The Mummy

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Watching the 2017 attempt to resurrect The Mummy is painfully awkward in more ways that one. The quality of the movie itself notwithstanding, screen writer turned director Alex Kurtzman was supposed to be the one to shepherd in Universal’s attempt to utilise their stable of classic monsters in order to create their own, horror themed MCU – however, fate had other ideas. That didn’t stop the studio commissioning an actual title card at the beginning of the movie, confidently announcing it as the premier chapter of the “Dark Universe” series or staging a snazzy photoshoot detailing high profile stars posing with each other on the cusp of making appearances in future projects that never got made. While we’ll never know what would have come next (the proposed Johnny Depp Invisible Man project seems to ironically come true since he’s all but vanished from cinema screens after his court case) – if The Mummy was any indication, we probably dodged a silver bullet.

Somewhere in Iraq, douchey reconnaissance soldier Nick Morton and his jumpy sidekick Chris Vail are off-mission, searching for rare antiquities to sell on the black market to make a quick buck. Indulging in some sub-Harrison Ford antics to avoid the hails of bullets they unwitting attract, a hastily called in air strike not only saves their butts, but uncovers a hidden, Egyptian tomb. The very fact that there’s an Egyptian burial place located on the middle of Iraq raises some interest and before you know it, archaeologist Jenny Halsey is drafted in (whom Nick awkwardly slept with the night before to gain info on shit he could loot), but despite her warnings, the egocentric soldier frees the sarcophagus and the military has it flown off to Britain for examination.
It’s here everything goes a bit mardy – you see, nestled in that sarcophagus are the still living remains of Princess Ahmanet, a young woman who did a deal with the deity Set and murdered her family in order to keep her right to the throne and obtain unlimited supernatural powers. Not only has she already set her sights on using the man who freed her as a human vessel for Set, but she possesses Vail via a spider bite and brings the plane down with a massive flock of enchanted birds.
Nick is killed in the crash – only he isn’t; Ahmanet’s curse keeps him alive so she can have her way with him and her revived, desiccated form scuttles across the countryside, draining the life out of any poor sod she can find to regain her former complexion. To achieve her nefarious plan, she’ll need the usual macguffins like a magic dagger and a special jewel to perform the act, but complicating her mission is Prodigium, a secret society that totally isn’t SHIELD or Monarch that seems to only exist to allow Russell Crowe’s Dr Henry Jekyll to shamelessly tease a further cinematic universe we haven’t had a chance to give a crap about yet. Can Nick avoid his destiny of being boinked by an ancient, undead creature and go on to save….. well, himself mostly – but the world too, I guess.

The most telling legacy the ’17 Mummy has is that it doesn’t actually have one. Essentially failing at being a blockbuster, a loose reboot of the ’99 version or ground zero for a whole connected universe, the movie simply just doesn’t work on a whole number of levels. In fact it’s best use is probably to be uses as a sobering warning to any studio hoping to get into the connected universe game. Whereas the more successful examples started slowly  – the MCU didn’t truly start until Iron the end of Man’s credits revealed Nick Fury – The Dark Universe attempted to start at full throttle, overconfidently assuming that the first installment had things in the bag. Well, it didn’t – and worse yet, it really isn’t very a good stand alone movie either. Aside from Ahmanet’s plan, there actually isn’t any other plot aside from Prodigium sticking their nose in to clumsily inject a metric ton of exposition, so the majority of the film is just our heroes running away from something while trying to move the story on as they go. It’s a very 90’s approach – something the 1999 Mummy did actually pretty well – but here it’s just a lot of noise and surprisingly grey CGI that eats up running time while having virtually no affect on its audience aside from a growing sense of apathy. Even an admittedly cool set piece that sees the leads buffeted around the interior of a plane with zero gravity (shot for real on a special aircraft) feels grafted in from a Mission: Impossible movie and it’s here that we stumble across The Mummy’s greatest weakness – Tom Cruise.
Over the past decade, Cruise has retooled himself as a man who takes great care when picking his projects, turning out unfeasibly slick thrillers while each continuing installment of his M:I franchise has somehow been better than the last (somewhat of a rarity). The Mummy, on the other hand, feels suspiciously like he only took the role because he wanted to continue hanging out with a stunt team as almost every scene he’s in involves him getting flung across the set like a heavily insured rag doll. Not helping matters is that his character, Nick, is stunningly unappealing, even though the movie desperately wants us to believe otherwise. The entire plot seems to be obsessed either someone wanting to fuck him (did we really need a scene where both Cruise and and his plucky co-lead debate how long he managed to last in bed?) or having him try and not be such a smug shit and while this has continually worked for him in the past (Edge Of Tomorrow, War Of The Worlds and virtually every movie he made during the 80’s), he just can’t overcome a lame script to come across as anything less than a massive prick.
The rest of the cast are decidedly mixed; Sofia (Kingsman) Boutella once again puts her contorting performance arts skills to good use in the title role and Annabelle Wallis (the recipient of 2021’s greatest head spliting twist thanks to the bonkers Malignant) holds her own impressively against her co-star – but Jake Johnson is disappointingly unfunny in his screamy sidekick role and Russell Crowe is just all over the place as Henry Jekyll inevitably transforms into the cockney “Eddie” Hyde in order to tack on yet another action scene to fill out Cruise’s stunt quota.

So, yeah, aside from the occasional set piece or actor to provide some small relief from onslaught of moldy suckage, The Mummy fails on a majority of levels – but you can’t help but wonder what could have been if Kurtzman hadn’t so spectacularly dropped the ball. You may disagree, but Scarlett Johansson starring in a Creature From The Black Lagoon remake sounds perversely right to me and the mind boggles at the idea of Javier Bardem being in a Bride Of Frankenstein film, but as this is yet another attempt to modernize the Universal Monsters line that’s crashed and burned (wasn’t Luke Evan’s Dracula Untold supposed to be a start of something?), maybe it’s a good thing that this Mummy got good and dusted…

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