Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Mummy (2017)

I didn't go into The Mummy expecting a gourmet meal, a delicate balance of horror and dread that would send shivers down my spine.  All I wanted was the cinematic equivalent of a greasy pub cheeseburger with fries.  Familiar, filling and served up with a feeling of guilt for enjoying something empty and cheesy.  But in this film, the first in the studio's Dark Universe, the cooks at Universal Pictures forgot that fast food fixes need to be tasty and flavorful.  It's too bad that, for all the filmmaker's efforts, The Mummy is so bland, you'll be avoiding a return trip no matter how severe your craving for cinematic cheese.

The story follows Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and comedic cohort Jake (Chris Vali), two American soldiers in Iraq who are outside of their assigned area looking for treasure.  Nick has a map leading to a hidden site, taken after an evening spent with Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Walis), an archeologist working for a shadowy group in London.  Nick is caught by his superiors and Jenny before plundering the underground site, and he and Jake are ordered to help explore the cavern.

The three unearth the sarcophogus of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess mummified alive for killing her father and attempting to give the Set, the god of the dead, human form.  Running short of time, as an enemy battalion is heading to the site, Nick expedites the process of raising the sarcophogus from the cavern that serves as Ahmanet's prison.  And it should be no surprise that Ahmanet arises and sets out to fulfill her vow to Set.

The organization Jenny works for, the Prodigium, is dedicated to prevent such evil events from occurring.  But, try as they might, you can't keep a good mummy down for long and soon Nick and Jenny are racing from sandstorms and undead beings unleashed by Ahmanet as she continues her quest.

As expected, mayhem ensues.

And Ahmanet does bring on the mayhem.

It's hard to deny the impact Wonder Woman will have on The Mummy.  Universal announced lower expectations for the film a few days prior to opening weekend, once it was apparent the superhero phenomenon film would dominate cineplexes for a second week, hoping the appeal of Cruise in overseas markets will keep the film from losing money. 

Had the release date been different, The Mummy might have performed better in theaters, as it isn't a terrible film.  The action sequences are exciting and well staged.  The airplane crash, prominently featured in early trailers, looks great on the big screen.  The siege of London is thrilling as well and a considerable amount of reanimated corpses appear throughout the running time.  The film contains all the elements for an enjoyable summer blockbuster, which might leave horror fans unhappy with the end product, but the film was marketed as an action film.  Complaining that it wasn't scary is pointless. 

But the film has some serious problems, which would likely doom The Mummy regardless of the critical response or release date.  The main issue is that despite the efforts of six writers, including director Alex Kurtzman, the film is little more than a a bland, unsatisfying remake of Stephen Sommer's 1999 film of the same name.

And it's not like the filmmakers tried to hide 
the similarities between the two films.

It's not just the recycled story bits and scenes, or the similarity between the names of the hero in both films (which makes comparisons between the two movies near impossible to overlook), but the filmmakers and lead actors fail to generate interest in and, most importantly, and romantic spark between the main characters.

The same stock characters, the roguish soldier of fortune and the bookish archeologist, were present in the 1999 version, but Brandon Fraser and Rachael Weisz transcended the material.  Audiences fell for the chemistry between Rick and Evie and wanted to see their further adventures. 

But any chemistry between Cruise and Walis isn't present.  The script doesn't help matters, as the audience is introduced to Jenny after the two met.  She's upset that he left her with the map and without a goodbye, while he is only preoccupied with her implied description of his inadequate performance.  While a mismatch couple starting out antagonistically is a common Hollywood troupe, Nick's behavior makes Jenny's eventual attraction hard to believe.  And despite the time the two spend together, it's hard to believe they would ever become romantically involved and take the risks for each other required by the script.

After almost 20 years, I'd still go see another mummy 
movie with these two as the stars.

Another issue is the script lacks any sense of humor or playfulness.  Referring to the 1999 version once again, the film had scary moments, but the tone was more humorous than frighting.  The approach works because Sommer seems to have taken his inspiration from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, as the human characters are funny, but the monsters they face are always menacing. 

Suggesting some humorous moments be added into movie launching the Dark Universe might seem strange.  But, as I mentioned earlier, this was a summer blockbuster, not a horror film, aimed at the same audiences that enjoyed Universal's Mummy films in the early 2000s.  Hell, my mother is not a monster fan, but she loved Sommer's version of The Mummy and even owns a copy of it on DVD.  But I know she's not going to like this one, as part of her reason for liking the 1999 version is that, "It's fun."  And I suspect that, by  eliminating any attempts at humor, the new film will turn away fans of the earlier version.

I think he's as surprised as I am that a film
with swimming mummies isn't more fun.

Another problem is, intentionally or not, the film contains moments that echo better films, and not just Summor's.  The script never makes clear if the scenes are planned homages or just moments of unoriginal writing.  And while those moments might be lost on mainstream audiences, it will make many horror fans groan and shake their heads.

The story gets interesting when the group are brought to the Prodigium, in part thanks to the obligatory tour Nick gets of the base.  We get a few glimpses of the monsters to come, and we get to watch Russell Crowe walk away with the film.

His character is introduced early on as the leader of the Prodigium, but thanks to spoilers coming from Universal, we know he's Dr. Jekyll, and the script delivers a nice tease concerning his darker side.  But when Mr. Hyde emerges, Crowe becomes the best part of the film.  Thankfully, Hyde is not a full-on CGI monster, allowing Crowe to rip into the scenery with gusto.  For all it's faults, The Mummy did one thing right, and that was to make me excited for a Jekyll and Hyde film with Crowe.

The scenery can run, but it can't
Hyde from my chewing it up!

But a few good scenes can't save this movie.  Along with an ending more intent of setting up possible future movies than proving a satisfactory conclusion, The Mummy feels more like a Frankenstein's Monster, assembled from parts of better films.  While such an approach can work for a summer blockbuster, the filmmakers neglected the main ingredient to leave the audience full and satisfied.  We have all the makings of a wonderful cinematic fast food meal except for the most important ingredient, characters we want to see in future films.

No comments:

Post a Comment