My favorite moment in “The Mummy” comes when the intrepid, pretty blonde scientist (Annabelle Wallis), over the shock of seeing the supernatural and recognizing the menace posed by the she-monster attacking her and and soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton, urges her knight-in-tarnished-armor into battle.
“GET her, Nick! Kick her ass!”
And there you have it, “The Mummy,” a heaping 3D helping of cheese-coated popcorn, a summer slice of action horror where the emphasis is on the silly, not necessarily the scary.
Not that any expense was spared in aiming for frights — epic, devouring sandstorms, clouds of crows, a sea of spiders and a Dark Universe (Universal’s comic book-derived blanket name for its rediscovered horror roots) with its very own Walking Dead — all meant to make good on a Mummy’s Curse.
Because what’s the point of mummifying an evil Egyptian if the shrouds don’t unravel and a curse isn’t part of the bargain?
Still, writer-turned-director Alex Kurtzman and a tag-team of other screenwriters have conjured up a jokey, jolly “Mummy” movie — with Tom Cruise playing a clueless looter who gets clued-in, Jake Johnson as his annoyed, and then zombified sidekick (“I HATE you! I hate you SO much!”) and Russell Crowe as the English expert in this great evil who may have the answer to lifting this curse, an answer Nick (Cruise) et al aren’t going to like.
It begins with an accident — the way such horrors often transpire. Two soldiers (Cruise and Johnson) intent on a little Iraqi looting stumble into this ancient Egyptian tomb — in Iraq.
An antiquarian and hit-it-and-quit-it victim (Wallis, of “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”) arrives, furious at the feckless Nick, but willing to puzzle this Egyptians in Mesopotamia thing out, in a hurry, as insurgents and a sandstorm are bearing down. They retrieve a sarcophagus, sunk in a pool of mercury, and flee.
And that’s when things — which have been noisy and firefight/air strike violent before — get REALLY interesting. Their transport plane is brought down in horrific fashion, Jenny Halsey (Wallis) escapes, but Nick’s survival entails some sort of miracle in the morgue. Might that have something to do with the hallucinations about the Egyptian past he’s having, the “connection” he made with “the chick in the box” (sarcophagus)?
And then there’s the ancient Crusader’s tomb uncovered in London, and the narrated warnings of that Brit expert (Crowe) about “antiquity’s darkest secret.” It all involves murder, treachery and a princess (Sofia Boutella) who sells her soul to the Egyptian devil, Set.
Not good news for Nick, or the world if this “chick” can’t be put back “in the box.”
Cruise plays this guy as a bit of a dope, not slow to figure out something’s up, but damned inarticulate at explaining and understanding it. He’s the reconnaissance Sgt. who teaches his corporal (Johnson, of “The New Girl,” in full “American Werewolf in London” mode) their Iraq War mantra.
“We are not looters. We are liberators of treasured antiquities!”
Cruise amuses, Johnson is a delight, Crowe dives into what should be a recurring role in this “Dark Universe” with the proper relish, and Wallis — not given any real love -interest heft — and Boutella will hopefully parlay their functional but uninteresting roles into future film parts that call for a real performance.
This “Mummy” is similar in tone to the Brendan Fraser/Rachel Weisz hits of a few years back. But Kurtzman and Co. have found new ways to tell the story, skipping the romance, for instance, and new effects to play with and new jokes to tell. Action-packed and patently ridiculous, it’s all in good fun.
You can’t say “Summer” without attaching “Franchise” to it at the movies, and this could be yet another tale told in endless installments. Blockbuster movies, for those who haven’t noticed, have become cable TV limited series — endless long-form tales, prolonged for as many seasons as there are paying audiences for them.
But if you’re angling to sell fandom on your whole comic book picture-copying interconnected cinematic stories, “The Dark Universe,” you might want to start teasing the next movie after the credits. No, viewers, there’s nothing tagged to this one.
That’s not a big quibble, nor is “The Mummy” any sort of modern classic. Mummy movies are supposed to be scary, with genuine mortality at stake. This one rarely finds that sweet spot. They’re too busy pandering to their (fanboy) audience, setting up the next big effect or punch line.
Still, with “Pirates” winding down and Hollywood running out of comic books to crib, there are worse things to realize than every fanboy’s new best friend is his Mummy.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance
Credits:Directed by Alex Kurtzman, script by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:48