The Mummy (2017)
Welcome to a New World of Gods and Monsters
Ever since the late Boris Karloff portrayed the bandaged ghoul in 1932, the character of The Mummy has been an iconic part of Universal’s Monster Movies, this series of creature features separating itself from the British based slasher/ Gothic Hammer Horror productions by imbuing its bogeyman with a sense of pathos and tragedy, filmmakers crafting spine-chilling pictures where the audience could both fear the monster and fear for its safety, too. Along with the cursed Egyptian corpse, Universal’s library of beasties includes The Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and The Invisible Man (simply to name a few), all of which fall into this loosely tied ‘series,’ with Universal, for a short while, being the reigning studio of Hollywood horror.
Cut to 1999, where popcorn writer-director Stephen Sommers reinvented The Mummy, his loose PG-13 remake balancing blockbuster thrills with light terror and Indiana Jones-type treasure-seeking, the movie prompting a new breed of fun fright fests, VFX-driven summer extravaganzas — think Van Helsing (2004), also piloted by Sommers, Benicio Del Toro’s The Wolfman (2010), and Paul Verhoeven’s bloody Hollow Man (2000), the latter produced by Sony. Needless to say, the Brendan Fraser-starring vehicle went on to cash in millions, globally, the flick a surprise success, spawning a couple of sequels shortly after; The Mummy Returns in 2001, an over-blown CGI-heavy continuation of Sommer’s stellar hit (which I actually loved), and the nail-on-the-coffin, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), this third installment (the first not helmed by Sommers) draining most of the life the (now) rickety series had left in it.
It makes sense, then, that given today’s franchise-frenzy cinematic climate, Universal has drawn together its classic spooks in the hope of assembling a universe of its own — dubbed the Dark Universe — the studio reshaping its ghastly titans for a brand new generation to … familiarize themselves with. And this latest Mummy spearheads the entire saga. Revealing their Dark Universe banner in front of the picture, it’s clear that The Mummy’s sole intention is to set the scene, so to speak, director Alex Kurtzman, People Like Us (2012), and all of his collaborators pushing for an interconnected world of ‘Gods and Monsters,’ this tagline taken directly from 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick to death of studios green-lighting entire slates of movies that have little to no demand (another Wolfman?), flicks slated to arrive as late as 2020. Take into consideration both Marvel and DC, their properties have always had a following, long before this new phase kicked into gear, and watching epic team-ups, such as The Avengers and The Justice League, has always been a comic book fan’s dream. Then there’s something like Star Wars, where interest is high and people actually want to see more of these movies. Even Transformers or Fast and the Furious have earned the right to have a go at extending the groundwork that’s taken years to layout. Be that as it may, if all we get from major motion picture houses are interconnected films, in ten or so years the common moviegoer will probably forget what a complete narrative is — your classic three-act structure with a beginning, middle/ conflict and end/ resolution. Villains won’t meet their demise, loose threads will be left hanging and movies will suffer from clunk that has nothing to do with the story patrons have paid to see. So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, this problem extends into Universal’s new shared universe, The Mummy overflowing with franchise-setting exposition and messy plotting whilst failing to capture the campy fun, and sheer sense of adventure, that made its ’90s incarnation so darn enjoyable.
But look, The Mummy does start off on the right foot, opening up with a wicked prologue detailing the back-story of the titular antihero — while clichéd and predictable, this intro at least feels like you’re watching a self-contained Mummy romp. Set in an age-old Egypt, this curtain-up speedily introduces viewers to Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), raised as a fearless warrior by her father, this heir to the kingdom ‘cursed’ with a baby brother. Cheated and robbed of her birthright, Ahmanet makes a pact with the devil, the Dark Lord Set, in the hope of usurping the throne, the would-be pharaoh eventually seized by the very people who once swore loyalty to her, the princess captured then mummified and entombed for eternity, her body transported then buried deep underground in the far away land of Mesopotamia.
Cut to present day, the dust having long settled, where ancient Mesopotamia is now modern-day Iraq. It is here where we meet soldier of fortune Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), a man who spends his days plundering war-torn sites in search of precious antiquities to sell to the highest bidder; accompanied by his trusty second-in-command, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), both men are part of an army reconnaissance unit stationed in the Middle East. When Nick and Chris secretly infiltrate an Iraqi village to hunt for some treasure, they are stormed by a large number of insurgents, this unexpected setback paving the way for their biggest discovery yet; the unearthing of an Egyptian-like antechamber, which happens to be the burial place of an ancient evil — Ahmanet.
Enter Cultural Heritage officer Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), a British Egyptologist who forces the scamming duo to help her survey the newly found tomb, seeing as Nick had stolen the map to the ruins from her, seducing Jenny (some nights earlier) to do so. Exploring the cavern, the trio discover that the subterranean hollow is home to a large sarcophagus, one that’s submerged in a gaping pool of mercury via a Rube Goldberg-type contraption — convenient much? After Nick frees the creepy casket, raising it out of its shiny toxic confines, Jenny is compelled to fly her findings over to London for further examination. However, the tumultuous sandy gales and squally crows that follow signify the coming of something truly malevolent, Ahmanet’s ascension damning all of Earth’s inhabitants, the supernatural nasty set to enslave humanity and take her rightful place as ruler of the land.
With the screenplay patched together by a committee of scribes, six writers having labored over this jumble of a story — including David Koepp, Spider-Man (2002), regular Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, and the film’s director, Alex Kurtzman — the narrative, or lack thereof, is The Mummy’s biggest hindrance, the film overly focused on laying the foundation for it’s proposed shared universe, the story raising more questions than answers. Moreover, there are way too many plot elements to keep track of — including a McGuffin-type ceremonial dagger that’s needed to re-awaken Set — this meshed with copious myth building, and that’s before all the expanded universe stuff comes into play, suffocating the entire picture, the movie failing to tell a gripping or engaging account — so, those keen to catch a film about a wrapped phantom should probably look elsewhere.
Helmed by writer-producer-turned filmmaker Alex Kurtzman, The Mummy does sport a slick production with vast desert vistas, Egyptian-inspired sights and decaying digital deadheads galvanizing the screen, the action, though, eventually shifting into dark and dreary, ugly locations, the flick’s tone just as uneven as its visuals. With that said, the handful of tentpole set pieces — the highlight, a zero gravity scramble for survival in the cockpit of a plummeting cargo plane — lack threat, the character’s never feeling as though they’re in any real danger. Even the climactic sequence fizzles before reaching an apex — a scene that sees glass around the city of London shatter, transforming into a vicious sandstorm that threatens to engulf our heroes — this action-horror hybrid never coming across as a genuine big-budget entertainer with legitimate stakes or tension. If anything, these mildly rousing moments hint at what could’ve been; that’s if the Hollywood ‘powers that be’ had taken a different approach to the material entirely.
Strange as it may seem, even Tom Cruise’s bankable name can’t save The Mummy from sinking in the quicksand, proceedings not to the quality synonymys with the mega-star’s brand. While certainly not his worst outing, The Mummy ain’t his greatest, and this coming from a legit fan of the 54-year-old Maverick, Cruise, who’s still as charismatic as ever, feeling awkwardly miscast as the bumbling, semi-selfish yet heroic protagonist Nick. The striking, sapphire-eyed Annabelle Wallis, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), does make the 110-minute journey easy on the eyes, her grace and charm as archaeologist Jenny deterring me from whipping out my smart-phone at various points of disinterest. Elsewhere, Wellington-born Russell Crowe, Gladiator (2000), hams it up as Dr. Henry Jekyll, the leader of a shadowy SHIELD-like organization named Prodigium, an agency tasked with containing and examining paranormal threats; Crowe’s turn as Edward Hyde, however, Jekyll’s sinister alter ego, is by far the dodgiest depicted on screen — yes, even Robbie Coltrane’s CGI brute from 2004’s goofy Van Helsing was better. And while Jake Johnson from television’s New Girl (2011) is amusing as grave robber Chris, the actor-comedian sharing a playful dynamic with co-star Cruise, he’s put to death almost right away, then shows up in dribs and drabs as a ghost, à la An American Werewolf in London (1981), the character a brazen rip-off Griffin Dunne’s mutilated Jack.
Lastly, embodying the title crypt crawler, Algerian-French actress Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), disappears right into the role of Ahmanet — from her cadaverous beginnings to her double-pupil, tattooed ‘human’ form — the ex-dancer-model, looking killer with the VFX enhancements and makeup, doing the best she can to carve a decent supernatural foe, Boutella the first female to don the bandages. Though, it goes without saying, Ahmanet plainly lacks the desperation and confusion of the smooth-plated Imhotep (played by Arnold Vosloo in the ’99 version), a disgraced priest driven by love, who, despite his evil ways, merely wanted to be reunited with his sweetheart, Anck-Su-Namun, Vosloo’s mummy much more empathetic in my opinion.
Squandering its peppy-scary premise, The Mummy struggles to resuscitate the titular antagonist, the film inundated with underdeveloped characters, a lackluster narrative and mounds of superfluous scraps, these shameless plugs adding zilch to the story that’s supposedly being told. Winding up with a nonsensical epilogue, one that’s set to shape the looming monster mash, this franchise-starter spells doom and gloom for Universal’s Dark Universe before it’s even had a chance to pass ‘GO,’ the film earning a one-way ticket to the Underworld. Bring back Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, and instead of re-casting Dwayne Johnson to play The Wolfman, how about you let him reprise the role that launched his career, that of The Scorpion King. What a wasted opportunity!
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by S-Littner