Welcome To A New World Of Gods And Monsters
In the heart of Iraq, ex-military adventurer Nick Morton [Cruise] uncovers an Egyptian tomb hundreds of miles from Egypt. This discovery is the life’s work of archaeologist Jenny Halsey [Wallis] and she immediately takes over the excavation. Rushed for time, with insurgents closing in, the group airlift out the key discovery: the sarcophagus of Princess Ahmanet [Boutella], written out of history for her crimes. While flying over the United Kingdom, the plane carrying Nick, Jenny and the mummified Ahmanet is attacked by a flock of crows which causes the plane to crash. Miraculously Nick manages to survive and is told by Dr Henry Jekyll [Crowe] that he is cursed and Ahmanet’s resurrected body will pursue him to complete a ritual which will bring Set, the god of the dead, to life.
After three separate introductions (in the form of a title card, a weirdly disconnected section about crusaders and flashbacks detailing Ahmanet’s cursing) we finally meet the main character and as he runs around Iraq looking for buried treasure and fighting terrorism in the process. Following this vapid, opportunistic treasure hunter and his quipping side-kick, there is a distinct air of trying to revive the campy 90’s The Mummy feel but largely fails on account of Cruise feeling stunted in the role. His attempts at wacky, witty and charming comes off very.. for lack of a better word.. Transformers; like a string of poorly written videogame dialogue that emulates how humans talk but sounds ridiculous. As such, we are left with a film that has the most baffling shifting tone. On the one hand, it thinks it’s a comedy and on the other a horror film. Obviously films can quite happily and easily be classified as both but this embodies neither and feeling more like a flat, overly CGI version of An American Werewolf In London than any iteration of The Mummy.
Staying with Cruise for a moment, of his roles to date, it’s evident he is best suited as a villain but so rarely plays them. This cocky anti-hero who needs to grow up (a role usually associated with younger men) in no way stretches him and feels unpleasantly hollow and unsettling; which is doubly odd as almost exactly the same thing worked masterfully in Edge Of Tomorrow. As far as acting goes, he does a perfectly acceptable job but it doesn’t fit this film, what we end up with is a completely reactionary character (admittedly not unusual in horror) who thinks he’s a charismatic Indiana Jones type. On top of that, despite being completely insignificant, we are constantly told that Nick has the key to defeating this ultimate evil, that he has the potential within to be the best of humanity. There’s little-to-no evidence that points to this but the fact that he continually resists Ahmanet’s brainwashing and – enormous spoiler coming up – can eventually control Set, he evidently must be something special; either that or Set is a pushover.
In supporting roles, we have the exposition spouting unnecessary love interest, Annabelle Wallis. Much like Cruise, there’s nothing offensively bad about the acting bar the fact that the character is poorly written. She starts as some sort of headstrong, stubborn expert – we know she’s an expert thanks to her analysis of the tomb being devoid of assumption because confidence in archaeology translates to fact, apparently – but is quickly reduced to a panicky besotted pawn who continually mutters, shouts, screams and wimpers the word “Nick.” For me, her shining moment was loading Ahmanet’s body onto the military transport plane. She clears away several army personnel and chastises them for their lack of delicacy and care, “Please be careful! This is 5000 years old!” You mean the sarcophagus we just flew around by helicopter, across the desert, on some rope? Yeah, we’ll be careful. The other key role is the titular antagonist herself, Ahmanet. To date I haven’t seen a bad performance from Sofia Boutella and in spite of this pretty dire release, I can thankfully say that statement still stands as true. Through the CGI, the heavy make-up and the barely-present costume, Boutella personifies the unstoppable force with decent flare but regrettably lacks enough layering to make her interesting. Which leaves us with one of the biggest surprises. I think Russell Crowe’s performance as both Jekyll and Hyde will be quite polarising but personally I found it rather pleasing. The mechanics of his changing and exactly when and why he needs the serum is unclear to say the least but overall it worked for me.
The biggest problem The Mummy faces is its sheer lack of creativity. With so much to draw from in terms of mythology and the expanded universe of monstrous creatures, we should have something reminiscent of the manic world of Hellboy but the monsters and Egyptian lore that justifies the film’s existence is merely used as a reference point; more goes into the burial site than the mummification itself, the dagger and the stone are important to bring Set into physical form but it’s not entirely apparent how or why, for a god of death Set is a non-entity presented as a shadowy, stumbling, dusty corpse (I think), the resolve of how to combat evil is very uninventive and the world building necessary to draw us in simply isn’t there. On top of that, we’ve also got an exceptional amount of disorientating, choppy editing and so much bland CGI, all of which is accompanied by a bland, uninspired score which, compared to Jerry Goldsmith’s amazing work on The Mummy, is practically unforgivable. And to finish the film off we have a final lackluster fight which reminded me of one of the Underworld films, the first of which was a better film despite having no budget and being released a decade and a half ago.. even bloody Van Helsing was better than this.
The idea of a shared universe for the Universal monsters (the ownership of which is very dubious as all of them are based on other properties that Universal simply happened to acquire) has been tried over and over. The closest success would have to be something like Penny Dreadful but that’s only because it established an appropriate tone from the get-go and built up entertaining characters for us to follow. The 1932 original The Mummy was a creepy foreign-based supernatural horror, while its 1999 remake was a silly fun adventure. Despite trying so hard, I think the only way to categorise this release is action and for a foundation for a sprawling cinematic universe, it’s incredibly weak. But then this raises the question of when this Dark Universe first started. On the one hand Dracula Untold was the first instalment but after it wasn’t especially well received, that idea was supposedly abandoned, so on the other hand we have the extra confusion that apparently the Brendan Fraser Mummy trilogy is apparently canon. It’s this kind of messy leaps-and-bounds style franchise launching that causes films to suffer. Too many potentially promising projects have fallen by the side of the road thanks to overstuffing standalone features with future set-ups that compromise the story itself. I mean, they gave this thing a fucking logo.. the sheer arrogance is astounding. But having said that, after three rather disappointing instalments, it seems to be working for DC, so maybe the studios can wait it out until it happens to get good. But as a contained story, while this may please certain cinemagoers, it is a very weak and unimpressive film.
9th June 2017
The Scene To Look Out For:
I maintain this version of The Mummy is without personality and any intended jokes fall flat but there is one instance, very early on, that amused me for some unknown reason. To establish the geographical setting when introducing Nick at the start of the film, we are shown the stone ruins of some ancient settlement. A line of on-screen text explains this is Mesopotamia before further revealing “the cradle of civilization.” It then adds the punchline, “Currently known as Iraq” before bullets rip through the historic statues and we see an ISIS-like insurgent group attempting to destroy anything considered contradictory to their warped extremist view. That one line held so much promise; the idea that tomb raiding takes place now as a matter of urgency while irreplaceable relics are destroyed by fundamentalists. Unfortunately, nothing the film presents lives up to that promise.
Joining Nick on his desert adventures – and later as a cursed being haunting Nick’s subconscious – is Jake Johnson as Chris Vail. I fucking hated this character. I don’t know if it was just weakly scripted dialogue or too much pressure on the actor to adlib his way to cinematic gold but he fails miserably. Chris is an awful unfunny buddy character but on top of that, he only shows up when the plot remembers that he exists. It’s like the writers wrote themselves into a corner and resolved the issue by saying, “Oh! Chris! We’ll just have Chris turn up and .. I dunno, say something funny and show Nick the way. Sorted.”
“I’ve seen evil and I see the face of Satan in your new friend, Henry”
In A Few Words:
“A tick-box, made by committee exercise if ever I saw one”