Watching The Mummy is sort of like going to Vegas’ newest casino, where you get to witness corporate America’s most cynical vision of what the average wage-earning slob should do with his disposable income. It’s all chintzy faux extravagance, a simulacra of a real experience, a strip mall recreation of a better place. Vacation Island has all-you-can-eat crab! And between the cement Eiffel Tower and plaster sphinx there’s the surprisingly well-preserved corpse of Tom Cruise, reanimated for three shows nightly. Remember Maverick, you guys? He’s back! Come watch him pump his hilarious lil legs at the Danger Zone Crab Hut, free squibs and airplane pancakes for kids under 5.
The Mummy, directed by Alex Kurtzman, is for everyone and so it’s for no one, or maybe it’s for “families” — any group of people with a language barrier or no common interests who want to do something together without talking, an all-inclusive time share resort of a movie. It’s been said that art thrives on limitation, and perhaps conversely, utter crap thrives on the ability to destroy anything in CGI.
Tom Cruise, who’s 54 but has been smoothed, digitally or Scientologically, into a roughly 30-something man, plays Nick Morton, a wisecracking “Army reconnaissance specialist” who, along with his buddy, Chris (Jake Johnson) moonlights in stealing antiquities. Think male Lara Croft with a smoother chest. In the first scene (“IRAQ, PRESENT DAY”), he smooth talks Chris into trying to steal a trove of ancient treasures which are presently being shot to pieces by faceless shouting Arabs, as faceless shouting movie Arabs are wont to do. The movie basically makes a joke out of this, flashing “Iraq” on the screen followed by an old statue getting shot up with a Kalashnikov, as if the target audience’s only conception of Iraq is as a place defined by “bad guys” randomly shooting at everything.
When Chris and Nick sneak into the ruins, the bullets and explosions really start to fly, and the interesting thing about The Mummy is that it doesn’t even pretend anyone cares where the bullets are actually coming from. We’re just here to watch Tom Cruise run an obstacle course, right? ALL. YOU. CAN. EAT. CRAB.
As if the stakes weren’t already low enough, Chris and Nick (I’m just going to call him “Tom Cruise” from now on) bicker “comically” the whole way, Scooby Doo-style. Chris ends up calling in an air strike and all the faceless Arabs run away on account of faceless Arabs hate air strikes. (Torn from the headlines!) In the process, the explosion uncovers, you guessed it, a giant tomb. That’s when Tom Cruise’s yelling CO (Courtney B. Vance) arrives, followed by a sexy archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis), who’s angry at Tom Cruise for stealing her treasure map while they were doing it last night. She’s implausibly too attractive for the scene around her and everyone so divorced from things actual humans might do that her dialogue feels like the movie desperately overcompensating. What? Of course Tom Cruise has a girlfriend, you wouldn’t know her, she goes to another school. Archaeology school.
Tom Cruise tries to play it off casually, but he’s all wrong for this role (or for this part of the “script”). Cruise doesn’t have the broadest range as an actor, but he’s brilliant in anything that requires obsessive intensity, which he does better than almost anyone — Magnolia, Collateral, A Few Good Men, etc. One thing he decidedly is not, however, is the aw shucks blasé womanizing George Clooney type they’re trying to sell us in this scene.
Anyway, Tom Cruise, comic relief, and the sexy archaeologist rappel into the tomb, which is briefly kind of cool on account of the ancient queen is encased in mercury. Wouldn’t you know it, they release the evil mummy lady, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), whose name you’re never quite sure you’re hearing right. Ahmanet, who’s like a Michael Bay music video by way of Jared Leto’s Suicide Squad makeup, decides that Tom Cruise is her “chosen one,” the mortal form she needs to unleash evil on the world or whatever (I want you for miiiine… my blushing bride… my lover, BE my lover yeah… ). The rest of the movie basically consists of the Mummy trying to bang Tom Cruise, who keeps pushing her away, on account of he’s in love with the sexy archaeologist or something. Ah, the rules of mummy attraction. If I was slightly disappointed with Wonder Woman, I’ll admit that Wonder Woman is Rosa Parks compared to a movie where the only female characters are a sexy archaeologist and a succubus.
It’s a classic story of a vague evil will be unleashed if the villain gets the Mcguffin into the thingamabob before the running people can shout us to death. Oh no! Not “pure evil!” Everyone hates that! Everything is entirely vague and there are no rules and so it’s just Tom Cruise running around punching out reanimated corpses (do the dead people double die when touched by Tom Cruise’s tiny fists?) and swimming through tombs that fill with water for some reason, failing the “Where are they and what are they doing” test for almost its entire running time. It’d honestly be much more watchable if they left out all the VFX and we could just watch Tom Cruise dodge imaginary demons in front of a green screen, since the only thing truly compelling about all this orgiastic tedium is the lengths to which Tom Cruise will go to commit to a lost cause.
Everything’s so crudely sketched out that it’s almost feels like we’re watching a pitch to investors showing slides of all the things it has that people like (Tom Cruise! Sexy lady! Stuff blowing up! People fighting!). Russell Crowe shows up to tease a future movie and Tom Cruise saves the sexy archaeologist at the end. Thank God. Can’t have a franchise without a sexy scientist, I always say. Anyway, if you like incomprehensible collections of things that vaguely resemble other things you might’ve enjoyed in the past, The Mummy is the movie for you.