Released: June 2017
Director: Alex Kurtzman
The opening film for Universal’s new Dark Universe group of films, The Mummy is getting a hard time from reviewers. Some people are sick of the number of films that now share a world and characters that dip in and out of different films, and are holding this up as the ultimate example of modern film making gone too far. It seems it is easy to overlook the entire inspiration behind this concept, which is the first 1930’s tranche of films that came out- not just Frankenstein, Dracula and King Kong, but shortly afterwards came Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula’s Daughter and The Son of Kong, the latter actually being released in the same year as it’s forefather.
Universal Horror films have always been enjoyably naff, knowingly over-the-top and were even advertised as melodramas at the start, and while that doesn’t mean they can’t aim for genuine scares, even in the 30s when films were scarcer and each release held more importance, they were seen as light entertainment. If you go to a Universal Horror film expecting great things, you will be disappointed. However, if you go expecting to be entertained and possibly spooked, you may get more from the film that you expect- the 1931 Frankenstein is an excellent example of this.
Admittedly, the 2017 The Mummy does not surprise us by delivering more than a roughly-hewn action film with a fairly hammy script, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Tom Cruise, possibly the most divisive big name actor currently in work, puts in a solid performance as an amoral and greedy soldier, looking to pillage sites of antiquity while stationed in the Middle East and to save his skin at whatever cost. While it is fundamentally a similar performance to his in-over-his-head character in the excellent sci-fi film the Edge of Tomorrow, the fact he isn’t an all-round good guy who may not be following the rules but is only going rogue for the right reasons does make a welcome break from not only Cruise’s standard roles, but also horror films in general. Often it seems writers think you can only root for someone to survive if you like them, and that just isn’t true.
The film sticks pretty heavily to the standard Mummy tale, with the few changes offered to freshen up the story (the mummy isn’t found in Egypt- say what?!) being on the whole superficial to the plot. The key change is the one included to help link the different films that will be coming out, with Russell Crowe entering the scene as a genuinely quite unsettling Dr Jekyll. It doesn’t add much, other than some exciting action scenes, to this film, but he’s a welcome addition and could provide an excellent backbone for other films yet to come.
The CGI is pretty good, being helped by the fact that the things you are watching it do are in no way based in the real world anyway, so who cares if they look a bit fake- you already know it is. Being a Tom Cruise film, a lot of the real world action is not CGI, or at least, only CGI assisted, which adds real weight to his work.
It has its downfalls though, even as a straight up action film, including an at times clunky script and a few character actions that would only have been carried out by idiots. The worst of its crimes, however, is definitely it’s attention to it’s female characters. Now I know that Tom Cruise is the star of this film, with Annabelle Wallis being a supporting character. But she barely even does that. She squeals and flails and waits for instructions or rescue from Cruise throughout. It isn’t even as though her role means she’s a novice at this kind of thing, some innocent thrown in the deep end; she should definitely be more skilled at handling any kind of situation. The one time she does land a hit, it’s too late to help Cruise as he’s already saved himself. Even Jake Johnson, who briefly plays the cheeky sidekick role to Cruise, gets more character development than she does, and at no point is he made to wear a thin, wet, white t-shirt.
Even the mummy herself, played by the seemingly always otherworldly Sofia Boutella, is bizarrely sexualised for someone who starts out as a rotting corpse. She is already super-strong, can turn people into a zombie army, and raise the dead to fight for her, but for some reason she just won’t be satisfied unless she can get a man to join her for the ride. It’s an oddly unaddressed plot hole as to exactly why she needs to get this partner in crime- maybe she will become even more powerful, but we’re never actually told.
However, overall the film is a exciting adventure, with some genuinely funny lines and some moments that really make you flinch. The easter eggs dropped throughout for future (and past) Universal Horror films are well placed and timed, not slowing the pace of the film but clear enough for most people to pick up on. Roll on the next in the franchise!