Three years ago, Universal announced what would become the Dark Universe franchise; a relaunch of its classic monster movies with A-list actors in the lead. The first installment, The Mummy, is an epic dud that should ring alarms at the studio. It is a joyless, bloated spectacle with a weak script and terrible performances. The film attempts two big changes from the known story. The first is updating the supernatural antagonist to a female. The second is having Tom Cruise play against his wholesome image. Both backfire for a litany of reasons I will discuss in this review. Minor spoilers are ahead.

Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, a duplicitous recon soldier that steals antiquities and sells them on the black market. His subordinate and partner in crime is Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), a wise-cracking oaf that follows Nick like a dog. Along with perennial damsel in distress archaeologist, Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), they discover the ancient prison of Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). She was damned to eternity for trying place the spirit of death into the body of her lover. When Nick accidentally releases her, she finds a new hunky stud to carry the mojo of the grim reaper.

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The Mummy is wall to wall action during its two hour runtime. A few scenes are well done, especially an insane plane crash. The problem is that the other money-shot effects scenes are dark, murky, and all too familiar. I strained mightily to see definition through my 3D glasses. The majority of the big stunts are done at night or in a low lit setting. The center focus on the actors loses acuity in soupy backgrounds. We also have the swarms of insects and mummified undead running around. These types of visual effects were interesting twenty years ago, but commonplace now. The sad irony is that they actually look cooler in Brendan Fraser's Mummy films. The cinematography and 3D conversion are problematic.

Tom Cruise has made a career of playing the clean cut good guy. His attempt to portray a shady character here falls flat. He just doesn't pull it off. The character's dialogue is terrible, but the mannerisms aren't there. I think Cruise was attempting a Chris Pratt, heroic scoundrel vibe. What we get is Ethan Hunt goes mystical. The film's conclusion sort of explains why the character is written as such, but it's just not a successful role for Cruise.

The women in the film, Annabelle Wallis and Sofia Boutella, are wasted. The female baddie is no feminist villain. Her character's mission is just to find a man so she can be his queen. If her character is so power hungry, why is her entire goal to play second fiddle? There's a logic and motivation gap that makes no sense at all. Wallis, a talented actress, spends the entire film being rescued and talking about Cruise's sexual proclivity. It's a running conversation between the leads throughout that isn't funny. In fact, it's quite tasteless and juvenile. None of the women in this reboot hold a candle to Rachel Weisz in the 90's film.

The most important goal of The Mummy is to establish the groundwork for the upcoming Dark Universe films. We are introduced to Prodigium, a secret organization that battles monsters. Its leader is Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe). This character will be the thread that ties the franchise together. Once again, the setup is unimpressive. I was completely underwhelmed by Crowe as Jekyll, and his monster turn into the evil Mr. Hyde. This scene should have been a highlight, but is unremarkable. What's even more interesting is the comparison between Cruise and Crowe. Crowe, who is a year younger than Cruise, looks the part. Cruise continues to be an ageless wonder. Scientology might be working in Cruise's favor, the introduction of Prodigium in this film does not.

2017's The Mummy isn't nearly as entertaining as the 1999 film starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. Those characters were fun and likeable. That story worked with the bells and whistles, a true popcorn film. This reboot isn't remotely in the same league. Cruise takes a $130 million dollar mulligan on this one. I pray the forthcoming films are better written, acted, and produced. Universal Pictures' Dark Universe stumbles badly out of the gate.

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