The Mummy

Year: 2017
Studio: Universal
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Writer: David Koepp/Christopher McQuarrie/Dylan Kussman/Jon Spaihts/Alex Kurtzman/Jenny Lumet
Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B Vance

At least Universal can look to Warner Bros and DC Comics after the critical kicking their universe-launching first few efforts received.

Critics (and a lot of the audiences) hated The Green Hornet, Man Of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad, but with everyone's eyes on the squillions of dollars Marvel continues to scoop up with every new movie, it wasn't going to stop Warner Bros flogging every dead horse they had to launch their own connected superhero world, and neither will tepid box office or scathing reviews derail Universal's plans here.

The DCCU has finally broken out of its funk after the glowing reception to Wonder Woman, but after this film, it looks like Universal's Dark Universe (call it the UMCU – Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe, which will reboot and connect all their classic 1930s monster films) will have the same uphill battle for awhile yet.

It doesn't know whether it's a Tom Cruise action movie, a horror movie, a comedy with scary elements, a thriller with funny elements or anything in between. One of the main problems is that Cruise – the last in the original breed of actual, nuts and bolts Movie Stars™ – is such an outsized presence in any movie it automatically becomes a Cruise jam.

If you can imagine this film with anyone else it might have been more coherent, but it's covered with the fingerprints of a powerful star that signed on when half the development had already been done and forced in a gaggle of Can-do Cruise Saves The World moments, turning it into something else entirely.

None of which is to suggest it would have been a modern classic without him there to mess up the tone. The script is lame, for one thing, the 'banter' between Nick (Cruise) and comic sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson) seeming to come from placeholder text they wrote to mark scene arcs in the first draft.

Then there's the size of the set pieces. It would be interesting to learn whether the central plane crash sequence was Cruise's idea – surely he must have known audiences would raise eyebrows after he already did a jaw dropping plane sequence in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

After that there's a very charged and visual sequence of an Egyptian desert sandstorm descending on London, and you wonder how much bigger the action can get. But after all that visual muscle, the big climactic moment is just Cruise having a fist fight... with a girl.

He plays a soldier who sidelines as an antique raider, kind of a less ethical Indiana Jones, and along with his partner in crime, they've come across what they think is a big score in a battle-worn township in Iraq.

With the help of Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), a scientist Nick seduced in order to steal her map to the treasure, they dig up the long interred remains of a cursed Egyptian princess, who promptly comes to life to establish her evil queendom over Earth. Flying the crypt back to the UK where Jenny's true and very secretive employers are based, the entombed ghoul's ancient spells bring the plane down.

Nick manages to get a parachute onto Jenny but when he goes down with the plane and then wakes up in a morgue, it seems Ahmanet (Sofi Boutella) has given him some strange immortal power. His dead friend Chris comes to warn him of just that, much like Jack did for hero David in An American Werewolf in London.

While Nick tries to figure out the strange daydreams he's having of a beautiful woman walking across glowing sand, Nick accompanies Jenny to the headquarters of the UMCU equivalent of SHIELD. Its leader is the educated, well-spoken Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) – yes, that one, having to inject himself with a serum to stop the cockney, gleefully malevolent Mr Hyde taking over – who explains the history of monsters on Earth and his organisation's dedication to stopping them.

But with an ancient Egyptian mummy's dark and magical powers loose in London and Nick wondering if he's ever going to be human again, they're all in for a rough time trying.

The late 90s Mummy franchise with Brendan Fraser wasn't perfect, but it knew what it was and had a sense of old monster movie charm and swashbuckling romance. This garbled mess isn't scary enough to be a horror movie, action packed enough to be a thriller or well written enough to even be an interesting story. Maybe it means the Dark Universe can only get better from here?

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