Inheriting a production that was abandoned by “Underworld” mastermind Len Wiseman but still feels embalmed by the soulless CG and dank blue pallor that defines his movies, Kurtzman steps behind the camera like a man trying to drive a train that has already derailed. The opening scenes in the Middle East have a glint of fun about them, but the film appears understandably insecure about dwelling on the exoticism that has always been endemic to Mummy movies — one of the many reasons that no one has been clamoring for a gritty, modern reboot of this particular monster — but Kurtzman is all too eager to forfeit the deserts of Iraq for the visually exasperating sewers of London. There are approximately three locations in the second half of this movie, and every one of them is too boring to belong in a studio tentpole of this pedigree.
Not even the much-hyped zero gravity crash is worth the price of admission. It’s plenty admirable that Cruise and co. spent two days bouncing around a vomit comet, just as it’s admirable that they use the stunt to deliver the film’s most (only?) important character beat, but the results are rather tepid. Not only does the sequence’s practical feel call further attention to the digital garbage that’s used to animate Ahmanet’s zombie minions (we’ve learned nothing since “I Am Legend”), but Cruise’s actual weightlessness clearly limits his control over the action.
All he can really do is pinball through the cabin of an airplane as it plummets to the ground. Chaos, of course, is part of the point, but there’s nothing particularly cinematic about floating. If anything, the relative calm of Cruise’s body works against the insanity of his circumstances; for a guy who’s made running into his signature move, it turns out that a little gravity might be a good thing.
But the plane sequence, however underwhelming it may be, is the only part of “The Mummy” that feels custom-fit for Tom Cruise. For so long, Cruise has been the action star as auteur, he makes bespoke blockbusters that are made to suit his strengths. Not all of those movies have worked out, but this is the first that feels like it came straight off the rack, the first where you’re likely to forget that you’re watching a Tom Cruise Movie. There are a few fun moments in which the superstar subverts his stoicism — he’s a thief, and there’s an element of opportunistic cowardice baked into the role — but the film is never remotely as interested as it claims to be in the battle for Nick’s soul. And what soul? Who the hell is this guy?
But if screenwriters David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman fail to introduce any logic into this aspiring film franchise, or given us even a hint of a reason to care about its first hero, they nevertheless deserve some credit for building this terrible movie atop the perfect metaphor for itself. “London is a giant graveyard” someone mutters during the prologue, anticipating a story about the terrors that lie below our cities, the pasts that we pave over as part of our blind devotion to the present. Some things are worth preserving, this reboot argues. Others should remain buried. Nick Morton is a shameless opportunist who mistakes the two and kickstarts the apocalypse in his rush to exploit an ancient treasure for his personal gain. It’s one thing to excavate the iconography of old Hollywood, it’s another to exploit it. This isn’t filmmaking, it’s tomb-raiding.
“The Mummy” opens in theaters on Friday, June 9.