There’s a lot riding on the Tom Cruise-starring reboot of The Mummy. It’s the inaugural film in the “Dark Universe” series, a sprawling, Marvel-style movie franchise intended to interweave all of the classic Universal monsters from the 1930s and ’40s into a sparkling, CGI-enhanced mega-narrative. Fortunately, this first installment doesn’t rely on too many dangling threads for future films—although there are a few—and seems content to omnivorously devour and digest films from the past, resulting in a tonally baffling pastiche that has a few moments of occasional fun.
Those digested bits naturally include the slow dread of the original 1932 Boris Karloff-starring Mummy, and only a morsel of the Indiana Jones-style heroics of the 1999 Brendan Fraser remake. This Mummy is mostly interested—initially, at least—in actually scaring the audience, and credit is due to Sofia Boutella, whose cursed Egyptian princess anchors the film with a credibly terrifying villain. (It might be wise to not dwell too much on the film’s subtext, which could be interpreted as a parable of the dangers of feminine power. The film also seems wholly dismissive of modern-day Iraq, where this mummy’s tomb is found after a bomb strike.)
But this Mummy’s DNA actually seems primarily made up of Italian zombie flicks (Boutella’s resurrected princess can animate corpses at will, so we watch Cruise and Annabelle Wallis’s lady archeologist fend off endless hordes for most of the movie) and the precarious balance of comedy and horror of 1981’s An American Werewolf in London. Jake Johnson has the Griffin Dunne role as Cruise’s unfortunate sidekick, and his attempts at comic relief stick out like sore thumbs. Cruise’s character, meanwhile, confusingly ricochets between being wholly under the mummy princess’ spell and trying to resist and defeat her. There are some good spooky bits early on, but when the movie stops making sense, you’ll stop paying attention.