The beginning of Universal’s Dark Universe has begun, with the release of The Mummy. Starring Tom Cruise, The Mummy is supposed to launch a shared universe of classic monster stories that will be remade for a modern day audience. Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem are set to join for future movies, The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein, respectively, but it all kicks off with The Mummy.
The problem is, The Mummy is already the subject of overwhelmingly negative reviews, currently sitting at 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Its release sets it up against the second week of Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman, which conversely has enjoyed rave reviews, a huge opening, and can expect to gross around $54 million, domestically, this weekend. Meanwhile, The Mummy’s opening is expected to draw just $28 million. It should be said that The Mummy is expected to be Cruise’s biggest opening globally, and his impact at the global box office continue to be on the rise, but as his domestic earnings simultaneously dwindle, it seems as if Cruise’s name alone is no longer enough to ensure box office success.
Cruise began his career back in 1981, but it wasn’t until 1983 when he really gained attention through Risky Business. From there, his career skyrocketed, and roles in movies such as Top Gun, Cocktail, Rain Man, and A Few Good Men, quickly cemented him as a Hollywood leading man that studios were eager to have as their star. Cruise continued with his dramatic roles, with roles in Vanilla Sky and Minority Report, but steadily branched out into action movies, becoming the face of the Mission: Impossible franchise, and starring in Jack Reacher, and Edge of Tomorrow.
Somewhere during that time, Cruise’s bankability seems to have tanked, and the problem seems to be on multiple levels. Firstly, the rise of the comic book movie genre cannot be ignored. Marvel and DC characters have become the subject of high-grossing movies from Disney, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. Back in the eighties and nineties, comic book movies were few and far between, and the genre was very niche. A generation of actors such as Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, the aforementioned Depp and of course, Cruise, made their names being solo stars in dramatic, character driven roles.
The landscape has changed; stars such as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Hugh Jackman, and Henry Cavill ushered in a new generation of movie star, becoming classic comic book characters, crossing into multiple movies, and working as an ensemble cast. That’s the first problem; Cruise is a leading solo player and still trying to be so. Audiences now are used to a full roster of big-name stars, and it feels as though Universal’s Dark Universe might be too little, too late. Though Russell Crowe also features in The Mummy, not too much has been made of his role, even though his character, Dr. Jekyll, will be a connecting feature across the universe. Being a standalone star is no longer enough ensure big audiences unless your film is absolutely top notch – which The Mummy is not.
Then comes Cruise’s choice of roles. It should be stressed that Cruise is not a bad actor. In fact, he is incredibly talented when the role allows for it. Look at some of his more challenging work for evidence; his role in Rain Man, opposite Dustin Hoffman, is what gave the movie its balance. Audiences sympathized with Charlie as he tried to accept his severely autistic brother, Ray.
In Magnolia, Cruise went against type casting and played a misogynistic sex guru, earning praise for his performance that proved we couldn’t stereotype Cruise as a guy-next-door leading man. He also does comedy well; as Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder, he was almost unrecognizable and very funny with it. Collateral saw him playing the villain with ease, and though his action skill set was needed, so too was an ability to really drive a convincing performance.
Mission: Impossible was perhaps where Cruise began to rest on his laurels, content to assume his name would be enough of a draw. Focusing on the action, and the crazy stunts that he insists on performing himself, Cruise’s actual character work fell by the wayside somewhat, and it continues to do so. As more and more Mission: Impossible movies appear (he’s working on the sixth installment right now) Cruise continues to push his stunt work to new extremes, but his actual performances as Ethan Hunt aren’t the focus of his efforts. Even so, the Mission Impossible franchise is his crowning blockbuster jewel, with the past two installments garnering critical acclaim and box office success, but the increase in ticket sales is strangely occurring despite shrinking domestic revenue.
Cruise’s movies are rarely bad. He’s made some outstanding ones and some not very good ones, but The Mummy really is rough. It clearly suffers from its efforts to kickstart a shared universe, resulting in an unfocused direction. The action sequences – which are both numerous and ambitious – seem to jar with the horror narrative and the result is that neither stands out. Despite all this, all the negative reviews in the world can’t stop audiences showing up for a movie that has the right cast list – look at Pirates of the Caribbean for a current example. The movie came in under the already low projections at just over $30 million in the US, but foreign receipts of over quadrupled that amount, ensuring the movie is still a moneymaker.
It seems like Cruise’s problem is American audiences are tired of this action man narrative that Cruise keeps pedaling, and they want to see him do different things. Mission: Impossible, Jack Reacher, Oblivion, Valkyrie, and now The Mummy have all had Cruise playing the risk-taking hero who wants to save the day. His next movie, American Made, does at least look to be a little different, with Cruise starring as commercial airline pilot turned hustler, Barry Seal. Hopefully, Universal will make sure to market this as something different for Cruise, and it will fare better than The Mummy in the reviews, otherwise, audiences just won’t go and see it.
Following that, comes Mission: Impossible 6, and then, who knows? Top Gun: Maverick could well end up being a huge success if the sense of nostalgia is strong enough and the storyline right. While the original is known for its practical fighter jet scenes, it was actually a far more character-focused movie that also gave Cruise a chance to play a romantic lead, as well as a hero that everyone was rooting for. Right now, given the media interest in the Top Gun sequel (including whether or not volleyball will be included), Cruise could certainly be doing worse projects.
At 54, his billing as an action star is to be admired, as is his willingness to perform so many of his own stunts. But Cruise needs to branch out and to be a strong part of an ensemble cast for once. That’s not to say he needs to join the MCU anytime soon, but since he really is a Hollywood legend, it would be good to see him use the acting skills we know he has, and return to playing a variety of different roles.