“Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters.”
(Public Service Announcement: I really didn’t like this film. To try to fully explain why I didn’t like it there may be spoilers. You have been warned!)
The cinematic equivalent of ‘the chicken or the egg’ causality dilemma what is ‘What was bad first – the script or the performances?’ In the case of The Mummy (2017) I fear we may never know the answer. Both aspects are so bad that perhaps they are forever irretrievably entwined: forever damned to make the film that much worse. I’ve not been so frustrated by a film since Pixels or Fantastic Four. Therefore I will go blow-by-blow through the film’s various offences and why I found them so offensive.
Preliminary offence – Russell Crowe’s voice over expository narration
Voice-over narration is one of those things that is easy to do but hard to do well. There’s a fine line between adding your audience’s understanding of character & events or simply explaining it all to them. It’s a case of the latter here. As Dr Jekyll (yes, he of Robert Louis Stevenson’s eponymous dual-natured creation) he explains how life is full of evil, how there is a group who investigates evil and who the Egyptian Princess Ahmaet (Boutella) was and how she came to be buried alive. It’s not awfully done but it’s very pedestrian, lacking in originality and essentially a set up of things to come.
Opening Scene – Destruction of an entire village with ‘humorous’ intent
We meet ‘hero’ (could also be called ‘obnoxious twonk’ or ‘charmless slimer’ – take your pick) . Nick (Cruise) and his sidekick Chris (Johnson aka Nick from New Girl) in the middle of doing a thing they shouldn’t be. I couldn’t really follow (their fault not mine) but it seemed that they work for the US military whilst also going about stealing things. You know a film is bad when you start losing focus on the main plot and start focusing on the finicky small details – will discuss this further later on. Nick wants to do a thing but Chris says it’s a bad idea, Nick berates him so they do it anyway. They get shot at by anonymous bad guys (although I’m uncertain as to whether they were actually the bad guys as Nick & Chris have just come to essentially invade their village…) So they call in an military airstrike to save them and an entire village gets destroyed. HAHAHAHAHA! THAT’S SO FUNNY…. said no-one ever. It’s as is this film believes we will route for these two d-bags to such an extent we’re not going to take issue with the fact their selfish stupidity has led to multiple undisclosed deaths & along with the destruction of many homes and people’s entire way of life. But, y’know it’s Tom Cruise, no…?
Set-up of the action – discovery of the hidden temple
Conveniently the air strike is then further justified as it reveals a hidden temple full of Egyptian artefacts. The fact that we are currently in Iraq – which is apparently 887 miles from Egpyt – is questioned once but never spoken about again. Conveniently a nearby archaeologist stops by. Also, rather conveniently, she is very attractive and half our hero’s age. EVEN MORE CONVENIENTLY they had sex three days ago before he ran out on her and stole an important artefact from her whilst she was sleeping. She slaps him for his. Again, this is never spoken about again or resolved. Instead it is used as an example of how Nick does not care for anyone or anything. In fact he is no arsehole (as we may have correctly decided) but instead a man who can be redeemed. In fact the entire film, and the deaths of many, many people, has the sole focus of redeeming this character who we have no reason to care about. Jenny the archaeologist (Wallis, who was fantastic in Peaky Blinders) is forced into the role of naggy woman to cool dude maverick man. She nags, complains, looks serious all the time except when she’s trying to deliver a throw-away comedy line which is so heavy with it’s awfulness that it clunks and drops to the floor as opposed to making any comedic impact whatsoever. Now, I’m no archaeologist but I’ve seen enough episodes of Time Team to know you don’t just go jumping into a recently discovered area of interest. Least of all with two fuckboys. Still Jenny jumps in with them as her ‘back-up’… The next five odd minutes are spent with the characters telling each other/us what they can see. This is pretty useless as we can also see what they see. They seem to have forgotten this is a film. The dialogue that occurs is so devoid of purpose or interest I then found myself thinking about the fact they should probably be wearing hazmat suits, gloves at the very least and where on Earth were their archeological brushes. Then Nick, of whom we have grown increasingly less fond (and we didn’t like him that much to start with) irretrievably damages a 5000 year old artifact by shooting at it as he’s so impatient. Undoubtedly this is another character flaw that the plot will endeavour to fix and redeem …
Stuff happens – Thing happen, they arrive in England, more things happen
A lot of ‘serious’ conversations happen, except they are supremely undermined by the fact all attempts at ‘serious’ delivery are undermined by such a clunky script. The film seemingly tries to replicate the 1999 movie’s oddball charm & humour. All it’s successful at doing is making you miss the 1999 movie and reassessing it with a heightened amount of nostalgia. I can scarcely remember what happens during this part of the movie and wish I could give you examples to support it – but rather tellingly, I can’t recall any. All I remember is laughing when Nick says with a tremor in his voice ‘She’s… in my mind!’ Might make for an excellent text tone. My main bugbear during this entire second act is just how explanatory the dialogue is, Nick & Jenny have entire conversations where they just explain the plot at each other. There’s no character development going on, just them explaining to each other/us what has happened, what is happening and what will happen. Surely this is happening not because the plot is difficult or all-that complicated, maybe it’s because they are writing it as it happens…?
Franchise building – Mr Hyde makes an appearance
Apparently this is the film being used to launch a franchise – The Dark Universe. The Mummy is character one, Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde (Crowe) is character two. If I had to ascribe the word ‘enjoyment’ to any part of this film, under threat of violence, it would have to be this sequence. It’s properly ridiculous. Crowe rocks a mockney accent as Hyde (2017 seems to be the year of the Mockney with Bloom doing it in Unlocked). It’s camp and chaotic and the most fun this film has had so far. Except this is ultimately undermined with how obvious the entire film has been as a set-up for a franchise. It seems that everyone forget that to make a franchise that everyone wants to see you have to set it up in a film is good enough you want to see more of, not so bad you doubt you’ll ever again enter the threshold of a cinema with the intent of seeing a film product that has this stamp upon it.
The film’s biggest offensive – the treatment of Ahamet
Throughout the film Ahamet’s extraordinary powers have been showcased, if not fully explained. She has power of life in her vampiric ability to consume the life of others to restore her own. She’s has control over nature as she’s able to take out all the sand from glass in London to cause mass destruction. She’s got ninja-like fighting skills. She’s proclaimed to be all-powerful. And yet… Firstly she is hypersexulaised in a way that one doesn’t necessarily expect to see a 5000 year old corpse sexualised. Her movements are sensual and seductive, the camera loves tracking and focusing upon her hips and her beauty (again – she’s a mummy, no?) Then, when she’s captured she’s held prisoner like this…
It feels way too creepy-kinky. And then her entire narrative, her supreme powers, are all condensed to the scorned woman archetype. At the beginning her primary motivation was to get power at no cost – there was little reason given as to why or what form this would take. Yet, by the end, this is forgotten as she can’t get over the fact he doesn’t want her (a 5000 year old awakened corpse). The film essentially rewrites itself as her pursuit for a man, Nick, as she apparently views him as the perfect man (let’s not forget, she has been dead for 5000 years). He turns her down in favour of Jenny the archaeologist so she becomes a spurned woman looking for vengeance. This sets up a problematic dynamic of the ‘calm & British’ woman against the ‘mad & exotic’ woman – something which I’m sure far more informed writers have/will discuss in more detail. All of the powers that the film has established she is capable of are forgotten and abandoned in favour of a ‘bitches be cray’ story arc. It then all becomes about Nick getting rid of her as he doesn’t want her affections as opposed to her being a supernatural figure capable of great evil. She doesn’t even get to use that evil to hurt him or defend herself against him. Her only characterisation is her sole motivation to rule the world with a strong man by her side. Would a film ever dare to show reduce an all-powerful male character so dramatically to such ridiculous archetype?
‘The Mummy’ doesn’t have an original bone in it’s tired and decrepit body. You’re far better saving your money and unearthing the 1999 version.
Year: 2017 Runtime: 100 minutes Dir: Alex Kurtzman