Back 1999, I remember emerging from the cinema feeling a little nonplussed about The Mumny, Stephen Sommers’ mega budgeted remake of the classic Universal horror movie. As the summer season rumbled on this feeling only grew, after all, why would I give a shit about a CGI stuffed Indiana Jones rip-off when the rest of the period was so damn interesting. Summer alone during 1999 gave us the dizzying highs of The Matrix, the sickening lows of Wild Wild West and the confusing reaction to The Phantom Menace somewhere inbetween – CGI Mummys and a screaming Brendan Frasier couldn’t hold a candle to Neo & Co. changing the face of action cinema while Will Smith crashed and burned spectacularly. But after all these years, I’ll put my hands up and happily claim I was wrong, because for the most part, The Mummy has actually aged incredibly well; which, when you think about it, is sort of fitting for a movie about beating death.
After an overblown and surprisingly complicated set up which basically amounts to High Priest Imhotep porking his boss’s wife, getting caught and being cursed with eternal life after being mummified alive, we bounce ahead to 1926 and adventuring legionnaire Rick O’Connell stumbles onto the city of Hamunaptra, the burial place of Imhotep and after a stint in an Egyptian jail and a brush with the hang man’s rope, is eventually sprung by plucky librarian Evelyn Carnahan and her shifty brother Jonathan to search for the lost city.
Racing to get their first before a rival party while fighting off attacks from a secret order sworn to keep Hamunaptra free from curious scholars, both groups split up to search the place only for Evelyn to accidently wake an Imhotep so ravaged by mummification, he looks like a dried up date.
While the resurrected High Priest wastes no time removing the eyes and tongue of one of the other party for his own use, he also starts draining their life force too in order to restore him to his former glory; but the worst fate he has is for Evelyn as he believes she is the reincarnation of his lost love, Anck-su-namun and plans to sacrifice her in order to bring his mummified former squeeze back to life.
However, Imhotep’s powers stretch far beyond simply looking gross and simping for someone who’s been dead since 1290 BC as his return has caused the ten plagues to ravage Egypt while also giving him the power to manipulate sand (for some reason) and if he isn’t put back into the grave soon, his dark plans will soon envelop the world.
Can Rick, Evelyn, Jonathan manage to thwart Imhotep’s nefarious plans for world domination before his powers reach their zenith or will this superpowered slap head manage to win the day and get the girl?
A main part of my initial dismissal of Stephen Sommer’s hyperactive action blowout is I simply had no more patience for a thinly veiled theft of Spielberg’s greatest hits after Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla poached most of the set pieces from the Jurassic Park movies barely a year before. Why, I reasoned, would I want to waste my time with yet another lame Indiana Jones clone when I had three perfectly good, actual, Indiana Jones movies sitting on my shelf at home? However, time heals all wounds and watching it now it’s massively apparent that The Mummy is a vastly enjoyable romp with plenty of energy and goofy wit to spare as Sommers embraces the romantic aspects of classic movies to give us a faintly ludicrous, but hugely enjoyable ride. His first bullseye is ti admit that Boris Karloff’s 1932 Mummy is, if we’re being honest, a little bit boring and to sex it up by giving us a villain with much more impressive abilities than plotting and causing the odd heart attack and one time Darkman, Arnold Vosloo’s, muscled, overpowered upgrade is a welcome choice. The second thing Sommers excels at is with the casting with former George Of The Jungle Brendan Frasier making quite the dashing hero who displays a raw talent for being able to juggle being a massively likable action hero with the goofy one-liners the script enjoys hurling at us. Also very endearing is Rachel Weisz’s Evelyn who, while admittedly saddled with a couple of regressive heroine traits (very smart, but clumsy and scatty to go with it), wins you over with rock solid chemistry with her swashbuckling lead – in fact it’s interesting that the roles three leads (including John Hannah’s flaky brother) were copied virtually verbatim for 2021’s Jungle Cruise, which I guess is even further proof that it’s more than just an adventure retread.
Sommers’ final winner is to literally cram the film with nonstop action that somehow doesn’t get exhausing as the film breaks out endless gun fights and Mummy mauling at the drop of a hat while composer Jerry Goldsmith comes at the material hard. While it goes about its business, it also keeps up that adventure movie tradition of having a truly impressive disregard for human life as people are shot, lit on fire, drained to a husk, burned with acid and eaten alive by bugs while Sommers seems to be trying to break the record for single most instances of nightmare fuel in a single movie.
Still, the huge waves of surprising nostalgia wasn’t enough to counteract a couple of flaws, the main one being some “state of the art” CGI that I thought was fairly ropey back in 1999. Imhotep’s massively over the top, computer generated, zombie form has all the depth and tactile-ness of a resident of Toon Town and his absurdly stretchy jaw simply makes matters worse and the film’s depiction of some of Egypt’s native people (especially the treatment of Omid Djalili) while in search forca cheap joke is fairly poor.
With that being said, The Mummy has done well to still feel weirdly comforting – especially in the wake of Tom Cruise’s baffling reboot – and it’s a shame that Sommers’s subsequent blockbuster career led us down a path that eventually led us to the horrendous Van Helsing as he tried to nail the remaining cast of the Universal Monster series in a single film.
A rare case of a concept being actually made better with way too much action, effects and a noticable lack of brain cells, The Mummy is a hugely likeable action/adventure flick that, like its antagonist, has surprisingly stood the test of time thanks to the unholy super power of being fondly remembered by those who saw it at an impressionable age.