The Mummy (2017)

What was once a man’s desperate quest to resurrect his lost lover ala Dracula has been turned into a petulant girl’s desire to reincarnate the god she serves ala Suicide Squad. Could there be a more fitting beginning to this venture? This is shaping up to be a cinematic universe in the same way that a mime doing the invisible box gag is shaping up to be an opera. The much-touted female mummy character leaves the universe shallow and unworthy; the female love interest is one of the most expendable portrayals of human intellect in movie history (could she spend any more scenes unconscious?). We get all the marketing promises traded in for non-descript blockbuster noise, an adventure/horror/action/romance that can’t settle its restless legs for even one second to decide what tone this new cinematic universe should take. I don’t know how Universal could have jumped into this game with so little planning: they could have kept going on the Brendan Fraser arc and I don’t think it could have been any worse.

I could summarize the plot but you’d know it already. Archeologists uncover the mummy’s tomb and let her out with stupidity and now she seeks a vessel for her lover to rule the world by her side. My fingers defy to type any more. The question I have is if this plot is too derivative to even write out without gagging, what did Alex Kurtzman spend his time doing writing this film with five other people and directing it on the side? The Mummy is a grab-bag of things Kurtzman has seen before and thought were pretty cool. There are zombies and sandstorms. There’s a crusader’s tomb and a swarm of rats from Indiana Jones. There’s a reference to Jon Landis: a snarky dead friend (Jake Johnson) haunts someone’s dreams via An American Werewolf in London, for absolutely no reason (The Mummy is done “via” a dozen other things too, but I refuse to say the word “via” again so you’ll just have to uncover them for yourself). Don’t worry – the dead friend returns to life at the end, out of nowhere, with the actual line, “Thanks for bringing me back from the dead and all, but what are we doing?” The Mummy has to be the only film in existence in which a resurrection occurs in an aside.

The pair of snarky lovers consists of fifty-four-year-old Tom Cruise still hoping he glistens like a teen and a Cruise-minus-twenty beauty shot congealed into a person named Annabelle Wallis. Her badness is stunning and also fitting. Characterization happens on the fly with these people. Guardians of the Galaxy did it alright, with a lead that could still cut those corners like a young man. But Kurtzman is a surgeon doing a rush job, and making a mess. I’d expect the Wallis character to boil down to a worried stare, and a damsel-in-distress syndrome when captured by zombies (The Mummy occasionally believes it’s a horror film). But Nick Morton (Cruise) is no better, an unwieldy comic at best, refuting other people’s belief in him with a mistimed quip. Jenny (Wallis) says of him, “You have an amazing ability to mimic all the qualities of human intimacy … for 15 seconds.” She’s talking about Nick’s erections, but you’d swear she was talking about Cruise’s performance.

I usually like Cruise. I think of him as a smart actor, taking parts that suit his particular talent to energize a pretty boy with some locomotion (Mission Impossible entries keep getting better and Edge of Tomorrow is one of the most exciting films I’ve seen this decade). He runs around a lot in The Mummy but to where? And I don’t just mean emotionally: I couldn’t keep track of where people were going in this movie. Wherever it is, I’m sure there will be zombies to punch (not mummies, mind you – they resurrect crusader knights, so they don’t come with any wrappings).

Yet the action is masterful compared to the mythology. Several times, a voiceover recounts the same flashback of Princess Ahmanet’s (Sofia Boutella) rise to power in ancient Egypt. This is taken to be as serious as darkness itself (these are the kinds of lines they say in this movie). Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) acts like it’s all very important as he reads it (only to us, mind you – the film doesn’t even bother giving him an audience in the context of the movie). But since Ahmanet is out of the picture by the end, nothing has been built by this film. Where’s the cinematic universe supposed to come from? How about this: “The god of death has tried to return many times, and each time a new servant of darkness rises and falls from power. Ahmanet was only the first. Have you heard of Vlad the Impaler, the Creature, the Bellringer, the Phantom?” Boy, that would be dumb! But dumb is kingly compared to nothing. I guess David Koepp couldn’t think of anything? Or Christopher McQuarrie? Dylan Kussman? Jon Spaihts, Jenny Lumet, Alex Kurtzman? They all came to write The Mummy and none of them remembered why they bothered.

They find out Nick has been resurrected from the dead and the reaction is one of bland amusement, followed by a nudity gag. The Mummy is brisk for a franchise’s whole bedrock, coming in at an economical 1h 54m, tanking for the critics, bombing at the box office. The Marvel formula is so disconcertingly successful that Universal was probably tempted to keep plowing ahead, crossing their hearts, hoping to make a buck. Word is that they might be changing their whole scheme. Who knows? The Conjuring cinematic universe [sic] is an investment in great art by comparison.

You know what, I like Crowe as Dr. Jekyll. How about that? I don’t care what anyone says: doing Mr. Hyde as nothing but a change in an actor’s persona is a spirited idea (Crowe straightens up, takes off his glasses and becomes cockney, like a drunken bar bully version of Superman). He emanated a kind of demented enjoyment. So did I! Disney is the sun and it’s fun to watch Universal’s wax wings melt and melt. There are men in boardrooms right this minute wishing they had hair left to pull out, staring at polling numbers and hoping for an answer to the greatest mystery in the universe: what do people want these days? We already tried rushing out a hack’s hack script with all the ceremony of a car swindle! We cast tired talent, regurgitated a lot of crunchy blockbuster sounds, and even cast a woman in a central role! What else could we possibly do?

Ah, sweet music. I write from luxurious pity that they discover their mistakes with time enough to regret them. It’s more than they deserve: I feel like I just spent the last two hours kidnapped and locked in their trunk. Oops, careful. You know how desperate Universal is to get an audience. Wouldn’t want to give them any ideas.

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Image is a screenshot from the film.

Cast & Crew

Alex Kurtzman

David Koepp (screenplay)

Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay)

Dylan Kussman (screenplay)

Jon Spaihts (story)

Alex Kurtzman (story)

Jenny Lumet (story)

 

Nick Morton Tom Cruise
Ahmanet Sofia Boutella
Jenny Halsey Annabelle Wallis
Chris Vail Jake Johnson
Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Russell Crow
Colonel Greenway Courtney B. Vance
Javier Botet Set

Official Trailer

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