The Mummy (2017)

*. The Mummy was roundly panned when it came out, and not unfairly. I didn’t hate it until the end, when it really went down the garbage chute in a hurry. But I think I’ll just limit myself here to a couple of general observations.
*. The first point has to do with the film’s tone, or what kind of a movie it is. In his review, and he was not alone in saying this, Mark Kermode thought it primarily a Tom Cruise vehicle. Not a horror movie but basically just an action film along the lines of Mission: Impossible.
*. I think this is fair enough, and it fits with what we know of the film’s production. It was written, produced, and directed by Alex Kurtzman, who has a filmography stuffed with this kind of big-budget crap (though only one previous directing credit). Normally I’d want to make him responsible, but his work seems so entirely generic it’s almost like there’s no personality or individual sensibility/sense of style in play.
*. Instead, it was reported that Cruise had total control over the film’s script, production and post-production. It was even claimed that he was doing a lot of directing on set. So in that sense it certainly can be said to be a Tom Cruise movie all the way.

*. What I think it is more than that, however, is a Marvel movie. We’re immediately notified that this is going to be the first part of Universal’s Dark Universe, with “universe” here being the now accepted term of art for a network of interlinked franchises. Nowadays every studio wants to be in the universe business, with the chief models being the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and the Star Wars empire. The Dark Universe project has since had to be reimagined, but something along these lines was clearly what they were going for at the time.
*. Essentially the mummy here, Ahmanet played by Sofia Boutella, is a supervillain, more like Imhotep in The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001) than Boris Karloff’s or Christopher Lee’s wandering bandage-men. Cruise, meanwhile, is a wisecracking hero whose origin story this may be taken as being. I found his jokiness off-putting, but once you realize he’s basically trying to do a Marvel Everyman like Paul Rudd in Ant-Man or Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool it makes sense.
*. As usual in the MCU there are lots of hints at upcoming crossovers, most notably the appearance of Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll. Also as per usual the supervillain unleashes an apocalyptic tsunami of CGI, flattening a major city. She also has an army of minions in the form of a bunch of zombies. The fate of the entire world is at stake. You know the drill.

*. The second point I want to address is the annoying complexity of the plot. I’ve talked before about mummy movies that go off the deep end in this regard. Instead of a simple story of the defilement of a tomb leading to a curse in the form of a mummy wreaking his revenge there’s usually a zany back story about how the mummy had a lover in ancient times whose reincarnation/spiritual descendant they miraculously identify almost immediately upon their awakening. This then gives the mummy a more complicated mission involving some kind of joint resurrection. It’s really very complicated. There’s even a point near the end of this movie where Cruise’s character says “I don’t know what [not who] I am.” This had me nodding my head in sympathy.
*. I think the source for this mythological quicksand might be Bram Stoker’s novel The Jewel of Seven Stars with its crazily constructed plot. That’s certainly what drove to the cheapo production Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy into total incoherence. And they go down the same rabbit hole in The Mummy Returns, where all the flashbacks and expository dialogue only make your head hurt.
*. In this movie there are further turns of the screw. Cruise’s Nick Morton, because he awakens Ahmanet, or because she chose him, is somehow linked to her through some kind of quantum spiritual entanglement. It reminded me of what happened to poor Steve Railsback in Lifeforce, and given how much borrowing there is going on in this movie I doubt that was accidental (the way Ahmanet drains her victims through mouth-to-mouth is another nod to that underappreciated gem from the 1980s).
*. A history nerd’s observation: Why are the crusader crypts uncovered at the beginning dated to the Second Crusade? The crusaders on that venture didn’t go through Egypt or Mesopotamia.
*. Borrowings. Homages. Whatever you want to call it, why bother with redoing the resurrected buddy from An American Werewolf in London? How was bringing Vail back necessary?

*. The thing about all these plots involving super-powerful entities looking to take over the world is that they make you wonder Why? If Ahmanet and Set or whoever were to achieve their goal, what would be the point? When the stakes are that high in a zero sum game then it all seems self-defeating.
*. I wouldn’t want to deny that Tom Cruise is in great shape, but I think he was 55 when they made this movie and I’m not sure men over 50 should be taking their shirts off in public. Something about his waxed and overly muscled upper body seems unnatural on a middle-aged man. Also, added to the way the plot hinges on an actress twenty years younger crushing on him it makes The Mummy seem even more like a vanity project.

*. Hollywood accounting. Nobody understands it. Estimates were that The Mummy cost somewhere under $200 million and it had box office of over $400 million worldwide but it was still considered to be a bomb. I think this was because it did a lot of business in China, where Universal’s cut is less. In any event, despite selling a lot of tickets it set the Dark Universe back in a big way.
*. That’s all I’ll say here. It cost a lot of money but didn’t blow me away with any of its effects. Maybe they spent a lot of the budget on Cruise. There were no scary, suspenseful, or interesting action scenes. A lot was made of the plane crash but it didn’t strike me as special. The fights were ho-hum. And finally the ending was terrible, with the possessed Nick being transformed into a Christ figure by his love for the pure and true Jenny, who had previously told him how she saw a good man inside him. Please. Apparently it was Cruise’s decision to make his part bigger while downplaying Boutella’s. This was going the wrong way, but who was there to tell him that?

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