The Mummy (2017)
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Christopher McQuarrie, David Koepp, Dylan Kussman, Jenny Lumet, Jon Spaihts
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Tom Cruise
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 110 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
1951 London: a huge building housing lots of tombs is found below the London Underground. Ancient Egypt: Princess Ahmanet is first in line to replace her father Pharaoh Menehptre, but is replaced when his new wife gives birth to a son. She sells her soul to the dark god Set, who promises to make her Queen in exchange for gaining a corporeal form. After killing her family, Ahmanet is about to kill her lover so Set can be reborn when she’s captured and buried alive. Present day Iraq: soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton and his team accidentally find Ahmanet’s tomb and try to leave the country with it, but a wave of crows attacks their plane, causing it to crash and killing everyone on board. Nick revives a day later, and senses that he’s being manipulated by Ahmanet….
I cannot help feeling negative about all this Universal Dark Universe stuff. It’s probably because it features characters I grew up loving, those times when I would sneak downstairs to watch films like Dracula’s Daughter or Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man being instrumental in creating both my love of horror and my love of old movies, and characters which I don’t want to see drowned in a load of CGI and big action scenes just like virtually every other modern franchise. These are horror characters first and foremost. Wouldn’t it be better and more respectful if they revived them in full-on, modern style horror films which really set out to frighten and disturb just like the original movies did when they first came out? Obviously not, according to Universal, who seem more interested in trying to capitalise on the success of Marvel [and I guess in commercial terms DC, though it’s taken them four films to make one that’s any good] than anything else. It doesn’t help that the last version of The Mummy, which led to two sequels, was only made in 1999, which makes any remake seem far too early, especially one that seemed like it was taking a similar approach to the Brendan Fraser-starring trilogy rather than doing something more interesting like, you know, go back to basics.
While I haven’t read any reviews myself, I know that they haven’t generally been very good, and the film is already a major box office disappointment which doesn’t bode well for a franchise of which this film is supposed to be the first [well, they don’t appear to have made up their mind whether the lousy Dracula Untold is canon or not]. I couldn’t help smiling when I first read of The Mummy’s reception, and braced myself for something which would both be lousy and dislikeable. Actually it’s not that bad, but it’s not that good either, just a rather bland [despite its subject matter], mechanical exercise in the increasingly dreary 21st-century action-blockbuster fashion, largely devoid of real personality. It seems to be mostly made up of spare parts from other films, and when it isn’t it’s clearly more interested in setting up this Dark Universe rather than trying to be a decent film in its own right that stands on its own two feet. Marvel have been doing a similar thing, some films coming across as exercises in dot joining, but at least they initially took their time and let things happen naturally. The Mummy doesn’t spend nearly enough time being a Mummy movie, and this often diminishes the potential fear and effect that its title character ought to create. And it’s further unbalanced by having to be another Tom Cruise vehicle. Cruise, here playing a character who seems like a cross between Ethan Hunt and Charlie Babbitt, is just becoming a tiresome joke with his vanity, his attempts to be in as many franchises as possible, and his refusal to make much of an effort in his increasingly indentikit performances. In this one he looks positively lost. What has happened to the fine actor who took risks and who was so good in films as different as Magnolia and Born On The Fourth Of July?
And yet, The Mummy does pass the time inoffensively and is never actively bad, nor totally cringe worthy. And, in something that surprised me, the tone is significantly darker than in the Fraser trilogy, something that is immediate from the early flashback to Ancient Egypt which really is quite grim, if avoiding blood and gore, though the scene compares unfavourably to the ones in the first two Fraser pictures which gave a real sense of scope. This one feels cramped and looks almost as low budget as the equivalent ones in the Hammer cheapies I’ve been reviewing elsewhere. And it comes after a brief moment taking place in 1951 [rather reminiscent of Quatermass And The Pit] and then another occurring in the present day – and then we cut back to the present day again, something which is unwieldy in the extreme. We find our hero, though he’s an unscrupulous robber who finds treasure and then sells it on the black maket, and his companion Chris Vail in Iraq, and maybe I’m getting old but I can’t help but think that it’s a bit insensitive of the filmmakers to have two characters larking around amidst a war which is still going on and which has had terrible worldwide ramifications. They even seem to call in an air strike that appears to destroy an Iraqi village. They try to go to England with the Egyptian tomb accidently revealed by the bombing, but Chris turns nasty during the flight and lots of crows cause the plane to crash – and the good news here is that most, if not quite all, of those terrible effects shots you saw in the trailer have been improved upon.
Nick survives, but finds himself continually pestered by the revived Ahmanet who is going around sucking the life out of people a la Lifeforce, and lots of zombies, though zombie fans shouldn’t expect too much – they’re totally digital creations that never frighten or convince, director Alex Kurtzman even botching the main resurrection set piece which is over in a few seconds. Oh, there are some underwater zombies, but Lucio Fulci can rest easy, his unforgettable underwater zombie scene still has yet to be surpassed. There’s quite a good ambulance dash though. After a few scrapes, Nick finds himself underneath London’s Natural History Museum where resides Dr. Henry Jekyll [who isn’t technically a Universal monster but never mind] and his very SHIELD-like secret organisation Prodigium which is dedicated to hunting supernatural threats and which contains such things as the hand of the Gill Man and, if you look carefully, two things from the Fraser pictures. Jekyll confirms that Nick was cursed when he unlocked Ahmanet’s tomb and reveals his intention to complete her ritual and allow Set to possess Nick in order to destroy Set and end his evil for good. But of course Nick has other ideas, and Jekyll has serious issues of his own which culminate in a brief Jekyll and Hyde moment where digital stuff proves to be less impressive looking than the dissolves seen in most of the early Jekyll films, and makes one wonder why in this day and age the supposedly evil Hyde is still a working class character – not to mention why on earth they got an Australian actor who can never really hide [pun not intended] his accent to play this English character[s].
The ridiculous amount of exposition around the middle of the film almost brings it to a halt, though when Ahmanet begins to cause havoc in London [some imagery here may be decidedly uncomfortable for some] the action starts up again, though most of it takes place in drearily photographed underground locations, and is usually over-edited. Every now and again a zombie Chris pops up to utter unfunny jokes in moments mimicking An American Werewolf In London, while there’s a sort of love interest [well, the word love is overstretching it] in the form of pretty female archaeologist Jenny Halsey, though why she’s actually in the film is anybody guess, as the character is both pointless and poorly written. What actual horror exists is limited to a couple of jump scares and loads of totally uninteresting and unoriginal digital visuals [none of them of the gruesome kind, which makes me wonder why the film has a ’15’ certificate in the UK], while there’s little real atmosphere. The six screenwriters, who include Kurtzman and Cruise yes man Christopher McQuarrie, may very well have seen some of the old Universal horrors [oh look it’s the famous “gods and monsters” quote], but they don’t show any sign of having learnt any lessons from them, such as the value of subtlety, or build-up. It’s mostly just lots of chasing around, CGI and very forced world-building, which still makes for a film which passes the time reasonably well but which lacks much of an identity of its own.
Annabelle Wallis, playing a character inspired by the goddess Amunet and possibly Queen Tera from the several times-filmed The Jewel Of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker, does convey lust for power, and in her few scenes with Cruise shares an odd kind of chemistry with him. And there’s a good score from Brian Tyler which even contains a couple of decent themes, though the sound mix renders some of the music hard to make out. While he’s obviously restricted by still having to conform a bit to that deadening Remote Control style so many tone deaf producers still seem to think is necessary for big Hollywood productions [when was it the studios decided no more individuality, everything has to be sonical wallpaper, every film has to be scored alike?], Tyler again proves himself to be one of the best of the younger movie composers with this score. The Mummy, which rumour has it Cruise tried to save in the editing suite, is probably slightly better than the word out there seems to suggest, but is still pretty anonymous and forgettable – though don’t worry, they’ll probably reboot it again in a decade or so.