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I really wish there were more horror movies about Mummies. Unfortunately 2017's The Mummy can't really decide whether it wants to be a light hearted romp like the Brendan Fraser 1999 film, or a straight up horror like the original from 1932. The film awkwardly bounces between tones, undercutting tensionless horror with unfunny gags. It takes liberally from An American Werewolf in London, right down to the hero being haunted by his dead best friend, but The Mummy lacks any of that film's inventiveness or acumen.
We follow Nick, a wacky thief, soldier, and complete dickhead. He's joined by an offensively boring Egyptologist who compulsively speaks in dramatic pauses: "This chains aren't here to lift something... IT'S TO HOLD IT DOWN!...This isn't a tomb... ITS A PRISON!" They go to war torn Iraq and stumble across the sarcophagus of an ancient Egyptian princess. This sort of thing is easier to swallow in a 1930s pulp setting, where grave robbing from foreign countries was an accepted pastime, but telling the same sort of story in the modern day begs for some kind of re-evaluation of that whole colonialism thing. Like maybe Iraq would have something to say about armed Westerners stealing its priceless artefacts? Maybe it even has its own archaeologists? The heroes don't dwell on it, they just fly the 5000 year old coffin out of the country from the bottom of a helicopter, dangling in the open air like a car freshener.
Our mummy is played by Sofia Boutella. At first I thought the casting was inspired; a nice subversion of the format, but the movie quickly falls for classic monster girl tropes. Why of course the girl mummy has to be sexy, and of course she has to kill people by kissing them. And why shouldn't she be motivated by an overwhelming desire to fuck Nick? I laughed out loud when she starts calling Nick "setepa-i", in the style of an anime waifu saying "sempai!" Boutella is utterly misused.
The same can be said for the special effects, which are somehow even more obvious looking than the movie from 20 years prior. We have one scene where Mr Hyde shows up (yes, he's in it too, for sequel reasons), and rather than simply apply makeup to Russell Crowe (horribly miscast, by the way), they CGI some contact lenses and veins onto him whilst he capers around talking like a cockney geezer; even if the CGI had been decent, the end result would still look moronic.
And that's the best way to describe The Mummy. Moronic. If you are a fan of watching bad movies to riff on, than The Mummy should be high on your list, but that's the only kind of recommendation it will ever deserve.
The Mummy: A gender-swapped Lara Croft(Tom Cruise)finds a cursed mummy (An excellent Sofia Boutella) while looting treasures in Iraq one step ahead of Isis (The terrorist army not the Egyptian Goddess). Cruise and his mandatory love interest (Annabelle Wallis) fly the Mummy back to London. The mummy escapes and Cruise finds himself recruited by a shadowy organization led by Russel Crowe to get the Mummy back before the world ends or something.
The Good: The Mummy has some pretty good scenes all conveniently located for your viewing pleasure in the first forty minutes or so of the movie. The first forty minutes has a good breezy pace, Cruise’s character seems fun and well thought out, the action scenes are great and the mummy protagonist is a sexy and dangerous foil. One can seriously start to wonder why this fun movie got so much critical flack?
The Bad: And then Russell Crowe shows up. Dr. Jekyll would argue that Mr. Crowe does a fine job but is let down by a poor script and characterization. Mr. Hyde would say Russell is a large ham who makes a poorly thought out character even worse. While I agree with Hyde I don’t think anything could have saved this character. It is simply bad because it exists in this story.
Crowe scenery chewing isn’t the only thespian stumble. We also have Annabelle Wallis as the least charismatic Cruise love interest since… well maybe ever. There is furniture in this movie I am more invested in than this character. If a bad guy ties her to a table we’re more worried that no one is using a coaster.
For a movie called The Mummy, the titular character doesn’t seem to get a lot to do after they settle in London. Some (including the studio) blame Cruise for hogging the limelight but in reality, it is the world building with Prodigium, which is supposed to be the Scooby gang that links all the Dark Universe movies together, that sucks up all the running time and all the films energy. (The Mummy was supposed to be the first of a series of Dark Universe films that are threatening us with, among other things, Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man. Fortunately, the whole enterprise seems to be on life support so expect another reboot soon.)
The movie um… finds inspiration from other films as well, everything from The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (See Prodidium above) to An American Werewolf in London where the film out and out copies entire scenes.
In Conclusion: It is rare to see a movie, let alone the supposed start of an entire Universe filled with tent poles, fly off the rails so badly. Like Superman Vs Batman it seemed more concerned letting us know about upcoming projects and setting up “the Universe” than just being a good movie so we would see another. Raider’s of the Lost Ark did not try to create a franchise with its film. It just was a very good movie that made people want more.
Universal's latest revamp of one of their classic fantasy horror IPs has some problems. The very beginning is poorly-handled exposition, which could've better served the film by being introduced later. The very end is poorly-thought-out from a narrative standpoint, without getting into spoilers. And there's a very specific set of scenes in the middle that are just plain poorly-done, feeling like intrusions onto the picture from a different one. All three, on top of their inherent problems, are clearly trying waaaaaay too hard to "set up a Cinematic Universe," as is the obsession these days.
Also, I do wish the camera were a lot less jittery and the scenery better-lit in places, especially since I suspect it's there to mask poor make-up work or CGI.
That out of the way... the rest of the film is fine. A reasonably-entertaining adventure. I'm not really a horror fan, so I don't know how well it holds up from that metric, but I liked the action-adventure spectacle of most of the chase scenes. Tom Cruise does an excellent job of playing the scoundrel-with-a-buried-heart-of-gold part, without overselling one or the other, and his physical commitment, as always, is there front and center. Boutella's mummy character is a strong villain, with clear motivations, just enough depth to not come across as an empty antagonistic presence in the story, and does all manner of entertainingly-vile things throughout. And the rest of the supporting cast is... okay. Not particularly well-scripted, but they do fine, and none of them were that annoying.
As a big fan of the "cultural" mummy myth, in films and games, I think this movie caught the gist of what people like me enjoy in the monster archetype. And, again, while I'm not 100% happy with the way the ending went, I do hope to see more and better Universal films in this vein, inevitable disappointing crossovers and all. It's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a perfectly good piece of entertainment, and that's all I was after.
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