Tom Cruise is one of the most carefully sculpted movie stars on the planet. Handsome, charming, ripped, his whole career has been dedicated to proving he’s the most appealing person in the whole wide world. And despite the various issues that may have arisen in his personal life, on camera he’s still got it. It’s nearly impossible to watch a Tom Cruise movie and not like Tom Cruise.
And that makes Tom Cruise uniquely ill-suited to star in The Mummy, an action-horror hybrid about an amoral bastard who gets cursed by an ancient evil and – theoretically – might turn out to be the bad guy himself. If anyone else had played the protagonist in The Mummy we might have believed the movie’s plot for a second, but by this point in his career it seems as though Tom Cruise doesn’t know how to embrace his inner asshole. He can’t turn off the charm, even when being less charming would be more charming.
Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a soldier and black market treasure hunter who accidentally uncovers an ancient Egyptian tomb in Mesopotamia, where there should be no Egyptian tombs of any kind, ancient or otherwise. An archaeologist named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) removes the sarcophagus, but not before Nick forms a psychic rapport with the monster inside, a diabolical undead sorcerer named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella).
Before long – as in, apparently just minutes after taking off from the runway in Iraq – their plane crashes in England, and the monster is roaming the countryside, sucking the life out of hapless bystanders and turning them into an army of mummies. Meanwhile, Jenny invites Nick to the Paradigium, a secret organization dedicated to fighting monsters of all stripes, led by a certain Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).
On paper The Mummy has the goods. Unfortunately it’s on film. The clever story construction and occasionally exciting set pieces are undermined by the movie’s misplaced tone. The Mummy’s screenplay walks a thin line between ghoulish horror and brassy action, but director Alex Kurtzman usually leans in favor of blockbuster pabulum. The pacing is too brisk to make anything feel creepy, and the characters – particularly the miscast Tom Cruise – are too flip to sell us on the idea that the horror should be taken seriously.
Meanwhile, poor Sofia Boutella is stuck in her nifty mummy get-up, stealing every scene but gaining nothing from her spoils. She’s the reason we’re all here but her character is simplistically supervillainous. For a film that is supposed to jumpstart the whole Universal Monsters craze, The Mummy fails to capture the inherent tragedy that made these creatures such beloved anti-heroes – or anti-villains – in the first place. She’s a malevolent force that needs to be stopped, full stop. Ho-hum.
But the biggest tragedy is that The Mummy isn’t telling a story because that story needs to be told. The protagonist’s journey is completely undermined by Tom Cruise’s stalwart affability, and the villain’s formulaic plot has no subtext to speak of. The Mummy is defiantly not “about” anything other than promoting its own franchise, and if that’s all this series has to offer, why would we want to see any more of it?
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Top Photo: Universal Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.