In the tradition of mummy monster movies, beginning with the original 1932 Boris Karloff film, the 2017 reboot of The Mummy is pretty dumb. But then, the 1999 movie starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz is pretty dumb, too, so it’s not like there’s a real high bar to clear. Tom Cruise stars as Nick Morton, an Army sergeant who uses the cover of conflict to loot antiquities in Iraq. Cruise is in scuzzbucket mode and from his first frame he’s working so hard to make The Mummy a good movie it’s like he inoculates it against the possibility of being all-the-way bad. Boring? At times. Dumb? Most certainly. But also, surprisingly funny and decently entertaining for the most part. This is a big, dumb, loud summer blockbuster, and with approximately one billion tent poles a year, it’s impossible for this not to feel tired, even in the face of Cruise’s charisma onslaught. But it still has its moments, and an intermittent sort of good-bad fun.
While attempting to loot a site known as “Haram” in Iraq, Nick and his compatriot, Vail (Jake Johnson, totally delightful and joining the ranks of Ike Barinholtz, Jason Mantzoukas, and Kathryn Hahn as a consistent scene-stealer), stumble onto an underground cavern that contains, you guessed it, a sarcophagus with an obvious f*ck-off face. What’s surprising right off the top is how good the chemistry between Cruise and Johnson is—they’re genuinely funny together. They’re so good, in fact, it’s a shame the movie forces in a completely unbelievable romantic subplot, because The Mummy would have worked perfectly fine as a buddy comedy. Probably would have been better, honestly.
An archaeologist, Jenny (Annabelle Wallis, Peaky Blinders), is called in, and the initial by-play with Nick is solid. They had a one night stand but Nick stole from her, so now she—justifiably—hates him. If the movie had stuck with that premise, that Jenny is forced to tolerate the presence of a man she can’t stand—and she’s smarter than him, so she can destroy him with her cool British snubs—that would have been a fun and different take on the typical blockbuster B-plot romance. But no. For no reason and with no real motivation, Jenny goes from wanting to push Nick off a cliff to loving him because the formula demands a romance. Except it doesn’t because we do get so many of these kinds of movies now that they have GOT to start differentiating themselves.
Anyway, the mummy gets out of the f*ck-off sarcophagus because the mummy always gets out of the f*ck-off sarcophagus. And this time it’s a lady mummy, Ahmanet, a princess from Ancient Egypt who tried to make a pact with the devil only it didn’t quite work out. So now she’s corpsified and furious about it. Sofia Boutella—who I only just realized plays the fantastic Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond—stars as Ahmanet, and she is GREAT. Easily the best part of the movie is Boutella. She has such tremendous physicality that even though you can tell there’s some CGI polish applied, you can also tell that Boutella is really crawling around, contorting herself into broken mummy shapes that are easily the creepiest thing in the movie.
Director Alex Kurtzman—JJ Abrams’ long-time collaborator and the screenwriter responsible for the Star Trek reboot—tries for some good old-fashioned jump scares but doesn’t really get there. The Mummy is not really scary. But Boutella can be creepy, and she makes Ahmanet both a believable physical threat and believably vengeful. Anytime Kurtzman lets Boutella take center stage, the movie picks up considerably. Ditto for Jake Johnson—he’s gone for much of the middle, but when he does show up, he brings solid comedic relief and that great vibe with Cruise.
The Mummy is just solid enough to pass muster. There are gaping logic holes and totally inexplicable character shifts and the momentum is rocky at best because there is a LOT of exposition, but there are some decent jokes and Sofia Boutella really is so great and watchable. And Russell Crowe turns up as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and while it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the movie and he’s mostly there to set up future films in Universal’s “Dark Universe”, he’s obviously having fun. The Mummy labors under its formula but there is some genuinely fun stuff in it. If it’s between this and Wonder Woman, maybe just see Wonder Woman (again), but you probably wouldn’t regret catching The Mummy at some point. It’s the kind of dumb-fun summer action movie Tom Cruise has always been so good at making.