The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, is meant to be the first installment in a shared universe film franchise featuring the greatest hits of the Universal monster stable - Dracula, Frankenstein and the rest of the gang are getting their own movies phased in over the next decade. Ever since Marvel hit pay dirt with its innovative cross-over model, the list of shared cinematic universes has been growing like a weed: there is the troubled DC Extended Universe; Warner Bros. is throwing King Kong and Godzilla into the same play-pen; even M. Night Shyamalan managed to revive his dying career with an injection of shared universe derring-do. So naturally, with Universal sitting on the IP for a whole gang of dusty pop culture horror icons, they would be foolish not to try and turn them into rivers of cash in the most transparent way possible by aping more successful models. Right? Right?!?
The main problem with this plague of cinematic universes is the same problem you see in any industry where someone makes a breakthrough. An innovator comes in and builds something from the ground up, with each success leading to more experimentation that produces a genuinely quality product that the market has never seen before (in this case, Marvel pulled off a massive cross-over hit in The Avengers that was a wildly entertaining movie as well as vindication of their larger strategy of combining the films into a shared fictional world). Then the imitators come in and jump straight to the successful output part of the equation without doing any of the heavy-lifting, diluting the quality of the product.
DC and Universal have been hamstrung by their bone-headed attempts to shove franchises down our throats whether we want them or not. They don't put the effort into meticulous world-building or character development that actually makes these extended universespay off. "Hey, you recognize these guys from the cultural lexicon, right? Now give us your money!" is a really shitty foundation for making a quality film. Warner Bros. with their Kong-Godzilla franchise is doing better, but all of these late-comers are deserving of some side-eye simply for lack of originality.
Which is all just a wordy prelude to saying that The Mummy is... meh. It opens pretty strong in the desert, delving into some mystical Egyptian back-story. The production design is suitably impressive. But the film just feels like it is going through the motions, which is sadly not unusual in these initial franchise opening salvos that have to jump through hoops to set up the universe that they hope humanity will flush several billion dollars into over the course of the next decade. This gives them precious little time for the important job of defining characters, making us care about characters, constructing plots that intrigue us, and building detailed worlds that we want to revisit again and again.
Tom Cruise is a consummate movie star so no matter what there is a base pleasure in watching him run around and beat up people and get beaten up, but he doesn't infuse his character with anything beyond the most superficial flashes of what can charitably be called traits. The action is often staged in confusing and CGI-laden ways that make it hard to track. The plot is a nonsense filled with the worst Screenwriting 101 tropes: errant MacGuffins, the villain being captured then escaping, zombies, an under-cooked romance upon which a key character beat is supposed to hinge, a corpulent Russell Crow playing a walking Exposition Machine, an absurd and frankly boring climax featuring an unusually large amount of water.
All that said, the movie will still probably entertain you for two hours if you turn your brain off. Sofia Boutella has a certain ineffable charm and charisma, even though she doesn't have much to work with. Some of the spectacle is staged nicely. And the movie goes for interesting comedic tonal shifts, which many critics felt didn't land but I appreciated at least for the trying. There are worse ways to kill some time while waiting to eat dinner with your friends in Jakarta.
But many of the movie's flaws can be traced back to the burden of establishing and carrying a massive, intricately connected cinematic franchise. The studio has years of this franchise already planned out, which seems to me the definition of putting the cart before the horse and also arrogantly assumes people will throw money at anything with Tom Cruise and a recognizable IP attached, conveniently excusing them from having to deliver a film that is, you know, good (American audiences, at least, caught onto this bit of flim-flam, if the paltry opening weekend box office is anything to go by).
The studio lavished screenwriters on the film - six credited, in total - and it shows. Movie by committee, serving the strategic vision of a corporate overlord and flatly aping better versions of the same thing, is never going to be very good. And this is precisely what The Mummy is. Not very good, but not very bad. In other words, the kind of meaningless tent-pole spectacle created and sustained by forces greater than itself that we as a society collectively deserve at this moment.