US Release Date: Friday, June 9, 2017
Well, that was a pleasant surprise.
I mean, I don’t want to say I was expecting this movie to be terrible, but… I was kind of expecting this movie to be terrible. A remake of a remake of a remake — or, as might well be argued, yet another re-adaptation of well-trodden source material — helmed by a Hollywood mainstay who previously had only one other feature credit on his directorial resume, as well as being yet another starring vehicle for the age-defying Tom Cruise? I was pretty skeptical. Add in the fact that this film is kicking off the new Universal Dark Universe, bringing back that studio’s classic monsters with majorly updated special effects, and it could have gone so very wrong, been so very sad.
But you know what? This is a very enjoyable movie indeed. And moreover, it is a clever one, its twists and turns genuinely keeping us guessing throughout. (Remember, I don’t watch trailers, so there are some impressive visuals and plot curve balls that came totally out of nowhere for me, but may be less thrilling to those who have been pre-spoiled.) There are some legitimate jump scares offered up one after the other — especially in 3D; damned crows — and it is all appropriately icky for a film that deals largely with the long-dead, what with the mummies and the zombies and all the creepy crawly creatures long associated with the evils in this world.
Our back story—which, by the way, we get mostly in the form of a very long narration from Russell Crowe; it’s the weakest part of the film—is this: Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) was all set to be Queen of Egypt when her father begat a male heir. Being kind of… competitive, you might say, she makes a deal with the devil to kill her family and “get her revenge.” (For what, I’m not entirely clear; I mean, none of us like to think about our parents having sex, but this does seem an extreme reaction.) She undergoes a blood rite, gets some funky new ink and some ill-defined powers of, like necromancy, and… um… sand?… in exchange for bringing Set, the Egyptian god of death, into our physical realm. But her not-very-stealthy summoning ceremony is rudely interrupted, and she is captured and interred far from Egypt in a specialized prison sarcophagus for the next five thousand years.
Cut to present-day Iraq. A country still so war-torn that insurgents are busy destroying monuments that have stood for millennia (thanks a lot, Coalition of the Willing). The US Army has tasked Sergeant Nick Morton (Cruise) and his reluctant sidekick Vail (Jake Johnson) with reconnaissance, but instead they are following a treasure map, looking for antiquities they can “liberate” and sell on the black market. A place called Haram — “forbidden knowledge,” Vail explains for us, as though we’ve never seen a news broadcast in the last fifteen years — is supposed to be a significant site, and someone called Jennifer has been asked by another someone called Henry to track it down. We know this because Nick has stolen the map and its accompanying missive and is excited to get to the looting. (Henry, by the way, has noticeably beautiful penmanship, which makes total sense later, when we learn his identity. Nicely played, movie.)
After Nick and Vail take heavy fire and end up calling in an airstrike, we discover that this Jennifer is one Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), a British archaeologist dug in with the troops in Iraq to help secure any precious, irreplaceable artifacts they might come across, which makes total sense to have as part of an army detail, why do you think that’s weird, stop suggesting that’s weird! Lucky she’s there because an irreplaceable artifact they soon find as, with the help of a massive explosion that probably should have killed more people than it did (our hero, for one), an ancient Egyptian tomb is discovered buried beneath the equally ancient Mesopotamian sands.
Who could be buried there? Take a guess!
Tom Cruise’s cardio regimen should really start getting its own credit above the title in his movies, along with his name.
Oh, don’t worry, I’m not saying it’s wildly original or anything. The Mummy is simply full to the brim with every action movie cliche you can think of, from the love/hate romantic tension, to the seemingly bullet-proof heroes, to the gratuitous fight scenes, to the running, the running, so much of the running. (Tom Cruise’s cardio regimen should really start getting its own credit above the title in his movies, along with his name.) It’s also not as funny as it wants to be — three writers on this thing, they couldnt’ have brought someone in to pep up the one-liners? — though Jake Johnson is at his laconic-yet-annoyed best in his every scene.
Now, maybe this is just because I had a nice buzz going on (they’re serving rum punch cocktails at the Melbourne IMAX this winter, a delicious concoction I heartily endorse), but I truly believe there is a lot here that is genuinely just fun, even when its derivative, and as an introduction to a wider, waiting world of slightly camp monsters on film, The Mummy does its job far better than any of us had any right to believe possible.
Well, except for the part with the rats. Ugh.
Fantasy Horror | PG-13 | 110 minutes
Written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B.