Review: ‘The Mummy,’ With Tom Cruise, Deserves a Quick Burial

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Sofia Boutella as a pharaoh’s daughter who comes back from the dead in “The Mummy.” Credit Universal Pictures

You’ve no doubt been told that if you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. If I followed that rule, I’d be unemployed. But still. There’s no great joy in accentuating the negative. So I will say this in favor of “The Mummy”: It is 110 minutes long. That is about 20 minutes shorter than “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” about which I had some unkind things to say a couple of weeks ago. Simple math will tell you how much better this movie is than that one. If you have no choice but to see it — a circumstance I have trouble imagining — you can start in on your drinking that much sooner.

“The Mummy” begins with a supposed Egyptian proverb to the effect that “we” never really die; “we” assume new forms and keep right on living. I’m not an Egyptologist, but it seems just as likely that those words were lifted from a movie-studio strategy memo. Universal, lacking a mighty superhero franchise, has gone into its intellectual-property files, which are full of venerable monsters, and created a commercial agglomeration it calls the Dark Universe. “The Mummy” is the first of a slew — a swarm? a pestilence? — of features reviving those old creatures, including the one from the Black Lagoon. We can also look forward to new visits from Frankenstein’s monster and his bride, the Wolf Man and the Invisible Man, among others.


Trailer: ‘The Mummy’

A preview of the film.

By UNIVERSAL PICTURES on Publish Date December 9, 2016. Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive. Watch in Times Video »

It sounds like fun. The “Mummy” reboot from 1999, directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Brendan Fraser, was kind of fun. Monster movies frequently are. This one, directed by Alex Kurtzman and starring Tom Cruise, is an unholy mess. Mr. Cruise plays Nick Morton, a jaunty military daredevil with a sideline in antiquities theft and a nutty sidekick (Jake Johnson). When a caper goes wrong, the two call in an airstrike on an Iraqi village — I guess that’s something people are doing for kicks nowadays — and a mysterious tomb is unearthed. Luckily, an archaeologist, Dr. Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), is on hand to explain what it’s all about and also to affirm Nick’s heterosexuality.

Long story short: An ancient evil has been unleashed upon the world. Its agent is a long-buried pharaoh’s daughter, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who is covered with mysterious tattoos and convinced that Nick is her secret lover, or the god of death, or both. She gets inside his head, which is awkward both because he’s kind of sweet on Jenny and because it’s such an empty place. Ahmanet also has a retinue of zombielike minions at her disposal, who rampage through England on their way to a meeting with Russell Crowe.


Caught up in a caper gone wrong: Tom Cruise in “The Mummy.” Credit Universal Pictures

Mr. Crowe plays another fixture in the Dark Universe, a label that strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration. Dim Universe would be more accurate, with respect both to the murky, ugly images and to the intellectual capacities of the script, written and conceived by a bunch of people who are capable of better. The old black-and-white Universal horror movies were a mixed bag, but they had some imagination. They could be creepy or campy, weird or lyrical. “The Mummy” gestures — or flails — in a number of directions but settles into the dreary 21st-century action-blockbuster template. There’s chasing and fighting, punctuated by bouts of breathless explaining and a few one-liners that an archaeologist of the future might tentatively decode as jokes.

There is a vague notion that Nick is struggling with dueling impulses toward good and evil, acting out his version of the Jekyll-Hyde predicament. A more interesting movie might have involved a similar struggle within Ahmanet, but a more interesting movie was not on anybody’s mind.

It will be argued that this one was made not for the critics but for the fans. Which is no doubt true. Every con game is played with suckers in mind.

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