“The Mummy” is too much. Nominally a humble reboot of a horror franchise that dates back to Boris Karloff in 1932, “The Mummy” is trying to do so many different things, has so many different reasons for being (not to mention so many screenwriters), that a kind of narrative chaos is the all but inevitable result.
Starring Tom Cruise and directed by Alex Kurtzman, whose credits are almost exclusively as a writer-producer (including “Star Trek” and “Transformers”), “The Mummy” does have elements that are effective, especially Sofia Boutella in the title role, but with all the hurly-burly on screen the virtues get lost in the shuffle.
Not content with being a showcase for its namesake horror, “The Mummy” tosses in strong elements of today's ever-present zombie movies and drags in portions of the venerable Jekyll and Hyde narrative as well.
Even more troublesome, the “Mummy” mandate clearly extends beyond just producing an entertaining motion picture. Not only is an attempt made to position this as the first of a series of “Mummy” adventures, but Universal aims to build an entire cinematic universe on its back.
Gripped, as all studios are, with a case of envy at what Disney has done with its interconnected Marvel films, Universal has announced that it will remake many of its horror classics as part of a Dark Universe world and here introduces Russell Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jekyll as a kind of unifying Nick Fury figure.
The problem with all this is not only that it’s a lot of freight for one film to carry but that co-writer and director Kurtzman and the five additional credited screenwriters (David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman, Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumet) have not been able to make the result feel like a coherent whole.
The most convincing parts of “The Mummy,” as it turns out, are its ancient Egyptian back story, its tale of warrior princess Ahmanet (Boutella) and her attempts to reclaim her destiny.
Once the favorite of the Pharaoh Menehptre and next in line for the throne, Ahmanet gets bumped when her father has a late-in-life son. Taking things into her own hands, Ahmanet makes a pact with the evil god Set, but her scheme is foiled and all she gets for her trouble is being mummified alive and entombed in distant Mesopotamia. Which is where Tom Cruise comes in.
The protean actor plays Nick Morton, a U.S. soldier in modern-day Iraq who, along with pal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), spends most of his time looting antiquities he can sell on the black market.
Though they have no idea what they've found, Morton and Vail, soon joined by comely archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), stumble on Ahmanet's burial site. “This isn't a tomb,” Halsey accurately observes. “It’s a prison.”
More impulsive than smart, Morton frees Ahmanet from her eons of captivity and, understandably irked at being out of the loop for so long, she jump-starts her program for world domination.
This involves getting to London, where she unleashes her zombies and where the discovery of long-forgotten tombs of 12th-century Crusaders that open the film play a part. Perhaps not coincidentally, Dr. Jeykll’s Prodigium organization makes its headquarters in that very town.
Ahmanet’s plans also involve Morton, whom she has fixated on ever since she was freed, calling him “my chosen” and working her way into his mind in the way only long-buried mummies with vague supernatural powers can do.
Cruise has played these kinds of snappy roles for forever but that doesn’t stop him from working hard and bringing a hint of essential plausibility to the proceedings.
Equally effective is Boutella, who made an impression as the alien Jaylah in “Star Trek Beyond” and who uses her background as a dancer to good effect in bringing to life this being from another dimension.
Filmmaker Kurtzman is a workman-like director at best, but he is intent on attempting to give moviegoers their money's worth, filling “The Mummy” with all manner of peril, including dust storms, underwater exploits and a zero-gravity weightless experience. Even the film’s key prop, a 300-pound sarcophagus, was fussed over by more than 40 people.
None of this, however, can make up for a too-fragmentary story that has too many masters to serve to be effective. Maybe one of the future Dark Universe films (remakes of everything from “Bride of Frankenstein” to “The Invisible Man” are planned) will mesmerize the multitudes, but this one is unlikely to do the trick.
Rating: PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity.
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: In general release