The Mummy and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
For every good idea out there, we’ll inevitably get a bucket load of copy cats and knock offs to try and cash in on what made the original incarnation so successful. True, Universal Monster movies were in SOME way connected (mostly because they were all done by the same people) and they eventually did a few versus movies that are fondly remembered, but those weren’t the films they were looking at when they decided to move ahead with their Dark Universe. Marvel’s got it in the bag, DC’s been fumbling like crazy, and it’s still a bit too early to tell if the Kaiju Universe is gonna pay off. Now with Universal’s attempt to do the same for its catalog of legendary monsters hitting theaters, will it manage to pull off what Marvel’s imitators have failed to do thus far, or is Universal just not equipped to take the crown back Disney and Captain America? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with a prologue letting us know that the titular mummy this time around is NOT Imhotep as it was in the other Universal Mummy movies but is instead a new character named Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boultella) who sold her soul to Set (wasn’t that the dude Gerard Butler played n Gods of Egypt?) in order to wrest control of the throne from her father and her baby brother. Oh, and I guess she also wanted to release Set into this world by… cutting someone open while having sex with them? I don’t know, but either way she’s captured soon after her murder spree and is mummified alive before being dropped off in some tomb. Cut to modern day and we meet Nick and Chris (Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson) who are two fun loving soldiers who are ALSO grave robbers and stumble upon the lost tomb of Princess Ahmanet which they explore along with an archeologist… I think, called Jennifer (Annabelle Wallis). Needless to say that the mummy resurrects, she starts hunting people down, and our heroes have to find a way to stop her. Oh right! But before we can get through that story, we ALSO have to get Prodigium involved! What is Prodigium? It’s basically S.H.I.E.L.D. for monsters and it’s head up by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). They don’t DO much, but the movie wants you to be VERY aware that these people are around and might just be fighting other monsters in the future! Anyway, the Mummy plans to take over the world by finding a MacGuffin (a special knife) and cutting open Tom Cruise who is her NEW Chosen One so that she can release Set upon the world! Will Tom Cruise manage to save the day once again by running really fast at things? Is Universal satisfied with the amount of world building that was shoved into this thing? CAN WE PLEASE GET BRENDAN FRASER BACK!? I know that last mummy movie wasn’t very good, but still!
This movie is amazing. There’s just no other word for the sheer absurdity I’ve just had to experience. Not only is this one of the goofiest freaking movies we’ve gotten in a while, the idea that THIS is supposed to launch a Universal Monster Cinematic Universe fills me with more glee and anticipation for future movies than even Wonder Woman was able to do for the DCCU. If we’re gonna get movies like THIS once or twice a year for conceivable future, then I am on board one hundred percent as it is easily the best worst movie we’ve gotten in some time. Now to be clear, there are some SERIOUS problems that I have with this movie outside of it being a goofy monstrosity to point and laugh at; mostly due to our main star playing possibly the most cliché White Savior character we’ve gotten since… well the LAST time played that role all the way back in The Last Samurai. Hopefully this movie getting thoroughly trounced by Wonder Woman at the box office will provide the necessary course corrections in that area, but almost everything else they do is exactly the kind of FUN bad movie that I live for!
So first and foremost, this movie is NOT trying to be a So Bad It’s Good with its tongue thoroughly in its cheek (which is almost impossible to reverse engineer for any filmmaker and is instead something that needs to occur naturally) but it IS trying to be a FUNNY movie which is keeping in spirit with the last three Mummy films as every frame of this shows an effort and sincerity in trying to make this a great adventure film. To its credit it DOES succeed in at least looking like that as this is one of the better shot blockbusters I’ve seen this year, mostly due to the lack of shaky cam and quick cuts in the action scenes, and there’s clearly a LEGITIMATELY good movie to be found if everything else had come together the way they were expecting it to. Where it all falls to pieces and manages to be in that uncanny valley of hilarity is it’s undercooked story coupled with REALLY bad scene to scene editing as well as a tone that just refuses to stay consistent. I could just sit here and start listing off the countless plot that litter the movie (probably the most maddening is where she found that freaking knife and the movie’s crappy explanation for it), but needless to say that the lack of explanation for anything that’s going on is outright baffling. It’s also one of the oddest scripts as far as character development that I’ve seen in a while as it feels like we missed an entire prologue worth of backstory for the REST of the characters as they come into the story with no explanation of who they are, what they do, how they know each other, and why any of it matters. I’m not even talking about Tom Cruise’s bromance with Jake Johnson which is easy enough to understand if a bit undercooked. Annabelle Wallis’s character only came into Tom Cruise’s life the day before the movie started, so we’re not talking about a long friendship or something like that which can be pieced together over the course of the story. This movie decided to tell instead of show their freaking Meet Cute and I honestly can’t think of another movie that’s ever done that! The Mummy from 1999 didn’t start the movie with Rachel Weisz telling everyone that she met Brendan Fraser the other day after he nearly hanged to death! They SHOW that scene to us because it’s a good character building exercise for the cast and lets the audience see them interact and build chemistry! WHY CUT THAT OUT OF THE MOVIE!? This whole film is FILLED with stuff like that, and while I think most of it is bait us for future Dark Universe movies, it makes the whole thing feel underwritten and like we’re watching a movie full of action figures instead of people!
To a certain extent, this shallow characterization coupled with such a ludicrous and nonsensical script adds to the movies unintended charm, but what really puts it over the top is just how wildly it switches tone at the drop of a hat. For the first act of this it’s trying to be a straight up Mummy movie with very mixed results (humor is interjected at really weird points), but then all of a sudden everything stops in its tracks so we can remake the Avengers. No seriously, beat for beat the second act of THIS movie is copying the second act of that film (which means it’s INCREDIBLY predictable) and we’ve officially stopped being a Mummy movie so that we can spend half an hour world building or the Dark Universe. It’s unimaginably jarring and is kind of a disservice to this movie when what we get out of all that world building isn’t a hell of a whole lot (Jekyll and his organization drops off entirely for the third act), but I can’t say that I didn’t love the ridiculousness of it all. Russell Crowe in particular as Henry Jekyll is absolutely amazing and is one of the reasons I’m excited to see what else the Dark Universe has in store for us as he’s clearly the Nick Fury of this Marvel inspired Monster Mash and should be popping up in the other ones as well. When he DOES turn into Mr. Hyde in this movie (for no reason by the way as it has NOTHING to do with the Mummy’s story), it’s fantastic because he plays it just like he would if he actually made that Fighting Around The World show.
Okay, so the movie is a total mess from top to bottom, but is mostly enjoyable due to how off kilter and wildly uneven it all ends up being. Now all that having been said, where does this movie lose points for ACTUALLY being bad in ways that aren’t enjoyable? Almost all of the problems can be focused right on Mr. Cruise himself or at least the way his character is written as he’s the typical Hollywood White Savior, though taken to an extreme that I didn’t think any major studio would go for when selling a movie to an audience this wide. It starts off with his introductory scene which involves him and Jake Johnson going into an Iraqi village to “liberate it” from ISIS insurgents… but are actually there to loot it of its precious artifacts. You know, the preservation of history and art in ISIS occupied areas is a thing that’s ACTUALLY going on, so while I wouldn’t say that it’s not something worth bringing up in a film, using it in the context of a goofy action scene starring two white dudes shooting up brown people feels pretty exploitative and an indirect middle finger to those like Dr. Khaled al-Asaad who was brutally and horrifically murdered after working to get many artifacts out of the Palmyra Museum and into safe hands so future generations can learn and experience them. I don’t think that’s what this movie was trying to do, but this is what happens when filmmakers are unaware of stuff like this and are just trying to use a “topical” location for a silly action film. Beyond that, there’s been a bit of talk (mostly from the filmmakers and promotors of the film) about Princess Ahmanet being a feminist villain, and… no. Just… no. I would never claim to be an expert on the subject nor would I want to be the arbiter of what is and isn’t positive representations of women, but this movie checks off a WHOLE lot of points in how NOT to write a strong female characterTM. Like everyone else in the movie, she barely has any real characterization and is therefore defined by a lot of negative stereotypes about women. The film’s justification for her being so evil is that she’s ambition and trying to seek the throne that is no longer hers; not that the movie ever wants you to feel that it’s UNFAIR that she’s been ousted from the line of succession due to her father siring a son. That would require the movie to actually WANT you to sympathize with her in any way which they don’t want you to do… at least until the second act when she’s being tortured by Prodigium. Yeah, after she’s captured they take the time out of their busy schedules to physically abuse her so as to generate some sympathy from the audience, but to what end I’m not sure. They didn’t do this when Batman caught the Joker, they didn’t do this when Nick Fury had Loki in that cage, and while we were expected to feel sympathy for Raoul Silva in Skyfall after he got captured, it was because they used that scene to develop his character and motivations; not just poke at him until it got a response from the audience! At best, Ahmanet is a force of nature to be contended with which is fine for a role like this, but that doesn’t mean she’s a well-rounded character nor some sort of feminist underdog, at least in my opinion. Oh, and while I won’t spoil how her story ends… yeah, it’s really uncomfortable to watch and is so unbelievably tone deaf that I wanted to slap the director upside the head for letting this end up in the final cut; not to mention the way that Tom Cruise’s story ends which I think might be the most literal depiction of whitewashing that I’ve seen in a film outside of Ghost in the Shell.
There’s no doubt that this is a total wreck of a movie and it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I had a BLAST giggling in the theater and trying to piece together what exactly anyone was thinking when they were making it. I mean we can kind of assume it was just a bad mix of cynical over ambition and manufactured studio Pablum, but so rarely does something like that end up being somewhat fun rather than overwhelmingly obnoxious which is what we get with the similarly overproduced Transformers films and to a certain extent the Star Trek reboot sequels. At best, I can TENTATIVELY recommend it with heavy qualifiers as far as to what extent you’d enjoy a So Bad It’s Good movie as well as how much you’d enjoy it MORE seeing it on the big screen. At the very least, we need to support this movie JUST enough for Universal to not give up on it entirely, but not TOO much or else they won’t realize what needs to be improved… which is a lot. Seriously Universal, PLEASE iron out these problems before we get to the team up movie which they either have to call The Monster Mash or the Monster Squad! I’ll also take Spooky-cide Squad.
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