Universal has a movie studio and theme parks. What it lacks is a mega-franchise of superheroes.
But Universal has monsters. Boy, do they have monsters: Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s monster are all in the starting line-up.
The studio is tapping its classic creatures for a new series with the umbrella title “Dark Universe,” which will evidently culminate in a big multi-monster rally. It’s an expensive gamble.
If “The Mummy” is indicative, a little work is needed. This one is going in a lot of different directions at once.
The basics: Tom Cruise plays adventurer Nick Morton, mucking around in Iraq for ancient artifacts. He inadvertently uncovers an Egyptian mummy (Sofia Boutella) with wicked powers.
Most of the action takes place in London, where an archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis, from “Peaky Blinders”) and a certain Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) reveal to Nick a new world of gods and monsters. Worse, Nick may have been zapped by an ancient curse that will render him one or the other.
There are chases and explosions and a giant vat of mercury to keep the mummy at bay. As you can imagine, there’s also a certain amount of setting-up for the Dark Universe future.
Cruise is in gear with the film’s early jokey tone, which sets up what could be a reasonably fun Tom Cruise summer movie. But “The Mummy” has other goals, and later in the movie the sarcastic one-liners seem out of tune.
“The Mummy” is at its best when Dr. Jekyll is around, partly because his laboratory — full of mysterious things in jars — could spawn lots of good monster stuff. He mutters something about needing monsters to fight monsters, so apparently the old Universal gang will be pressed into service for a larger mission.
Director Alex Kurtzman (who worked on re-booting the “Star Trek” films) has a feel for popcorn movies. But he doesn’t get the dark stuff very well — or should we say the Dark Universe stuff. There’s little real fright in this movie, and certainly nothing as blood-chilling as the moment Boris Karloff opens a single dust-encrusted eye at the beginning of the 1932 “Mummy.”
As a monster fan, I will watch this series with curiosity. “Bride of Frankenstein” is slated for a 2019 release, and Johnny Depp is signed up as “The Invisible Man.” One simple request to Universal: If possible, could you please make these scary?
“The Mummy” (2 1/2 stars)
Tom Cruise is an adventurer who digs up a lethal Egyptian mummy (Sofia Boutella), and also gets drawn into the monster-fighting world of Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Universal is setting up a “Dark Universe” of monster movies, but let’s hope they’re more coherent (and scarier) than this outing.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
Showing: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Sundance Cinemas, Thorton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza