THE MUMMY Review
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Genre: Action, Adventure
This was a hard one for me. I love horror. And I, more than anything, love monster movies. The Universal Pictures monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s (1954, too—can’t leave out CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON), with their wonderfully evocative creature designs, and a charm so shrouded in cobwebs and fog and mystery, hold a very special place in my heart. I am not alone in this, either. There is a reason those films are so romanticized. Aesthetically, they are untouchable. Their eerie, gothic atmosphere set the stage for countless imitators, allowing for stars like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff—legends even in their own time—to remain household names some three generations later. Who can forget the icy gaze of Count Dracula? His words, too. So menacing, so hypnotic. Or Frankenstein’s forlorn and yearning monster? A monster, yes, but no less human. That is film! And those films, perhaps antiquated as they are, endure. It is no wonder, then, that it would be these which Universal would exhume in a bid to construct a filmic universe of their own.
THE MUMMY is Universal’s first entrant into their aptly titled “Dark Universe”—an interconnected world of vampires, werewolves, mad scientists and all the other things that go bump in the night—and their most important movie right now. Carrying the weight of, well, a universe on its back, this film’s success will determine Universal’s course over the next several years, making or breaking numerous other productions. It should not be taken lightly, then, that THE MUMMY is the biggest underdog of 2017. (Yes, even more so than GHOST IN THE SHELL. No, I will not stop talking about it.) With an incredible, almost unfair burden saddled on a rather flimsy premise, a lead who isn’t an especially believable or charismatic action star (at least among American viewers), and the awful misfortune of going up against WONDER WOMAN (the success of which was no sure thing either), THE MUMMY was seemingly predestined to fail. That the movie is an exasperating, deeply confused mélange of bland, action-y nonsense doesn’t help either.
We begin in London, circa 1127 A.D., as a Crusader is entombed with a gemstone upon his chest. Fast-forward to present day, as workers chance upon the tomb, only to be immediately relieved by shadowy G-men lead by a Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Yeah, you read that right. Next is present day Iraq, because why not? Here we meet Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his chatty sidekick, Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), two long-range recon scouts who use The Mighty Hand of the U.S. Army to moonlight as blackmarket privateers. Tom is the same cunning, quasi-charming adventurer he always is—one whose passion for fist fights is rivaled only by his love of running from CGI disasters—and he has quite the clever racket going on. Using his intel, he “liberates” priceless relics from “insurgents.” When things get too hairy and bullets don’t do the trick, the two call in drone strikes, allowing for collateral damage to cover their tracks. Yes, he goes off on his own, against orders, killing people so that he can steal and pawn off history before the world has a chance to learn about it, and we are supposed to root for him. If this sounds at all familiar, it’s because THREE KINGS did a much better job of it back in 1999. But borrowing things from much better movies is going to become something of a trend here.
Anywho, one of those drone strikes happens to blast a hole through the roof of a (actually really well-designed and cool looking) tomb. The Army arrives to mop up, as does token love interest/exposition deliverer, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who informs us that the tomb is (gasp) Egyptian and that Nick is incredibly unsatisfying in bed. I wish I was kidding. Nick, Chris, and Jenny then rappel into it because the Colonel says so, where it is revealed that it is less a tomb and more of a prison for Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a vengeful heiress who seeks to release Set, the Egyptian god of death, upon the Earth. (Set is actually the god of war, chaos, and storms, but whatever.) Ahmanet’s sarcophagus is moved onto a cargo plane, but it isn’t long before a murder of crows takes it out, causing it to crash near the Crusader’s grave. Oh yeah, Chris becomes cursed and decides to haunt the also-cursed Nick in an anemic riff on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Still with me? It is here that Ahmanet escapes, seeking a dagger needed for her to begin her reign of terror.
2 spoopy 5 me
If I haven’t been clear, THE MUMMY is a troubled movie. It’s not that it’s bad per se—it isn’t nearly as bad as most are making it out to be, and no worse than any other overblown action extravaganza—it’s that it has no idea what it wants to do. THE MUMMY throws every action trope from the last 20 years at the wall, hoping something sticks. The problem with this approach is that it’s a pretty small, uninteresting bag of tricks to begin with. Middle Eastern conflict? Check. Claustrophobic, wall-to-wall action? Duh. The destruction of recognizable landmarks? Sure. Sprinting, shrieking zombies—sorry, mummies? Yup. The filmmakers, probably recognizing the longshot on their hands, relied so hard on “tried and true” action beats in hopes of clicking with modern audiences that they sacrificed their own film’s identity. It could have been a gothic thriller like the original 1932 picture, or goofy popcorn fare like the Brendan Fraser films. It could have even been something different altogether like Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE was to DRACULA, or NOSFERATU for that matter. Instead, THE MUMMY locks itself into a disengaging groove of in-your-face CGI spectacle.
Even ignoring all of the whackadoo world-building, the numerous liberties taken with Egyptian mythology, and the fact that no one ever sets foot in Egypt, there is little that makes any sense. All logic is thrown out the window in favor of bubblegum action. (For example, why the filmmakers didn’t just have the sarcophagus moved to a museum where the dagger just so happens to be is beyond me.) That being said, there are certain things that work really well. As I touched on above, some of the set designs truly are fantastic. Both the crusader’s and Ahmanet’s tombs are wondrously conceived, and are richly textured and spooky in an earnest, old-fashioned way. Dr. Jekyll’s lab is even more fun, especially for horror buffs with a keen eye. It is brimming with the kind of esoteric odds and ends that would be too creepy for a Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, let alone an actual museum, and I can easily see Universal using it as a Halloween Horror Nights maze in the years to come. However, as fantastic as these sets are at times, THE MUMMY never manages to recapture the wonderment of those old films, and this might actually be the biggest mark against it.
Yeah, I don’t have a snarky comment, I love this stuff
I tried. I tried really hard, and I feel bad. I read no early reviews, kept an open mind, and went in with as positive an attitude as I could muster. I may have even had a drink or three before. But damn. I wanted THE MUMMY to be at least decent—a decent Mummy could mean a good or even great Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolfman down the road—but apparently I was asking for too much. Enjoying this movie requires the viewer to not only remove his or her thinking cap, but brain as well. As I said, it isn’t just that THE MUMMY is bad, it’s that it suffers from a major identity crisis. The film’s best moments (and even some of its dumbest) are all lifted directly from other, better movies, and for every touch of brilliance there is a long drag of uninspired, punch-drunk crap to slog through. I can understand a fledgling franchise, struggling to find its footing and unsure of what direction to take, modeling itself after successful films, but this one borrows from multiple, unrelated sources while ignoring its own storied roots. In doing so, the filmmakers—whether they realize it or not—piss in their own well.
I want to be excited for future Dark Universe reimaginings. I want them to succeed. I imagine others do too. However, if THE MUMMY is any indication of what’s to come, I’m not sure anyone should get their hopes up. THE MUMMY is as drab and lifeless as its namesake. Then again, DC bombed three times trying to get their universe up and running before striking gold with WONDER WOMAN. Frankly, I can’t imagine a turn of events that would favor THE MUMMY. The 1932 film was one of Universal Picture’s weakest offerings and hasn’t stood the test of time like its contemporaries. Even the Brendan Fraser movies, as well-liked and popular as they were, quickly ran their course. Mummy movies just aren’t in high demand—especially unfunny, unscary mummy movies starring Tom Cruise. I hate to say it, but it might be best to wrap this one up and bury it far away—certainly not in Egypt, though; there are a lot of graverobbers there now.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend