When long-range reconnaissance expert and self-proclaimed "liberator of precious antiquities" Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) uncovers an ancient Egyptian chamber in war-torn Iraq, he unwittingly frees immortal evil princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Fixating upon Nick as her "chosen one", Ahmanet resolves to find a magic dagger hidden in England, and stab him with it to release the power of the devil.
It's fitting that the opening salvo for Universal's ambitious Dark Universe (a franchise they're so confident about, it already has its own ident) should itself resemble one of the studio's classic monsters. Namely the one Dr. Frankenstein created. After all, for his first big blockbuster as director, Star Trek/Transformers co-writer Alex Kurtzman has stitched together pulpy adventure (a la the last Mummy remake), horror (as you'd expect), Mission: Impossible (perhaps inevitable with Cruise in the lead and Christopher McQuarrie sharing script duties) and mad-stalker-girlfriend psycho-drama (yes, we weren't expecting that either).
It's a strange mix all right, but it is at least lighter on its feet than the iconic Doctor's lumbering, bolt-necked revenant. Rattling along at a fair old clip — as most Cruise movies do these days — The Mummy ’17 proves a hokey entertainment that should keep you sufficiently distracted for a couple of hours without unduly bothering your higher brain functions.
Its desperation to set up this all new monster-merging universe is virtually palpable.
While its horror elements make do with jump-scares over insidious chills — plus one cheeky plot steal from An American Werewolf In London — the action elements are numerous and proficiently executed, from the early M:I-like aeroplane crash sequence to an underwater swimming zombie attack in the catacombs beneath London. There's a light-hearted snappiness to the script, too, with Cruise's Nick valiantly staying as glib as he possibly can while being pursued across the Home Counties by an undead Egyptian sorceress. There's even a moment where he shrieks "Not my face!" while being assaulted by desiccated zombies.
What doesn't work so well however, is the 'stalker girlfriend' strand. After the announcement that the film would star a female Mummy — who, it should be noted, is played with graceful, supple malevolence by the excellent Boutella — it's a shame the plot instantly reduces her to a needy man-chaser, what with Nick for some reason being the "vessel" she's chosen for the reawakened power of evil god Set, aka the devil, as we're told in a bit of myth-blending exposition.
Speaking of exposition, Kurtzman's Mummy is full of it. Its desperation to set up this all new monster-merging universe is virtually palpable, and it gives that exposition-heavy job to Russell Crowe. After narrating an entirely needless prologue, he pops up as Dr. Jekyll, now reinvented as the somewhat unstable boss of a tooled-up secret society dedicated to battling the supernatural. He's even got a gill-man hand and a vampire skull preserved in his subterranean base, which is located beneath the Natural History Museum.
This script does suggest the Universal Monsters will be connected in a far smarter way than the risible Van Helsing managed, but it's still pretty chewy stuff, and the patchy plot is heavy on the kind of vaguely described mystical McGuffins you'd expect of a Pirates movie. However, Crowe's gassing about great evils and falling dominos is thankfully alleviated by the novelty of seeing him and Crowe scrapping like blokes outside a pub when Jekyll's vicious-cockney dark side bubbles up at a very inconvenient moment for our cocky hero Nick.
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Meanwhile, it's running and jumping grin-flashing business as usual for Cruise, once more on safe character territory as an Ethan Hunt-esque action protagonist who couples up with a much younger woman (Annabelle's Annabelle Wallis), while another woman chases after him. And if the next instalment-teasing conclusion is anything to go by, Cruise seemed to have enough fun making this that he may just return for more. Maybe we'll see the Bride of Frankenstein lusting after him next.
An odd but frothily entertaining genre cocktail, which coasts on the charisma of its two biggest names and keeps things just fun enough to forgive its considerable lapses in narrative.