Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy is a mildly entertaining, if unambitious, blockbuster. Almost exclusively buoyed by the persistent and welcome presence of Tom Cruise, the movie finds itself in between a place of being just weird enough to feel engaging and being too inoffensive and competent to be bad. It’s often entertaining, moving between action set pieces, some genuinely scary bits, and healthy doses of comedy, all while never quite congealing into a cohesive package.
(Mild spoilers to follow)
Cruise plays Nick Morton (and sorry friends, that’s his real name), a roguish, thieving soldier who starts the movie only wanting to scavenge artifacts in the Iraqi desert for his own personal ends. It’s actually refreshing to see Cruise playing a cowardly scoundrel, something he does quite well, and he uses the character and his frequent bumbling and general incompetence to great comedic effect. While people have been clamoring for a Nathan Drake Uncharted movie, Cruise and company sort of went and ahead and made one themselves, just one that happened to have a bevy of supernatural elements.
The plot is fairly straight forward: there is a mummified Egyptian princess, full of malice and a desire for power she lost in her own time. She plans to manipulate Cruise into first releasing her and then becoming her earthly sacrifice to the Egyptian God of Death, Set, so that Set can enter his body as a vessel. 1 Complicating matters are the presence of The Prodigium, an organization lead by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe, whose Jekyll seems like a twitchy, cold-hearted madman, barely keeping his demons at bay. The glimpse of Edward Hyde we get is kind of blast) whose mission in the world is to combat the presence of darkness and evil which, according to Jekyll, is constantly battering down the doors of humanity in order to corrupt them.
Along for the ride are Prodigium archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and Army corporal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson). Halsey acquits herself well enough as a put-upon scientist who is surrounded by legitimate numbskulls like Morton and Vail, while not having much of an arc herself beyond attempting to keep everyone else on the straight and narrow. Not only does she have to deal with Vail and Morton trying to steal everything that’s not nailed down in an ancient tomb, but also fends off an angry army commander (a sadly small Courtney B. Vance performance), and an amoral pragmatist in her boss, Henry Jekyll. Meanwhile, Jake Johnson continues the 2017 trend of comedic actors stealing their scenes in movies, particularly once he becomes a Cursed Zombie Ghost and shows up at inopportune times in Nick Morton’s life.
Sofia Boutella, as the titular mummy, aka Princess Ahmanet, is given moments to scream and be evil and wicked, while also having a deep anger and vulnerability in her eyes. When Nick curtly remarks to Ahmanet that she killed her father and baby brother, she dismisses his remarks. “It was a different time”. It certainly was, although it’s doubtful everyone who committed regicide in those days also made a pact with an evil god. Boutella is at her best when she gets to use her remarkable physicality to slink and creep around the the other characters, providing several genuinely shocking and scary moments during the course of the film.
The movie is never full-on scary, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t yelp in surprise several times. In between a few movie-stopping bouts of exposition, there are a good handful of perfectly Cruisian set pieces, ones including running, swimming, driving, and a few instances of dying. The movie also finds more than a few opportunities to be quite funny. Most of those moments come from Cursed Zombie Ghost Jake Johnson, but Cruise himself uses Nick’s selfish attitude and behavior to great comedic effect throughout the picture. There’s a fairly hilarious gag involving Nick being forced to shoot someone, but being so pumped with nerves and adrenaline that he shoots a third, completely unnecessary time, to the chagrin of everyone else present.
There are moments in The Mummy where it genuinely feels like a rollicking adventure, with a scoundrel main character, a put-upon female lead, and an implacable monster. The DNA of Indiana Jones is present, if faintly so, in the movie. But despite the ballistic and intricate stunt work that Cruise always brings to the table, the movie feels too careful to really be the kind of ambitious or dangerous-feeling adventure movie that would elevate it to greater heights. The moments of humor, fright, and action are welcome, but never feel like they congeal in a cohesive experience. Like a casual afternoon movie you mildly enjoyed, but can’t grasp the details of, The Mummy is entertaining enough, but it’s also nothing extraordinary.