.
“The Mummy” begins with an Egyptian Prayer of Resurrection which states nobody really dies. Instead, they can be reincarnated. Whether this is derived from a genuine Egyptian prayer, it makes for a dramatic way to start a sinister saga like “The Mummy.” Initially, you’d think a movie with such a title would occur in the land of the Pyramids. Instead, the new “Mummy” unfolds in modern-day Northern Iraq. Two U.S. Army “long-range reconnaissance” scouts, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise of “Jack Reacher”) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson of “Let’s Be Cops”) are pinned down by insurgents in a harrowing firefight. Vail blows his cool and calls in an airstrike. U.S. launched Hellfire air-to-surface missiles scare off their adversaries but explode a colossal crater in the terrain that has concealed an Egyptian tomb for centuries. Predictably, their cantankerous commanding officer, Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance of “Terminator Genisys”), reprimands them for their suspicious sortie a hundred miles away from the enemy. Archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis of “X-Men: First Class”) chastises Nick for stealing her map after a one-night stand. Greenway orders the guys and gal down into the cavern. They discover the tomb of a notorious Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (seductive Sofia Boutella of “Star Trek Beyond”), whose life and legend was thought erased from history. The only daughter of an anonymous Pharaoh, Ahmanet trained night and day to prepare herself for the throne until her father married a handmaiden and sired a male heir. Refusing to sacrifice her inheritance, Ahmanet not only murdered the infant male, but she also slashed the throats of both the Pharaoh and his wife. Ultimately, for her treachery, she was cursed and buried alive thousands of miles from her native land. Our heroes hoist her sarcophagus out by helicopter, load it aboard a C-130 Hercules, and fly it back to Europe. Along the way, Vail suffers miserably from a poisonous camel spider bite and turns into a zombie. He stabs Colonel Greenway to death after take-off. Nick shoots him three times, and Vail collapses. Just when they imagine everything has returned to normal, thousands of crows collide with the C-130. Nick manages to strap Jenny into a parachute as the plane loses both altitude and engines. Nick rides the Hercules down as it crashes outside of London. Nevertheless, unlike the other ill-fated mortals aboard, Nick survives the tragedy. Pronounced dead on arrival, he awakens alive and kicking in a body bag. Nick cannot understand what has happened. Neither can he fathom those bizarre visions where Princess Ahmanet cavorts with him in the Sahara Desert.
The new “Mummy” resembles a breathless Indiana Jones escapade. Nick and Jenny team up to track down Ahmanet. They learn Ahmanet wants a wicked ceremonial dagger of Set with a ruby in the handle that an English Crusader Knight stole when he liberated it during the Second Crusade. Princess Ahmanet is a coldblooded sorceress who must recover that dagger with the ruby intact. Tattooed from head to toe with hieroglyphs, this ashen-skinned wench emerges as a titan of terror. She runs amok around England, searching for the Crusader Knight’s tomb, when she isn’t sucking the life out of innocent bystanders like the female vampire in “Lifeforce” (1985). Moreover, she plans to sacrifice Nick to resurrect her dead lover Set, the God of Evil. Like an Indiana Jones’ epic, our hero and heroine leap through one flaming hoop into another to defeat this dame. Cruise seems more sympathetic than usual because she has cursed him. Russell Crowe’s Henry Jekyll enters the picture and recaptures Ahmanet, but he professes sinister designs of his own. “The Mummy” is a far cry from crummy!