“The Mummy” offers fans a familiar dark universe

Ancient evil returns to start a new cinematic universe bent on worldwide conquest. Yes, Tom Cruise is heading up another franchise.

Jokes aside, and there are plenty of them in Universal Pictures’ “The Mummy,” Cruise delivers one of his most basic yet fascinating performances. As U.S. Army reconnaissance officer Nick Morton, Cruise is an egotistical, weak-minded, often foolish dirtbag who lives to gather and sell antiquities revealed during the current conflicts in the Middle East.

After an airstrike reveals the tomb-prison of cursed Egyptian princess Ahmanet, Morton is thrust into what will be known as the “Dark Universe,” a franchise with hopes of bringing together the classic movie monsters from the 1930s and ‘40s. Morton is chosen by Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella, who was amazing in this and “Star Trek Beyond) to bring Set, the god of Death into the world.

Opposing this is Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and his London-based group of monster hunters. Crowe dominates the screen any time he’s on it and director Alex Kurtzman does something few directors ever allow. He does not try to make Cruise look as large as the bigger Crowe. This physical dominance increases Cruise’s appearance as less than heroic, which he is
for much of the film. Crowe get a bit punchy as his alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, slips out. It’s a tease as Crowe doesn’t go
full Hyde yet, but it is a fun tease. The other Easter eggs in the film — among them, a vampire skull and the hand of the Creature from the Black Lagoon — are all part of establishing the desired universe.

Let’s be clear about one thing: “The Mummy” is much more of an action-adventure film than a horror film. It is less campy than the Brendan Fraser-led trilogy and the variety of zombie-like followers of Ahmanet are scarier than anything in those films, but the movie as a whole isn’t scary.

Unless you are afraid of spiders. Or rats.

Overall, “The Mummy” is heavy on homage and not just to Boris Karloff and company. There are heavy nods to “An American Werewolf in London” and the Indiana Jones series in addition to multiple references to the classic Universal monster films.

It might not be the best way to start something new, but it is at least interesting and fun. How much we get to see of Cruise and Crowe in the rest of the franchise remains to be seen. For now, “The Mummy” serves as an adequate entrance point into the Dark Universe.

• Originally published in Inland 360.

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