The Mummy film review: Tom Cruise runs into the Dark Universe

Is Universal’s Dark Universe off to a scarily good start?

Leading the pack of Universal’s new Dark Universe (complete with Marvel-style logo) is Alex Kurtzman’s modern-day reboot of The Mummy, which finds itself caught between tones and failing to juggle the responsibilities of being a shared universe starter, a new take on a classic property, and a big Tom Cruise action movie.

Soldiers Nick Morton (Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) are making the most of their time in Iraq by stealing antiquities to sell on the black market. But when they accidentally unearth a mysterious Egyptian tomb, they unleash the mummified princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who’s got designs on Nick’s body and plans to bring forth an ancient evil.

Clearly wanting to be more of an Indiana Jones-style action adventure than a horror movie, The Mummy fails to deliver on both. The humour feels weak and dated, there’s a devastating lack of atmosphere, and Cruise feels out of place as a character that the script wants to be ever-so-slightly morally dubious without ever losing an ounce of heroism.

Whenever he’s called upon to keep things light with a bit of “about last night” verbal sparring with Annabelle Wallis’ repeatedly imperilled archaeologist or have sub-An American Werewolf In London chats with a deceased-but-lively buddy, it undercuts any tension and draws unfavourable comparisons to Stephen Sommers’ tremendously fun 1999 take on the story, not to mention John Landis’ lycanthrope classic.

On the plus side, Boutella puts in strong work as a monster who’d be complex if someone gave her the time. Instead, the script puts a lot of effort into building its bigger universe, dropping one or two fun Easter eggs and a ton of leaden exposition courtesy of Russell Crowe’s avuncular Dr Henry Jekyll, the man in charge of evil-hunting operation Prodigium, and who gets roughly as much, if not more, to do as the title character. The promise of a female monster is lost when the film’s two women are both bundled into such unsatisfying roles in the narrative.

There are one or two fun moments, particularly when Boutella gets to cut loose, but she’s a monster in dire need of more screentime and a much better film. The action is occasionally technically impressive but the script is weak and plodding (which is disappointing given the talent behind it), going through the motions to hit the required and predictable story beats, and the less said about the final five minutes, the better. This Dark Universe must do better, and do better by its monsters.