It’s when the rats swarm all over Tom Cruise that you begin to realise that this latest revival of The Mummy was hardly worth untrussing.
The hitch with these rodents is that they appear so soon after a near-identical scene in which Cruise and his colleagues are swarmed over by spiders – and not too long before we see beetles crawling down characters’ ears.
We also have a flock of deranged birds hurtling through an airplane windscreen. There is only so much pestilence a single movie can take without beginning to feel very repetitive.
Of course, Cruise himself is nothing if not game. You can’t help but admire the recklessly energetic, Peter Pan-like way the 54-year-old actor throws himself into stunts, whether they’re high in the air or deep under the water: in cavernous crypts or in the desert.
His character Nick Morton isn’t so different from his Jack Reacher, or Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible movies, but he has a bit of Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia thrown in for good measure.
Nick is part of “long-range reconnaissance” for the US forces. That means he and his buddy Vail (Jake Johnson) try to protect precious antiquities from destruction at the hands of terrorists.
They have a nice sideline in smuggling – or, as they put it, “liberating” – some of the objects.
Annabelle Wallis is Jenny Halsey, the steely archaeologist with whom he has had a one-night fling and from whom he has stolen a map.
A few explosions in the desert unearth a gigantic tomb where Princess Ahmanet, the ‘Mummy’ (Sofia Boutella) is buried, who also has a nice sideline – in calligraphy-like tattoos on her skin.
We are given the story of how she was interred alive in flashback. Thousands of years before, she made some infernal pact with Set, the god of darkness, to unleash chaos and woe into the world.
There is also some confusing information about the crusaders in 1127 getting hold of the precious stone that sits on top of a sacred dagger.
The stone is in a crusader grave that the Crossrail excavations in London have exposed. Nick, being curious and full of mischief, has woken up Ahmanet. If the Mummy manages to reunite the stone and the dagger, there will be more than hell to pay.
The screenplay, by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, is shameless in the way it mixes traditional Mummy movie elements with ideas taken from other horror films. Zombie references abound. On one level, this is also a romantic drama.
Cruise’s Nick is torn between two women. There’s the evil princess, who has put the curse on him. She is “in his head” and gives him nightmarish as well as erotic visions – though she also has plans to stab him with the sacred knife. Then, there’s Jenny, who appeals to the good (if there is any) in him.
An absurdly over-determined plot is further curdled by the presence of Russell Crowe as Dr Henry Jekyll, a bellowing scientist with – we might just have guessed it – a bit of a split personality.
The only surprise here is that other such old favourites from the Universal stable as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Wolfman aren’t thrown into the mix as well – or indeed, Abbott and Costello for good measure.
Cruise tries to keep matters light hearted. There’s lot of banter between him and his pal, Vail. He’s able to wisecrack even when he is naked in the morgue and he still has that wraparound cheesy grin that cinema audiences first saw back in the 1980s, in his brat pack Risky Business days.
You can’t help but admire the zest with which he makes small talk with evil spirits he meets in the Ladies restroom, or how he chats to the Mummy at a climactic moment as if they’re students on a date to the high school prom that has gone badly wrong.
The jokiness risks undercutting any tension the filmmakers might have hoped of stoking up. It’s dismaying to see an actor of the power and presence of Russell Crowe hamming it up like just any other evil scientist in an overcooked B-movie.
The use of London locations is on the tokenistic side. We get to see a chase in the Natural History Museum, and there are scenes of landmark buildings crumbling as the Mummy wreaks havoc.
The stunts are by far the best element here. Whether it’s planes being torn apart, Cruise and Wallis driving through the woods with the Mummy in pursuit or the very spectacular finale, the visual effects are first rate.
Whenever the action stops, though, the film becomes derivative and empty headed. Strip away the bandages and there really isn’t very much here at all.
‘The Mummy’ hits UK cinemas 9 June.
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