Film Review – The Mummy (2017)
Maybe it’s because The Mummy is the least interesting of all of the classic movie monsters. Dracula is seductive and a metaphor for pent up sexuality. The Wolf Man is a tragic figure who often elicits sympathy as much as scares. Frankenstein is a cautionary tale about creation and man’s struggle with humanity. Even The Creature From the Black Lagoon draws empathy from the audience. But The Mummy has always been kind of a slow, lumbering zombie who’s wrapped up in old bandages. The story is based on, let’s be honest, racist fears of other cultures steeped in a murky Westerner’s half-knowledge of stereotypical folklore.
What is definitely the case is the new film The Mummy (2017) is on overly CGI induced slog. Starring Tom Cruise as Nick, a fortune hunter who works for the military, he is accompanied by his comedic sidekick played by Jake Johnson. These two are supposed to have some buddy comedic banter, but I would be hard pressed to remember a single witty line from either of them. As the movie starts, they are using war torn Iraq as cover to loot ancient artifacts for cash. Under the direction of an Archaeologist played by Annabelle Wallis, they accidentally uncover a hidden tomb/prison that houses the titular character. The big “twist” this time around is that The Mummy is a female. Played by Sofia Boutella, the ancient Ahmanet is cursed. She shares that curse with Nick who then proceeds to have vague and repetitive visions of her in the desert. This all leads to some running around after a dagger with a magic stone in the hilt, some CGI zombie chasing our heroes through the woods, a giant CGI dust cloud engulfing half of London, a gag lamely stolen from An American Werewolf in London involving Nick being visited by his rotting best friend whom only he can see, Russell Crowe showing up as Dr. Jekyll (yes, THAT Dr. Jekyll), some corporately mandated world building involving completely unsubtle references to the other Universal monsters (look, theres a jar with a vampire skull in it… look, there’s an arm from The Creature in a lab… etc.), and none of it ends up very interesting.
This movie elicited the same response in me that the Brendan Fraser Mummy did several years ago. All it made me think was “Man, that Steven Spielberg is a good Director”. No, Spielberg hasn’t made a Mummy movie. But in both that previous case and this one, when you have your hero running around the desert looting artifacts, fighting bad guys, and dealing with a supernatural presence, it all comes off as a lame Indiana Jones wannabe. The difference is, Spielberg is a master of creating tension and featuring characters you actually care about. Think about Raiders of the Lost Ark. The mood is set when Indy carefully navigates all of those booby traps on the way in before having to deal with a giant rolling boulder. In Jurassic Park, just as scary as the T-Rex itself is the buildup to it when we are all staring at a vibrating glass of water. And those 2 notes on the violin that John Williams wrote for Jaws are far more effective at getting us on edge than all of the computer processed special effects in the world.
And it’s not just Spielberg… Why is the Alien scary? Because we just spent a lot of time with the characters as they crept through that giant spacecraft and slowly discovered the eggs. In Halloween, the scariest thing Michael Myers does isn’t the attacks themselves, it’s silent stalking before that. Tension is all about foreplay. And The Mummy doesn’t do any of that work. It’s all CGI chases and noise with no buildup. And you can probably skip the 3D too. Almost nothing leaps off the screen.
It’s worst crime is the dialogue which elicited unintentional laughter by the end of the preview screening. First off, this movie is rampant with the problem of telling instead of showing. For instance, when we are introduced to Wallis’s and Cruise’s characters, it is immediately blurted out that they had recently slept together. Instead of taking the time through characterization and chemistry to show us why these two care about each other, we get some lamely forced jokes about how unsatisfying Nick was in the bedroom. And that’s about it. Another example is the beginning of the film. Right away we are shown a short flashback with a Russell Crow voiceover that states exactly Ahmanet’s backstory. No need to let the audience discover anything. Just lay it all out immediately so it’s easily digestable. The worst though is the dialogue given to the only two women in the cast. Wallis spends, no exaggeration, 3/4 of her lines just saying Cruise’s character’s name over and over. “Nick! Nick!” When she’s not saying his name she’s getting rescued by him. It’s like, in the wake of the recent awesomeness that is Wonder Woman that features many female characters who kick ass and have agency, Hollywood wanted to remind you how women in major action films are usually portrayed.
If you’ve seen the plane crash featured in the trailers, that is literally the best part of the movie. The rest of the film is lots of running around, then grinding to halt when Dr. Jekyll shows up to explain some more stuff doing his best Basil Exposition imitation, before more running around with vaguely defined rules involving that magic dagger. It’s all kind of numbing and dull. This is supposed to be the start of Universal doing their “Dark Universe” franchise of updated monster movies. Let’s hope they improve.