The Mummy (2017) – A Review

Yeah, yeah, spoilers. Who cares.

It’s movies like this one that always remind me of an old adage: Just remember, that at some point, a group of people got together in a room and decided that *this* was a good idea. But despite many of the sins of cultural representation that movies like The Mummy make, this review is not going to be about my perspective as an anthropologist or about arguing whether or not those New Kingdom hieroglyphics really could have been translated into a perfect English rhyme or not. I have no problem suspending my cultural knowledge and experiences to enjoy a good story and I have never expected Hollywood to adhere to perfect portrayals of any of the many ancient and modern worlds popular throughout cinema history (given that such a thing as a perfect representation isn’t possible anyway). Besides, the vaguely archaeological references, monochromatic gothic costuming, and rolls of toilet paper that this movie has smeared into a sarcophagus-shaped Play-Do stamper and called Egyptian are the least of its problems. The Mummy is one long Deus Ex Machina: a series of improbable events and unrelated objects moving towards a final unjustifiably disappointing conclusion.

While Tom Cruise’s generic action-movie performance here is the most concerning among current reviewers, I’m going to start with Jenny Halsey, the Hot Blonde (™) archaeologist played by Annabelle Wallis. Halsey is, and remains for the entire movie, completely useless. And, in fact, we will spend more running time focusing on justifying her existence by constantly having to save her than absolutely anything else. She does not contribute all that much to the exposition by way of elaborate cultural explanations (as movie archaeologists are famous for) nor does she come up with the method of stopping the mummy (Sofia Boutella under a lot of white pancake make-up). Additionally, she and Tom Cruise’s military operative/antiquities thief character Nick Morton still barely know one another by mid-narrative climax (they have only just met when the movie begins), thus lending an additional level of irrationality to the already strained “threatened love interest” theme the entire movie banks on. In the end, she exists simply to be saved by the hero (repeatedly) and it is so painfully obvious that the trope-sin of “damsel in distress” goes from insulting to just perplexing. They may be playing it straight but is this supposed to be an homage to the classical movie monster narrative or a parody of it?

As for the mummy herself, Ahmanet; her scenes typically oscillate between eye-rolling comedy and soft-core porn punctuated by jump scares which seem to exist only so that transitions between set pieces can be spared a screen wipe. It should also be noted that she is the only mummy in the movie. Unlike 1999’s The Mummy (with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz), Ahmanet creates and/or summons zombies; none of whom, by the way, are remotely Egyptian. This all takes place in London and not more than a few of her minions are long-dead 2nd century Knights Templar recently dug up by the London Transit Authority. She is also able to regenerate her form by sucking the life force out of the living (and turning them into zombies as well) though it works with any living person she meets. There is no specific reason behind her choices of “next to die” aside from proximity. Other than that, the bulk of her powers appear to consist of sending Tom Cruise a number of creepy visions (it’s the only way we get to see her backstory) and conjuring up sandstorms. Seriously, that’s really about it apart from the zombies. At first, I wasn’t necessarily annoyed by this aspect of the movie nor by any of the other obvious and pointed deviations from the 1999 version (they were, after all, expected). That is, until the Golden Book of Amun Ra with iconic lock and key mechanism makes an appearance by falling off a shelf. Then it just started to feel like the filmmakers were making fun of me.

This brings me to the character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, played by a cockneyed Russell Crowe. If Halsey was pointless, Jekyll is nonsensical. It is at this point in the movie that we are introduced to the underlying institutional currents of Universal’s “Dark Universe;” an organized group of paramilitary crypto-zoologists whose sworn duty it is to defend the world from evil. Unfortunately, from the moment Jekyll and his crew are brought into the plot it starts to seem much more like the studio is trying to reboot The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003, remember that one?) than The Mummy. In fact, the entire premise and tone of the movie completely change as we are taken right out of the world of ancient magical curses and dark rituals and into the world of streampunk high science. This then abruptly yanks the entire narrative into a level of increasing absurdity that could only be described as going from modernized classic horror to outright bananas. Archaeology becomes gadgeteering and magic becomes irrelevant. This is where we are finally given the ultimate goal of the mummy; to resurrect Set into a living human body (you can guess who’s). Also, “Evil Itself” is apparently Hyperdiffusionist, which ought to satisfy the lingering Victorian sensibilities in the room but since Set (who gets about 15 seconds of screen time) is also Satan who is also Iblis and just about every other malevolent mythological figure in existence it feels like the rest of the characters are not nearly as worried about his climactic embodiment in Tom Cruise as they ought to be. Yes, Tom Cruise becomes a god at the end. But that’s just fine to everyone because he seemed like an OK dude prior to Ahmanet imbuing him as an incarnation of the Egyptian God of Death. Unsurprisingly, Tom Cruise-as-Set then kills Ahmanet, saves the girl (again), and makes the world right (sort of). And this is where we leave him; wandering the ancient sites of the world in search of his own redemption…while he conjures sandstorms….and brings people back from the dead…but, you know, that’s cool. I’m sure he’ll be fine.

Ultimately, The Mummy has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be. It tosses in some comedy but it’s not funny. It has a tremendous amount of action and explosions but which serve no real purpose. Its characters are disjointed and don’t seem to inhabit the same conversation much less the same universe. And it is packed full of little bits and pieces of all kinds of other movies that Universal hopes will come after it. As such, the movie is more like Frankenstein than The Mummy. It’s just an angry patchwork of everyone else’s long dead work desperately wishing it hadn’t been brought back to life.