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.

Review of “Star Trek Beyond”

Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is in the third year of a five year mission on board the United Federation of Planets Starship Enterprise. The day to day life of traveling from planet to planet, engaging in diplomatic missions and seeing the same faces among the crew every day is beginning to feel monotonous. An opportunity for promotion to Vice-Admiral and taking over operations of the newest starbase named Yorktown has Kirk thinking of a change of direction in his career. First officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also considering a change, leaving Starfleet and settling permanently on New Vulcan to help reestablish and repopulate his culture. While docked at Starbase Yorktown a small vessel appears out of a nearby nebula. The sole occupant, an alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) says her ship was disabled and crashed on a planet inside the nebula. She managed to escape in an effort to find help. Kirk and his crew are sent on a rescue mission to retrieve any survivors. Electromagnetic emissions from the gas in the nebula make communicating with Yorktown impossible. As they approach the planet, a swarm of small ships numbering in the thousands approach the Enterprise. Moving in a coordinated way, the ships crash into Enterprise, tearing her apart. Some ships are manned and soldiers begin attacking the crew. The leader of this attack is named Krall (Idris Elba) and he is looking for something onboard the Federation ship. Despite all their efforts Enterprise is lost and Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship. Some of the escape pods make it to the surface while others are intercepted by the alien ships and carried off. Kirk figures out what Krall is looking for, a piece of alien technology, and he hides it before abandoning ship. On the surface he runs into Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the pair begin looking for surviving shipmates. Spock and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) wind up inside one of the manned alien ships and manage to take it over but still crash land on the planet with Spock being severely injured. Communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and helmsman Sulu (John Cho) are among a group of other crew being held captive by Krall and his men. Chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) was in an escape pod alone but is found by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) on the surface. She explains her family was killed by Krall’s right hand man Manis (Joe Taslim) but she managed to escape and lives in the remains of a crashed Federation starship named Franklin that went missing over one-hundred years earlier. Krall has a deep hatred for the Federation with plans to exact his revenge…but why?

“Star Trek Beyond” had some goodwill to restore after the less than enthusiastically received “Star Trek Into Darkness.” All the secrecy and misdirection surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch and who he was playing, along with other story issues, left a bad taste in the mouths of fans. This on top of the controversy caused by the first film blowing up the cherished and nearly 50 year old timeline had long-time Trek fans grumbling how the reboot had ignored everything good and important about the original series (or TOS as it is called) and turned it into just another special effect and stunts filled summer popcorn franchise. I can’t argue against any of their complaints and I even share some of them; however, strictly looking at “Star Trek Beyond” as a bit of populist entertainment it is the best of the rebooted series so far.

While there is action and special effect aplenty in the film what makes this movie work best is the relationships between the characters and how they interact under the stress of the situation. The standout of these is Spock and McCoy. These two frequently bicker like an old married couple and nothing changes during their time lost on the planet while trying to keep from being captured. The pair also manages to show a level of caring and respect for one another that turns their trying time into a kind of relationship counseling. While still managing to insult one another in some of the most amusing ways possible, Spock and Bones strengthen their bond as both crewmates and friends.

The script from actor Simon Pegg and writer Doug Jung does a great job of isolating the crew from one another and allowing our main players to explore their relationships on a more intimate level. It turns the film into an examination of the dynamics at work amongst the crew and allows for more heart and humor than one might expect given the situation in which they find themselves.

If the film has an issue it is in the motivations of the bad guy. Krall is all anger and revenge that isn’t very well explained. Even once his reasons and the plot twist (spoiled by an online trailer) are revealed it doesn’t make that much sense. It’s difficult to discuss without spoiling it but Krall has some history with the Federation and feels abandoned by the union of civilizations. His desire is to tear it apart but the reasons given for his hatred and all-consuming thirst for revenge don’t seem to add up to killing millions. Of course we’ve seen what little it takes for someone with a handgun, a rifle or even a truck to decide that as many people as possible must die. Still, Krall’s desire for blood isn’t supported by what’s in his story.

“Star Trek Beyond” is rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of sci-fi action. Phasers and other weapons are fired appearing to at least injure if not kill some background characters. One character has the ability to suck the life out of people, leaving them withered. There’s a rather brutal scene of hand to hand combat between two characters near the end of the film. The swarming spaceships that destroy Enterprise could disturb some younger children. Foul language is very limited and mild.

The death of Leonard Nimoy who played Spock in the TV series and an older version of Zachary Quinto’s Spock in the first two reboot films is handled with a great deal of class and sensitivity while also offering an olive branch to the fans of the original cast. It’s the kind of gesture that buys the new version of “Star Trek” a great deal of goodwill. It also helps that the filmmakers have put together a very entertaining and exciting film. While the good old days of “Star Trek” tackling difficult societal issues is probably long gone (except possibly in the new TV series coming in 2017), looking at all the movies in the series shows none of the theatrical releases was much more than an action/adventure movie set in space. Those that argue against the rebooted “Star Trek” films as just another special effects-heavy popcorn film aren’t wrong; but they’ve never been the heady and socially conscious expressions that the best of the TV episodes were. Fans should just enjoy that a crew with familiar names is traveling the cosmos onboard a ship we’ve dreamed of boarding one day.

“Star Trek Beyond” gets five stars.

This week, maternal comedy, covert action and social media tension are the subjects of new films. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Moms—

Jason Bourne—

Nerve—

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