The Mummy (2017) Re-View
I like the Underworld movies. I like Batman v Superman. I like Die Hard 4.0. I want you to understand my full meaning when I say I fucking hated The Mummy.
I’ve never seen the original classic Universal monsters flick version of The Mummy. I am a big fan of the 1999 remake. It’s the greatest trash action film ever made. I am not someone who had an issue with the movie being done again. In fact when I saw Tom Cruise signed up I got excited regardless of the shared universe bollocks attached to the movie, sorry, “DARK UNIVERSE”. Tom Cruise has a great ability to pick solid to great scripts and puts together great production teams. Even his misfires have several somethings that make them worth the effort to watch. It’s a shame he always puts himself in these films, but at least he commits to his craft, especially the stunts.
Obviously Alex Kurtzman should have been my first warning. He has a dreadful track record, but he seemingly is the less dreadful of the old Orci/Kurtzman writing duo. When the trailers dropped I noted the movie was shot on real film and the action was cleanly shot and edited. This gave me hope of at least care, if not quality. Then the reviews dropped. I decided to not see the movie in the cinema. I waited for its home release. When I sat down the other night I lowered my expectations significantly. I knew I could enjoy faulty films, or trashy films or a combination of the two. The Mummy couldn’t even clear that bar. It’s incredibly bad. It might be Tom Cruise’s worst film. It makes Suicide Squad look like Wonder Woman.
The thing I hate how this film the most however, is that it isn’t even that difficult to take apart. The negative reviews laid most of it out there. Tom Cruise is miscast. The shared universe stuff gets in the way of the plot. Russell Crowe is dreadful. Annabelle Wallis is forgettable. The action scenes lack tension and you don’t care about the characters. It’s just not fun.
So to distinguish my take from others I will say I didn’t dislike Annabelle Wallis’ character in this. Her motivations tracked well enough: she’s a spy for a clandestine monster fighting organisations, but she also has a genuine passion for archaeology. Compared to the other cast members she comes across as the only adult. She reacts to situations properly and didn’t annoy the shit out of me. And that’s the best character in this movie: The least memorable character whose only benefit is being basically functional and seeming vaguely like an actual person.
Russell Crowe plays Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde as Sleepy Gravel Voice/Salty Dick Van Dyke. As “Nick Morton” Tom Cruise tries too hard to be a sleazy Chris Pratt character. You can even see him trying to be funny with his face in reaction shots. It’s like watching a mid-life crisis in action. Except Tom Cruise is past his mid-life. This effect got a laugh from me when Dr Jekyll describes Morton as “a younger man” despite Cruise being two years older than Crowe in real life. I am being a little unfair there, to paraphrase the Jim, Burns (and Dave) podcast: Tom Cruise doesn’t age, he just looks more and more like Sandi Toksvig.
Now I realize to those who haven’t seen the film this actually sounds like trashy fun. Something you perhaps can laugh at. Except it’s not funny enough to be laughable often and you don’t care about the characters enough to find what they’re doing fun. The 1999 movie is certainly trashy and stupid, but it takes the time to introduce the characters and make them fun. Nick Morton is a soldier of fortune with no motivation. The fact the movie opens on him illegally tomb raiding in Iraq just leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Dr Jekyll never explains why he founded not-SHIELD and we never find out who funds them or if they’re government related or whatever. Dr Jekyll is half-monster but fights monsters, which needs explaining even simplistically. We only see Mr Hyde after Dr Jekyll takes his medicine too slowly because Nick Morton is shouting at him. The film honestly has his transformation occur because he’s distracted by a rant. This man who has to drug himself regularly to not turn into a murdering monster, who usually balances this with a high-stress job, got distracted by angry Tom Cruise. And he didn’t forget about the medicine entirely, he just was slow in trying to take it. It was right there on the table, but Tom Cruise was just so gosh darn angry.
I’d talk about Jake Johnson’s character, but he dies before any ‘personality’ has a chance to not develop. He’s then replaced by a ghost version who is clearly under demonic influences and thus isn’t him. I’d talk about Sofia Boutella as the Mummy if I knew anything about her. She’s just an evil murderer as a human who likes to murder, now she’s a Mummy. I feel like I should know more about her as the film plays her origin flashback over a billion times throughout.
Then there’s all the weird little stuff that constantly undercuts tension and scene logic. Whenever Nick Morton does or says something roguish there is an annoying jokey-joke by another character about how ridiculous he is. Despite clean action there is no sense of proper geography in many scenes. Characters essentially teleport often during sequences without any editing to imply passage of time. The action is brief, over-efficient and lifeless even when it does happen, despite the clean depiction of it. They find the eponymous villain’s corpse in Iraq. Annabelle Wallis points out this is significant because it’s thousands of miles away from Egypt, but later when Nick doesn’t know some basic Ancient Egyptian knowledge she asks how that can be, he’s been in Iraq for years…
In fact you can see a lot of the films weird misjudgements in how the movie treats Iraq. It cuts from the Mummy’s tomb in the past to the present. It describes it roughly as it Mesopotamia and that being the cradle of human knowledge. Then it cuts to bullets hitting statues and says “Otherwise known as modern day Iraq”. Fuck off. Iraq isn’t just a war worn country. You don’t just reduce it to a vague idea of a conflict zone for a cheap joke. “Ha ha, it’s funny, because they used to be a clever place and now they a dumb shooty place”. I am starting to wonder if I should stop blaming Star Trek into Darkness on Damon Lindelof.
Whilst I am here let’s talk about the film’s depiction of the tomb. It shows the tomb in more or less its entirety before cutting to the present. Thus when the protagonists find the tomb there is no sense of discovery or adventure because we’ve just seen it two seconds ago. And this is where I want to talk about small fixes the movie could have done in many areas to improve itself. Don’t worry, my criticisms will be based in the idea of what the film wanted to be, not some alternate universe version of the film I created that’s completely different.
To begin, one could show close ups of the Mummy being entombed, but not the nature of the tomb itself. Thus the audience would know of the threat without knowing what the tomb is like. Thus when the protagonists arrive there is a sense of dread under the fun of discovery in finding this tomb you’ve not seen before. With the Mummy maybe make them more sympathetic. Perhaps give their story a little tragedy that leads them to the evil act that got them cursed? Maybe a forbidden love or something?
If you want to make your rogue adventurer/soldier more likeable there are a few things you can do. Maybe show him fighting in a battle his people lose? But show him being brave and loyal in that context? When he’s introduced as a thug and a rogue, perhaps put him in a situation that makes him sympathetic still. Say he’s about to be hung for crimes that don’t earn that level of punishment? Perhaps even then introduce a rival gang of rogues who are much worse than our protagonist, just to put him fully in context as an ‘alright guy’.
When introducing a killjoy female lead maybe make her likeable in other ways? Have her be charming and cute when she’s drunk? Perhaps she’s down on her luck and her main job is something she does in spite of her archaeological passions. Perhaps she can’t be the archaeologist she wants to be and has to do something only vaguely related, like work in an antiquities library when she accidentally breaks stuff, because she’s your basic down-on-their luck protagonist.
Even though these two characters are probably enough, your heart might still be set on that comedy sidekick. So maybe actually make him funny, but a bit of a bastard. Someone for the protagonists to be annoyed at rather than the other way around. Have them be someone who ultimately wants to do all the right things underneath their bastardry, but is too much of a coward to do so. So when they succeed it has meaning. If you’re still scared the audience won’t care for them, make the protagonists have a deep care for them. Maybe make the character a relative of one of the protagonists.
Now at this point you’ve got a compelling villain, compelling protagonists and even some fun rivals to play around with. But I hear you Mummy 2017, you still want your monster fighting secret organisation. So to make them matter how about we connect them to Egyptian mythology. Perhaps they’re even descendants of the people that originally entrapped the Mummy, so they know the stakes. Thus you don’t hate them when they oppose the protagonists. Why should they oppose the protagonists? Well if they don’t they might as well be the main characters, but the protagonists are more fun, so let’s keep both sets of good guys and keep them at odds. It doesn’t play well when not-SHIELD saves Nick Morton conveniently, so have these people be an inconvenience.
So you need some ancient mysterious warriors connect to Egyptian history and/or mythology, but for short hand why not make it easy for the audience and give them a name that sounds like cinema’s favourite mysterious warriors: the Jedi. Very conveniently there was a band of Egyptian warriors that fit all these criteria, they were called The Medjay.
OH SHIT. MY VERY OBVIOUS ILLUSTRATIVE JOKE HAS BECOME MORE OBVIOUS. (Unless you’ve never seen the 1999 version of The Mummy.)
I have to wonder if the 2017 movie just did the opposite of sense with every creative decision just for it to not be exactly like the 1999 movie. It’s bizarre. The 1999 movie uses cheap and cheerful character and plot points. Nothing I listed above is deep or nuanced or unique. But it all works for a reason. It makes the audience care at least a little. Even trash movies need people to care, even just to stay awake or give the action some thrust.
If you think it sounds presumptuous to say every creative decision in the 2017 movie was just to differentiate itself from the 1999 movie, allow me to continue. Why is this movie set in the modern day? The most advanced technologies that exist are a bus, an ambulance and a cargo plane, thus the plot could unfold in many time periods the exact same way. Even not-SHIELD just used heavy doors and chains to run its monster holding operation, nothing fancy or futuristic.
If you’re trying to create a shared universe film that’s to share continuity with things like Dracula, Wolfman, and the Invisible Man and so on, a period piece makes more sense. Dracula and Wolfman are tied to Gothic Horror thus creepy old castles and foggy dark old towns. The Wolfman could be easily tracked in a modern surveillance state when he’s a normal bloke 99% of the time. The Invisible Man can be seen by heat-vision goggles now. OOOOO, I’M TENSE NOW. The Mummy should have been a period piece, but I guess they gotta distinguish it from the 1999 movie.
Hey, let’s talk about the best sequence in the 1999 movie. Remember when Rick “Brendan Frasier” O’Connell confronts the Mummy at the end? The Mummy has Evie hostage, Jonathan is reading out the wrong spells from the book whilst being chased by a monster and Rick has to take on both the Mummy and an army of elite heavily armed super mummies. The bit where he has one little sword and he runs about desperately trying not to die. It’s great. You must be smiling just thinking about it. In the 2017 movie Tom Cruise is also in a tomb at the end, surrounded by monsters and also heaving to deal with the Mummy herself. Except then all the backup monsters disappear immediately. The Mummy chucks Tom Cruise about twice, before he grabs the MacGuffin knife and smashes the jewel on it, which makes him win.
In 1999 we got several plot threads coming together. Jonathan had to overcome his fear to read the book properly whilst dealing with a scary physical threat in the mummy lady attacking him. Meanwhile Rick had to deal with all the mummies chasing him with swords in a cool Indiana Jones sequence taken up to 11. Then as the scene reaches its climax the hostage Evie even gets to help (and prove she is archaeological) by giving Jonathan the answer to the final part of the spell. Then The Mummy somehow survives the spell. He goes to kill Rick. It’s a tense moment as we know Rick can’t win that fight, so in desperation he stabs The Mummy. It then turns out he’s been made mortal and the stab has actually killed him. We all breathe out. It’s thrilling stuff. In 2017 Tom Cruise has a brief awkward wrestle with a small woman before he smashes a plastic looking rock. BUT HEY, at least it’s DIFFERENT.
Good start Universal. I’m sure you’ll be raking in that Marvel money soon enough. Meanwhile you’ve made a shitty film. It has unlikeable and miscast characters. Your threat isn’t scary or threatening as your protagonist can’t even die. Your mythology has a not-SHIELD that’s boring and unexplained. You can’t even make a cool tomb feel adventurous to explore. You ignore all basic character and story logic just to rush to the actions scenes which involve your biggest sin: Making Tom Cruise do shit stunts. Every creative decision seems to exist to differentiate your movie from the exact movie it’s trying to be. And you tackily insulted a country that’s suffered genuinely horrific consequences from misjudged US foreign policy in recent history.
Side note: I know the book of the dead from the 1999 movie makes a cameo in the 2017 movie. I am choosing to ignore that. I am initiating fan canon rules. I ignored Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and I can ignore this.