Not that Universal wouldn’t love to be exactly what Disney has become. They would like nothing more than to put out three movies a year and say, “Well, you don’t have to watch all of them…but if you don’t, our Tri-Anual Big, Dumb Crossover Event won’t make any sense. Unless you also read twenty gigs worth of click-bait articles from websites you usually don’t even see unless your relatives share them to Facebook.”
In fact, Universal’s been trying to create their own Expanded Universe for…I originally wrote “eight years” here, but it turns out Joe Johnston’s Wolf Man remake was actually just a remake. The leading edge of a wave of remakes that did so horribly at the box office, Hollywood actually started to notice. They begin considering, “What if we disguised the remakes as sequels?” – Jurassic World being a prime example. They’ve really only been trying to get the Dark Universe off the ground for four years – ever since the release of the profitable-but-instantly-forgotten Dracula Untold…anybody? Yeah, me neither. But the presumptive bastards still went and made their own logo. And I gotta know: how tedious was the tedious meeting that concluded with, “Like our regular logo, but Darker”?
We start off somewhere in London’s Tube. New construction knocks open a tomb from the Second Crusade and Jor-El immediately takes that shit over with a pack of suits. He just as immediately begins monologing at us about the ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet – Pharaoh’s first born daughter, destined for the throne. Until Pharaoh’s wife gave him a son…as if ancient Egyptian royals never kept in the family…but whatever. Ahmanet makes a pact with the god Set for the power to kill he father, (step-?) mother and half-brother in exchange for a sacrifice that Set can pour himself into. She’s stopped before she can hold up her end of the bargain and buried alive for her regicide, in what would eventually, and is still occasionally, known as “the land between the rivers.”
This is both dumb and grand-scale slander of a deity everyone should’ve known better than to piss off. Far from some singular “god of death,” Set could more accurately be described as the “god of darkness,” which was (maybe) as bad to ancient Egyptians as death is to we modern Americans. Maybe even more, since they worshiped the Sun out-right, without any of our culture’s half-measures and bullshit intermediaries.
Hell, everybody in the Egyptian pantheon had a little something to do with death, since it was not the Universal Bad Thing we Americans make it out to be. If you were rich enough to get mummified, it was more like the first stage of a journey to the Western Lands – the Land of Two Fields that Osiris opened to humanity when the world was young and he first married his sister, Isis. The souls of the poor, naturally, got dismembered by demons the moment their bodies decayed, but that’s royalist religion for ya – the Afterlife was a gated community of, by and for the super-rich. Nothing like now. No. Not at all.
Things might’ve flowed better if we’d just opened with Ahmanet’s backstory. No narration, no modern English, just a five-minute slice of New Kingdom Game of Thrones. Or is the idea of starting a Mummy movie in Ancient Egypt too radical these days? Did it not test well enough for an audience of random, Tuesday night mall-goers? The movie could’ve still shown her backstory to us piecemeal as things went on…which it goes on to do, making this whole monologue redundant…Even having a secondary character – Russell Crowe’s or someone else’s – tell all this to our protagonist over drinks would be better than…oh, wait…they do that too…making this opening monologue Double Redundant…Damn, Mummy 2017 – we’re off to a great start.
Fast-forward to modern Iraq, where 56-year-old Sergeant Nick Morten (sweet Jesus he doesn’t even have the excuse of being a Gunnery Sergeant or something – he’s just Sgt. Nick) is having a wacky war adventure comedy with his Odious Comic Relief, Vail. What we have here is a movie that treats 2017 Iraq almost exactly like the last Mummy remake treated 1920s Egypt: as a backdrop for our Hollywood Heartthrob Protagonist’s acts of daring-do. Swap Tom Cruise for Brendan Fraiser and tell me whether we’re trading up or down. I’m a little busy having an attack of cognitive dissonance about how casually this movie treats my country’s on-going, endless wars. Ten, fifteen…and especially seventeen years ago, they were definitive breaks from the previous status quo of my society. Now, they’re just the background noise of our lives. Set decoration for our stupid retellings of stories that were once popular and are now merely “recognizable brands.” Does anyone else smell almonds? I could really use a lie-down…and we’ve only just begun.
Lest you think this is some jingoistic, Micheal Bay-ified production about supporting The Troops, our lead Troop is a lying, thieving, black-market-dealing-in-ancient-artifacts scumbag with a bottomless well of self-regard. The perfect place for a Tom Cruise character to begin his arc towards becoming a real boy/selfless hero. You might remember this from such actually-bearable Tom Cruise films as The Firm, Jerry Maguire, and Edge of Tomorrow.
After this movie flopped, everyone rushed to point the finger at Tommy Boy, with many an unnamed source coming forward to tell tales of an actor power-tripping his balls off. Allegedly, he gave director Alex Kurtzman the thumbs up because they knew each other from Mission: Impossible 3. He (just as allegedly) brought in his own writers to re-work the script, and sat in on the editing, beefing up his part all the while. He may have even lobbied for the eventual June, 2017, release – as if you could out-draw an Amazon, you pathetic lightweight. I don’t know if any of these stories are true. I know Hollywood’s full of people who’ll stab you in the back soon as look at you, but that’s true everywhere. I know it’s also full of people who think it’s still 1996, when stars (particularly action stars) could bend studios to their will. The idea that some still can is not outside the realm of possibility. I just wish we had more than Variety to rely upon. All these movie websites, breathlessly reporting every teaser trailer and teaser trailer for the teaser trailer and production still and poster and box office return once the movie comes out (six months after everyone’s decided to love it or hate it) and none of them can help us when a movie like this drops and we all collectively wonder, “So what the fuck happened? Shit!”
What happened is, Nick stole a map to some buried treasure from archeologist Dr. Jennifer Halsey…after a one-night stand. Dr. Halsey convinces Nick’s Colonel (who is, in a massive casting oversight, not played by Keith David) to let her, Nick and Vail into the ancient tomb their most recent air-strike uncovered. Once downstairs, Nick shoots the mechanism keeping Ahmanet submerged in a lake of mercury, freeing her to hit him with a dream-like make-out session. Almost like someone wrote an entire movie premised around Tom Cruise getting to make out with a hot Egyptian sorceress. Or something.
Dr. Halsey’s smug Britishness is initially annoying, but her obligatory warming up to Sergeant Nick is even more annoying, since (a) he’s Tom Cruise and (b) he’s Tom Cruise playing a lying, thieving, black-market-dealing-in-ancient-artifacts scumbag with a bottomless well of self-regard. When their new-found Mummy downs the C130 carrying everyone back to England, Nick does get one moment of genuine heroism, wrestling Dr. Jennifer into the only available parachute. But, in a twist that I actually like, he later undercuts his own Big Damn Hero Moment by telling her, “I thought there was another parachute.” If he’d maintained this ambient level of assholishness throughout, this movie might’ve actually worked. But Nick’s played by Tom Cruise, so he can’t, and so this movie doesn’t, no matter how many cool powers it gives its Mummy.
In another example of incipient power-creep that’d make even Clark Kent go, “Damn,” Ahmanet retains most of the powers Mummy ’99 gave to her Rule 63 counterpart. She’s got the control over vermin, be they spiders, rats, beetles – the one common phobia-inducer that we’re not shown is snakes. Instead, she has power of The Birds…like, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. She also has Imhotep’s powers of what I call silicakinesis (“silicamancy?”) – the power to control sand, extended this time around to control of sand’s most popular human-made derivative, glass. And, of course, she can suck-out other people’s life forces to replenish her own flesh.
Her major innovation is turning all the newly-desiccated into zombie minions, because of course. Vail’s the first to turn, and props for killing your Odious Comic Relief right away. Sgt. Nick puts three bullets into him, and Vail literally haunts Nick for the rest of the movie in…well, it’s not a wholesale rip-off of An American Werewolf in London‘s Jack…it’s left admirably vague whether Vail’s a genuine ghost, Nick’s guilty conscience projecting, or another psychic hook Ahmanet’s sunk into Nick’s smooth brain. Still, it breaks one of the cardinal laws of genre movies by reminding me of a much better one I could be watching in the midst of this one. A little later, when the zombie crusaders are chasing Sgt. Nick and Dr. Jenny through the flooded catacombs under London, I’m going to start thinking of Fulci zombie movies and finding this movie does not benefit from the comparison.
Ahmanet’s chosen Nick to be her new worthy vessel and means to open him up so Set can walk in…as Dr. Jenny tells us…and as Dr. Jor-El/Jekyll already told us…and then tells us again. After a somewhat-nice bit inside an old abbey that leads into a somewhat-dumb excuse to have a car chase in a Mummy movie, our Mummy and her new BF are captured by Dr. Jekyll’s secret, paramilitary organization, Prodigium…which Dr. Jenny’s been working for This Whole Time. Guess Jekyll’s been running this great and secret show for…what? Over a hundred years? So how much of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s book is cannon in this universe? Does he even exist? If not, the shape of modern literature must look mighty different over there. Or is it like that weird little show Steven Moffat made, where the book exists, and it’s based on a true story, but Stevenson just fudged the ending? We were supposed to wait another movie until we found out, weren’t we?
Damn it. I actually kinda like Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll and I really like his Mr. Hyde. His saw’s off the chain, to the point where I start wishing our actual protagonist had his energy. Ironically for Hyde, Cruise seems like the one trapped in his own self-made cage: either flippantly aloof from all this mystical shit he’s suddenly found himself stepping in, or trying to sell the scares…like some kind of actor in some kind of…horror movie…or something.
Thus we see the two contradictory strands of this Mummy: on the one hand, it wants to be a Universal Horror Movie…whatever that means these days. Some committee’s probably come up with some asinine definition that’s currently gathering dust somewhere…And on the other hand, it wants to be a thrill-a-minute, Early-June action blockbuster staring the original Maverick. The kind of movie that makes people use cliches like “thrill-a-minute” because it doesn’t give them any time to breathe or think. Why else cast Tom Fucking Cruise? When’s the last time he was in a horror movie? Interview with a Vampire? These two genres do not mix well, despite all the money the previous Mummy remake made. People got sick of that after one sequel, even though they made a third just to be sure. Say what you want about Prometheus (and I have) but both it and it’s sequel had the guts to be unabashed, June-release, R-rated horror movies without apology or compromise. Mad respect for that, if nothing else. This Mummy massively miscalculated who it’s audience might be and what they might want. Long experience has taught we horror fans to look down our noses at PG-13s and “big” “Hollywood” stars who aren’t playing the villain. Their presence is a giant, neon sign, telling us not to expect anything but disappointment.
Not that we don’t hope. It springs eternal, like the Nile. So when Dr. Jenny finally dies during the climactic chase-scene-battle, I wrote down, “God, I hope they have the guts to let Jenny stay dead.” But once all the pieces of this story were in place its conclusion became – not foregone, but certainly natural. Does an ancient sorceress want to sacrifice you to her death god? Well, why not beat her to the punch? Sacrifice yourself. Die in order to be reborn, cuz that’s what heroes actually do, Odinson. And make no mistake: for all its horror trappings – classical, neo-classical and modern – this is a superhero movie in disguise.
It may be called The Mummy but this is not her show. This is, in every sense of the word, a set-up. An origin story of Sgt. Nick – or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Become the Egyptian God of Death. Which is too bad, because we don’t care about Nick until the very end. Only after he’s raised himself from the dead does he become even the least interesting, and still: he’s got no name, he’s got no cool costume…all he’s got is an indeterminate set (har har) of powers “over life and death,” which could mean any number of things. We see him use the life-suck powers to defeat Ahmanet, and the final shot of the film implies some form of silicamancy…but is that it? Did he get the full slate of Mummy powers without losing his rogue(nation)ish good looks? We’ll probably never know.
This is another case of a film trying to please everyone and pleasing exactly no one. Who asked for this? I didn’t. I’m good. I’ve got thirteen other Mummy movies from three different eras and two different studios. And that’s without going down south, where generations of luchadors have kept the populous safe from all kinds of Aztec mummies…Hey, there’s a thought: how about more Aztec mummy movies…? Of course, with our luck, Kurtzman would somehow wind up directing them all. Or worse: he’d produce them all, get his former writing partner Robert Orci to direct, and they’d all wind up being some kind of 9/11 Truther fanfiction….
“The Mummy was an inside job, sheeple. The globalists at Prodigium are stockpiling evil artifacts from around the world right here at home! Next to your homes. And your children. What is their plan? What dark, satanic ritual are they conducting under the streets of London? All we know for sure is that their leader is a multiple murderer who’s somehow been allowed to walk free for over a hundred years. How has he lived this long? And what is that stuff he keeps injecting into his arms? I don’t have a wife and kids anymore, because my wife left me, because I was too real. Cuz I’m a real man. You can tell, cuz I take all of my pills! So buy my over-priced, under-powered brain pills that’ll give you the shits right now, before its too late. They’re comin’ for your children, folks. Hide your kids. Hide your wife. Cuz they’re mummifying everybody out here.”
…ugh…It’s too hot to do an Alex Jones impression.