Review of “The Mummy”

Nick Morton and Chris Vail (Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson) are Army recon soldiers that are supposed to be scouting for insurgents but have decided to go on a search for antiquities they can steal and sell on the black market. While scouting a small town in Iraq they are attacked by insurgents and Chris calls in a drone strike. The missiles drive away the enemy fighters and open a hole in the ground showing a massive chamber with what appear to be Egyptian carvings and artifacts. Archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) is called in to investigate. Nick, Chris and Jenny all repel into the cavern and find it stuffed with Egyptian statues and hieroglyphics which is unusual since they are 1000 miles away from Egypt. Reading the hieroglyphs and examining the statuary, Jenny realizes this isn’t a tomb but a prison for whoever is buried there. At the bottom of a pool of mercury is the sarcophagus of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). Princess Ahmanet was next in line to be ruler of Egypt centuries earlier but her father’s second wife had a male baby making him the next in line for the throne. Making a deal with the god of death Set, Ahmanet killed her father, his wife and their baby and prepared to sacrifice her lover so Set could use him as a receptacle and walk the Earth once again where he and Ahmanet would rule for eternity. Her father’s servants stopped the sacrifice and captured Ahmanet, mummifying her alive and burying her in that pit far from Egypt. The markings on the chain around the pool show anyone that exhumes the princess is cursed. Never one to believe in such things, Nick breaks the chain and the sarcophagus rises from the mercury. While flying the sarcophagus to London a flock of crows crash into the plane and cause it to crash. Nick puts a parachute on Jenny and forces her off the plane. It crashes and kills everyone else on board…except for Nick who wakes up in a body bag in a morgue. Surprised to see him alive, Jenny introduces Nick to her boss Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) who explains Jenny works for his organization that seeks out and attempts to contain or destroy the monsters that roam the Earth, Princess Ahmanet is one of those monsters and Nick’s actions in the chamber has cursed him to be the new vessel for Set.

I left out a great deal in this plot synopsis such as Vail being bitten by a large insect in the chamber and becoming an undead slave of Ahmanet’s, how Ahmanet actually sucks the life out of victims to rebuild her decayed body and the various artifacts in Dr. Jekyll’s lab that suggest the other monsters coming to Universal’s Dark Universe. There’s a great deal going on in “The Mummy” and much of it is noisy filler to get from one heavily CGI action set piece to another. Is it a good movie? No but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it.

“The Mummy” is the modern version of a popcorn movie. The kind of film that doesn’t have much of a reason to exist except to let you forget what’s going on in the outside world and just turn off your brain for a couple of hours. The characters are largely forgettable, the story is frequently incoherent and the resolution is about as surprising as starting your car (although I have owned cars where it frequently surprised me both by starting and not starting).

It could have been much more interesting. For instance, it won’t surprise anyone that Tom Cruise’s Nick is the hero of the film. While his character is introduced as someone that is morally questionable, once the weirdness starts he takes on the very familiar role as a good guy with a few minor and unconvincing attempts to suggest otherwise. Since “The Mummy” is the first of a series of monster movies, why not make Nick the King of the Monsters. Not Godzilla but the leader of the Universal classic monsters this film is meant to anchor: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Gill Man (or Creature from the Black Lagoon if you prefer) and the Invisible Man. Nick, who doesn’t leave the film the same as when it started, could be the leader of the group and try to establish a worldwide syndicate of evil with all these creatures. Instead, Nick is a monster with a heart of gold, keeping Cruise as a lovable hero that sacrifices his humanity for the greater good. It might have worked with a character that was more predictably selfish throughout the movie but Cruise is constantly putting himself in harm’s way to save the girl or stop the monster or whatever. His actions late in the film don’t really come across as a surprise as we already know Nick is deep down a really good person that maybe had to bend and break the rules on occasion to make enough money to take care of his sick mother (we don’t know why Nick is stealing and selling antiquities as that isn’t explained in the film). Complicating Nick more would have gone a long way to making his choices more surprising and making the story more interesting.

The story is merely a scaffold to get us from one action scene to the next. Whether the cast is running from a destructive sandstorm in downtown London or fighting to escape Ahmanet’s skeletal soldiers, the script is light on dialog and heavy on CGI monsters and various crashes. Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll gets the unenviable task of being Mr. Exposition. His character, either in voiceover or on screen, explains pretty much everything going on in the movie. From the life and death of Ahmanet to the existence of his monster squad, Crowe is responsible for filling in the audience. For an actor that has won an Oscar and performed in countless dramatic films, this is really a big step down in quality. You can’t help but feel like Crowe took the part for the paycheck and for the possibility of fairly steady work for the next decade if all these monster movies get made (I wouldn’t bet on that happening). He only gets turned loose when Mr. Hyde comes out to play and that isn’t often enough or long enough.

Despite all the problems, if you can just let the movie wash over you like a warm ocean wave it has a fair amount of entertainment leaking out of it. Even with the abundant CGI, the action scenes are for the most part pretty good. While Tom Cruise running in his movies has become something of a joke (you could probably edit together all his running scenes into a feature length movie), Cruise still looks amazing at 55 and did most of his own stunts on this film as he does on his others. The interaction of the characters also delivers some surprising laughs. Jake Johnson is underutilized but pretty terrific as Chris Vail. The early scene where he and Cruise are running from the insurgents is punctuated with a soundtrack of Johnson’s yelling at Cruise about getting him into this mess. Cruise and Wallis have some nice scenes as Nick and Jenny verbally spar with one another over a night they spent together. There are small moments of humanity and humor that are sprinkled into the film and they occasionally manage to break through and provide some entertaining oases in what is otherwise a desert of burning sand.

“The Mummy” is rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, some suggestive content and partial nudity. There are various scenes where characters are shown being shot. Blood is minimal. Various fights break out where characters are thrown around a room. There is a plane crash scene that could prove very intense to someone afraid of flying. Ahmanet is shown sucking the life out of several characters and they fall to the ground as withered husks but come back to life as her zombie slaves on her command. Other dead bodies also come to life at her command, many of these skeletal. A couple is shown looking like they are about to make love. Ahmanet is shown nude but in shadow with very little identifiable except for her butt cleavage. Foul language is minimal.

“The Mummy” is supposed to be the kickoff of a franchise of monster movies; but so was the 2004 film “Van Helsing.” That movie was supposed to anchor a shared universe of films with spinoffs including video games, novels and theme parks. The tepid critical reception and less than impressive box office put a stake in the heart of those plans. Now, Universal Studios is trying again to make its stable of monsters a money machine. Early domestic projections put the opening weekend receipts for “The Mummy” at a disappointing $30-million. While the film has opened big in foreign markets it will have to do really impressive numbers overseas for the Dark Universe to have any life, otherwise it will be as dead as a decapitated vampire. While it may not be the greatest monster movie of all time, “The Mummy” isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Not a ringing endorsement and maybe they will figure out a way to salvage the franchise by the next film. Who knows?

“The Mummy” gets three stars out of five.

This week I’ll be reviewing “Rough Night” for WIMZ.com.

For this webpage I’ll be reviewing one of the following:

47 Meters Down—

All Eyez on Me—

Cars 3—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

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