Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Mummy - Movie Review

It’s not too difficult to see why Stephen Sommers’ 1999 remake of The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser was so loved by audiences. It veered off the horror angle taken by the 1932 Boris Karloff film and took the franchise into a more action-adventure kind of angle – sort of like an Indiana Jones movie, really. Like Indiana Jones there were some scary moments but they were mainly gloriously fantastical and you knew they weren’t real – this led to a fun romp of a film. The Mummy Returns from 2001 wasn’t great however and the franchise would soon whimper to an end with the underperformance and critical thrashing of 2008’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

But you know a franchise can’t stay dead forever and The Mummy wasn’t going to be an exception. Looking over at the success of the shared universe of the Marvel films with greedy eyes, Universal decided to resurrect many of their classic monster movies and put them all in a shared universe to try and cash in. Dracula Untold was meant to kick it off but thanks to its bad critical and box office reception it would fall on the shoulders of the resurrection of The Mummy to kick off this Dark Universe. This incarnation follows arrogant treasure hunter Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) who discovers an ancient tomb belonging to ambitious Egyptian princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was mummified after she slayed her father to reach the throne. Following a plane crash, Morton awakens to find himself back from the dead and cursed by Ahmanet after opening her tomb, being possessed with the spirit of Egyptian God Set. This leads him having to work with sinister research group Prodigium, led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), to break the curse and defeat Ahmanet.

This movie is clearly going for a much more serious tone than the Stephen Sommers movies but that ends up being its detriment as The Mummy is a joyless slog of a movie. The whole film has a grim and colourless lighting scheme which attempts to aim for a scarier atmosphere but comes up short as the film really isn’t scary at all; most of the attempted frights come from predictable jump scares. As a result of this lack of tension the darker atmospheres end up making the film only seem obnoxious in how grim and serious it’s trying to be. Whenever the film tries to go for a rare spot of humour it falls flat, leading to The Mummy being an incredibly unenjoyable experience because of its failed tone. This is all made the worse by the films lifeless and predictable script, which is loaded with exposition and has all the major twists and turns being signposted from a mile away, the rushed nature of the whole film and the very poor action scenes. In the latter case the grim lighting and tone contribute to this issue; many of the action scenes take place in the dark, which combined with the shaky camera work and overabundance of CGI leads to moments where you’re unsure to what’s going on. This all adds up to a film that’s too joyless to be a fun action film but not scary enough to be a full-fledged horror movie with a strong atmosphere; it tries to tentatively go half and half and ends up failing at both – it’s really just a mess of elements.

And speaking of a mess of elements, The Mummy also tries its hardest to be a standard Tom Cruise action vehicle and doesn’t pull that off either. Cruise tries his hardest but he feels too out of place; you never get the impression that he’s anything other than Tom Cruise playing out a standard Tom Cruise role. He also doesn’t have any chemistry with female lead Annabelle Wallis; the film attempts to put some hints of romance between the two but it comes up woefully short. Easily the most annoying character in the film though is comic relief figure Vail, played by Jake Johnson. He gets all the worst lines in the film and when he pops up again and again after (SPOILER ALERT) getting killed near the beginning his awful dialogue will have you groaning, especially in the final scene of the film (END OF SPOILERS). There is a bit of redemption in the cast with the actors playing the classic monsters however. Whilst Ahmanet is a somewhat one-dimensional villain with thin motivations of power, Boutella plays her with a sinister edge that will often make you want her to be victorious because of how much more interesting she is than the heroes. Crowe too does well as Jekyll, holding an affable nature to mask his more sinister actions, whilst an appearance from his alter ego Mr. Hyde is very enjoyable as Crowe chomps down on the scenery, clearly having a ball. Having said that though it’s clear that Jekyll was dropped into the movie to create an awkward connection between The Mummy and other films in this intended Dark Universe, essentially making him the Nick Fury of the franchise. He’s an extraneous character whose role could have been filled by any other person, making it obvious that he was only used for sequel bait.

The Mummy is a grim and joyless affair that wants to be a darker spin on the franchise but can’t commit itself to go all the way, which leaves us with a movie that’s neither scary or enjoyably action packed. The frights are bogstandard jump scare fare and the action consists of merely a large cluster of CGI setpieces that plough forward at such a pace that it becomes tedious to sit through. Worse is the fact that the whole film feels incredibly cynical, a clear set up for future instalments in a greater shared universe rather than a film intended to be enjoyable on its own. This leads The Mummy to be bogged down by all these extraneous plot points such as the appearance of Dr. Jekyll and Prodigium, the obvious S.H.I.E.L.D. stand-in. Many a film in the further Dark Universe has been planned, including remakes of Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Let’s hope that The Mummy’s critical and commercial underperformance wrap those plans up tight and bury them.

The Mummy – Directed by Alex Kurtzman, screenplay by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman, story by Kurtzman, Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumet, produced by Kurtzman, Chris Morgan, Sean Daniel and Sarah Bradshaw, starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance and Russell Crowe. A Dark Universe/Perfect World Pictures production, a Universal Pictures film

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