By Chaz Lipp

The Lowdown: There’s little to recommend about this kick-off to Universal’s ‘Dark Universe’ monster movie series.

Paint-by-numbers adventure epic The Mummy kicks off a planned cycle of monster movies that Universal calls the “Dark Universe.” Rather than craft a new standalone ‘Mummy’ flick (it has been nearly a decade since the last installment in the Brendan Fraser trilogy), the producers have bitten off a lot—maybe more than they can chew. Back in the ’30s, when Universal first introduced their now-classic chillers, their gallery of monsters didn’t overlap. Audience demand carried well into the ’40s so, even as filmmakers’ ideas ran dry, Universal began pairing their iconic characters for multi-monster blowouts. Flash-forward some 70 years and, inspired by the phenomenal global success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Universal has gone all-in on reviving the team-ups.

The Mummy concerns the resurrection of ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Seen in a prologue set in 1127, Ahamnet expects to be Pharaoh after her father dies, but the old man winds up having a new child with a new wife. Enraged by these developments, Ahmanet embarks on a murderous rampage and is eventually mummified alive as punishment. In present day, mercenary Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his partner Chris (Jake Johnson) accidentally discover Ahmanet’s tomb in Iraq. With them is archeologist Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who protests Nick’s careless ways as he inadvertently unleashes the long-entombed Ahmanet.

All the boxes on the blockbuster checklist are ticked, but The Mummy feels like cynical product. There’s zero chemistry between Cruise and Wallis, effectively stunting a romantic subplot between Nick and Jennifer. The humor falls flat at nearly every turn. Brian Tyler’s score sounds like it was assembled from unused scraps from his far more inspired work (which includes several Marvel films). And the special effects are nothing we haven’t seen any number of times before. There’s just nothing hip here, no spark of surprise, no inspired twists in the storytelling. As for the “Dark Universe” crossover plan, Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Jekyll heads up Prodigium, a secret, London-based organization devoted to eliminating threats posed by supernatural creatures.

Aside from a few decent action set pieces, including the spectacular plane crash sequence that figured prominently in the ad campaign, there’s little to recommend. Having “rescued” Ahmanet, Nick is continually haunted by her, forced to reconsider everything he thought he knew. The experience is meant to transform Nick from a profit-minded mercenary into a selfless martyr. The problem lies in Cruise’s performance. Refusing to drop his patented persona, Cruise is simply too affable right from the start to make a successful character arc from sleazy to righteous. What might’ve been more interesting is if the flintier Crowe had played Nick and left Dr. Jekyll to Cruise.

The Mummy makes for a shaky start to the “Dark Universe.” By the time its final moments set up a sequel (that may or may not happen), the preceding hour and 45 minutes are already fading from memory.

The Mummy images: Universal Pictures

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