RogerBW's Blog

The Mummy (2017) 12 November 2019

2017 action horror, dir. Alex Kurtzman, Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella; IMDb / allmovie. A treasure-hunter uncovers the tomb of a female pharaoh who’s been erased from the historical record; ignoring all the warnings, he lets her out.

All right, perhaps I’m biased; I quite like some of the original films of which this is an attempt at a modern reboot. After Dracula Untold (2014) flopped, this was retroactively declared to be the “first” film in the Dark Universe, the series of films that was planned to dig up all the old Universal monsters and squeeze yet more cash out of them. After this one failed too, Bride of Frankenstein was cancelled and the project was officially dropped, though there are still traces of it to be found in e.g. The Invisible Man (2020).

But let’s set aside this particular bias and try to take the thing on its own terms: unlike 1999’s The Mummy, this one’s trying to tell a slightly different story rather than harking back to the strict structure of forbidden love and imagined reincarnation of the earlier films.

I can’t help but notice that Nick Morton, the treasure-hunter played by Cruise, really isn’t the hero of this story, and yet he completely fails to recognise it because he's always in the shot. The trade press reported that Cruise effectively took over the production from Kurtzman, enlarging his part at the expense of everyone else’s, and I strongly suspect he simply didn’t notice that even when he’s trying to do right Nick is a cocky idiot who, by thinking he knows best, causes basically all the trouble that happens.

Apart from that… well, there’s some fun to be had here, even if it’s mostly by saying “oh, they pinched that bit from…”. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe doing his best) shows up as the head of a monster-hunting society (hidden under the Natural History Museum), hey ho. Many, many CPU cycles were sacrificed to make the monsters look, well, kind of so-so if I’m honest. But I have to admit that the plane crash sequence is really very good indeed. Pity it’s all over by the half-hour mark and the film’s 84 minutes long.

The evil plot is unnecessarily convoluted, requiring four separate things to be in the same place at the same time; and when they are, the titular mummy, having effortless physical superiority over our hero, doesn’t finish the job and instead allows everything to fall apart. (But not without first giving Nick some Mysterious Mummy Powers, because after all this is going to be a series honest. And with the ability to raise the dead, he… goes off into the desert to have adventures. Some hero.)

In fact the best performance here is what little Sofia Boutella was allowed to do as the mummy; yes, it’s a good old-fashioned scenery-chewing part in which she can be unabashedly evil, but she’s prepared to do that chewing, and there’s a gusto and physicality to the performance which is largely missing from everyone else here. (I’ve no idea how many of her own stunts she did, or to what extent her face has been composited onto body doubles or computer creations, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. She is at least a dancer.)

Otherwise it’s pretty much mindless action and CGI. Cruise is simply too bloodless, too ready to assume that everyone will love him just because he’s Tom Cruise the Movie Star, to put any real acting into his acting; I never once believed that Nick cared about anything, not the treasure, not the girl, not even his mental autonomy.

(Oh, and the idea that a body, or even a stone sarcophagus, can be casually sunk in mercury, mostly for the pretty if unconvincing visual effect but diegetically because it’s supposed to be a good protection against spirits… er, no, even your solid stone would be floating on top of it. You need to chain the thing to the bottom at the very least.)

I don’t mind bad film; I’ve often found it very enjoyable. But Cruise sucks the life out of this film, and in turn the film sucks the life out of my watching of it. An energetically bad film can be a joy; this one, for all its action, just lies there like a fish on a slab, gradually rotting in the sun.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 02:03pm on 12 November 2019

    While I'm not a big fan of Tom Cruise per se (caveat don't know him, we don't hang out together, or the like), I do like a lot of his films, and We enjoyed this one well enough. Not as good as Live, Die, Repeat, or Oblivion, but we were entertained.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:57pm on 12 November 2019

    I'm not much of a fan of his work in general, but I think he's been a lot better – even in relatively recent work like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

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