[SPOILERS ahead for The Mummy.]
While Tom Cruise plays a central role in The Mummy reboot, his role in the future of the Dark Universe remains something of a mystery. It was reported for years that Universal Pictures was developing a rebooted version of its classic monster cinematic universe that would kick-off with The Mummy, but it wasn’t until three weeks before that film’s domestic theatrical release that the studio revealed an official title for the franchise – namely, the Dark Universe – complete with its own original, Danny Elfman-composed theme music.
Upon announcing the Dark Universe title, Universal released a photo of the A-listers who have been recruited to star in the franchise (thus far), in the process confirming that Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem are playing the Invisible Man and Frankenstein’s monster, as they had been long rumored to do by that point. Of the five actors featured in the official Dark Universe cast photo (including, Russell Crowe and Sofia Boutella), Cruise was the only one not initially presented as playing an iconic “monster” himself – signaling that his character in The Mummy, one sergeant Nick Morton, would be more than just a one-and-done Dark Universe movie protagonist, even before the film came out.
When Cruise first signed on for The Mummy, it wasn’t clear if his reasons for doing so included him wanting to add another blockbuster franchise to his belt (to join the likes of Mission: Impossible). It was even reported that the actor had decided to star in The Mummy in part to fill an opening in his schedule, after the sci-fi heist/thriller Luna Park – which Cruise and his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman had been working on at that time – failed to secure a green-light. After signing on though, Cruise played a key role in developing and promoting The Mummy, ahead of its release in theaters. He may have even been the one responsible for getting his trusted collaborator, Oscar-winner Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), to do enough work on The Mummy‘s script to earn co-writing credit.
That is to say: given how involved Cruise ultimately wound up being in getting the first installment in the Dark Universe off the ground, it would be a bit strange for him to simply step away from the franchise completely, hereon out. Reviews for The Mummy have been pretty negative and unflattering on the whole, yet many of them also single out the film’s universe-building as being one of its stronger suits. Similarly, The Mummy is being projected for a relatively soft domestic box office opening weekend take, but its performance at the global box office (where, in recent years especially, Cruise’s vehicles have typically done much better than in the U.S.) is expected to be strong enough to make the film a commercial success and keep the Dark Universe from exploding right on takeoff. As such, the groundwork has been put into place for Cruise to appear in additional chapters in the franchise that are either more artistically-rewarding and/or financially-successful than The Mummy will be for the actor.
As for what role Cruise’s Nick Morton will playing in the overarching narrative of the Dark Universe following the events of The Mummy, well, that doesn’t become fully clear until the final minutes of director Alex Kurtzman’s film. For most of the movie, Nick Morton is presented as being a hapless puppet of the newly-resurrected Princess Ahmanet (Boutella), with her plan being to use Nick to serve as the human vessel for the wicked Egyptian deity that is Set. However, by the end of the film, the truth is revealed: this wasn’t really an origin story for (and introduction to) Boutella’s iteration of The Mummy so much as it was a setup for Cruise to play a version of The Mummy in the Dark Universe. What exactly that role will constitute though, requires additional dissection.