The Mummy or Not The Pole For Your Tent

The Mummy. The tent-pole film for the Dark Universe. An image of the reimagining of the classic Universal movie monsters.


Before we go any further, let me state that this is pretty much a rant. I am going to be covering a lot of topics, many of them major plot points for the film. As such, this post is going to be chock full of spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to be surprised, stop reading right now.

You are now entering THE SPOILER ZONE.

You’ve been warned.

I was a little conflicted when I heard about the Dark Universe. While I was intrigued by the idea of a new cinematic universe filled with the classic Universal monsters. These are the monsters that I grew up with. Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Creature from The Black Lagoon, The Mummy... these monsters shaped my early life.

On the other hand, I am generally against the idea of using an established name or franchise in order to release a new movie -- especially one that has nothing to do with said name or franchise.

Despite this, I was kind of looking forward to the Dark Universe. Hell, it just sounds cool, doesn’t it?
1 Plus, this would be a chance to reset some of the less successful reimaginings of late.2

You can imagine my surprise when I found out that the first movie in the new series was going to be...the Mummy.

Really? The Mummy? If you look back up at the paragraph you will note that the mummy was the last monster I listed. Granted, I left off a few like The Invisible Man and Jekyll and Hyde
4, but still -- the Mummy? That’s one of the least scary monsters ever. Why didn’t they go with a well known, better establishing, and damn it, just plain scarier monster?

OK, I can maybe see that decision. Go with a lesser known monster and build from there. Wow them with a new view on the old, not so scary one and you’ll have the audience lining up to see how they treat the more established ones.

So, how does the new Mummy stand up against the previous iterations of the creature?

This is where we come to the first reveal and the first spoiler of the post. It is also the first and largest disappointment I had with the current movie:

The Mummy is NOT a horror movie.

I have seen a few reviews which state that
The Mummy does not know if it wants to be a horror film or an action film. Don’t be fooled. The Mummy is a straight up action film.5

This creates a lot of problems with the plot of the film and with the character played by Tom Cruise. Nick Morton is a soldier -- quite possibly the worst soldier in recent cinematic history. Not only is he a looter
6, but he leaves his riffle behind when running in one scene. In another, he holds and fires his pistol in a way which would break his wrist in real life.

I understand the desire to show a character’s change over the course of a story arc. I don’t know that Cruise’s character achieves this.

The Mummy in
The Mummy is not Imhotep as in the classic. Instead, the Mummy in question is Princess Ahmanet, someone who is punished for murder, specifically regicide and matricide.

This is a major problem that I have with the plot of this film. Ahmanet is “mummified alive,” although in this case it must just mean that she is wrapped in bandages since no other part of the mummification process is shown or could be done to a living person.
7 The Egyptians then take Ahmanet to Mesopotamia. They build a giant underground structure including multi-story statues. According to Google, this is travel of 888 miles. Why in the name of sweet frankincense8 would they do that instead of using the surrounding desert.

Ahmanet does not represent the slow, shambling mummy of the previous Universal films. I’m not going to go into the whole slow vs fast zombie argument here, but when you think of the mummy, you generally don’t think of something that jumps around and runs back and forth.

Also, Ahmanet drains the life force of many creatures. She revitalizes herself through this process, a classic trope for many of the undead. For some reason, the dried husks she leaves behind become some sort of zombie-like creature under her control. Ahmanet goes from desiccated to vibrant after many such feedings, however this effect was done better in the Brendan Fraser
Mummy and even in Hellraiser decades ago.

Speaking of special effects, there is a lot of unnecessary CGI here, some of which looks pretty good, some of which looks pretty darn bad.

The plot itself is more than a little muddled. Ahmanet’s motivations be fair, I can’t really remember what it is that she is trying to do. The standard “bring back a loved one” is gone. Ahmanet is revived, she kills some people, there’s some cool action scenes, people try to kill her.

Don’t get me started on the whole killing her thing too. There is a special dagger with a special jewel which is the only thing which can destroy her. This is also the dagger that she needs to release Set, which is what she was trying to do before her mummification. Stuff happens, people die and come back, blah blah blah.

As a movie, it’s OK. It’s certainly not something that you need to rush out and go see. There are plenty of action movies with Tom Cruise with better actual action sequences.

So why is this a rant? Because this is the first movie for the proposed Dark Universe. This is the tentpole movie that a new franchise is supposed to be based on. It totally fails at this level. In fact, its failure is part of why the movie itself fails.

To illustrate, let me discuss the tentpole movie of a different cinematic universe --
Iron Man. I should probably state that I think that Iron Man is one of the finest examples of a well made comic book movie.9 Iron Man is, first and foremost, a self-contained movie. It tells a complete story. It takes the time to tell an origin story, but it is more than just an origin story10. In addition to this, it sets up the world in such a way that it is open to other heroes. Even without the much lauded post-end credits scene, Iron Man sets up a world in which the other Avengers can exist without rewriting everything.

The Mummy attempts to do this with the introduction of the Prodigium, a secret monster hunting organization housed under the Natural History Museum of London. Jenifer Halsey, the archeologist who explores the tomb, and who is Cruise’s clunky love interest, is a member of this organization. When we are first introduced to it, we meet Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll.

OK, I’ll give them this one. It was a nice twist. When we first see Crowe’s character, he remains unnamed. I was assuming that he was going to be revealed to be VanHelsing, which would have made me sigh. The other option was that he would be Dr. Frankenstein. The Jekyll reveal was a nice surprise.

However, the Jekyll/Hyde character provides nothing for this story. With the exception of one action scene, he only exists to provide exposition regarding the Prodigium, which I assume will be what will tie the Dark Universe together. He could be removed and the only real change would be that the film would be shorter.

The real problem that I had with the film takes place when Morton walks through the Prodigium area for the first time. It completely knocked me out of the movie with it’s little winks. Cruise walks by a brain in a jar, a fanged skull, and what can only be the arm of the Gill-Man from
The Creature From the Black Lagoon. How does this movie set up a whole series when all of the characters are already dead?

The only answer I can come up with is that the rest of the movies will be told in reverse and this is the last in series chronologically. However, this doesn’t make any sense either.

In whole,
The Mummy is a so-so action movie and a total failure as launch for an entire franchise.

1 Yes it is.

2 I’m looking at you
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and The Wolfman.

3 However, if you look at the plan for The Dark Universe you’ll see that the next film, planned for a 2019 release, features the
BRIDE of Frankenstein. Yes, before the release of a film featuring Frankenstein’s monster.

4 Which is sad because I love the duality of the Jekyll/Hyde story.

5 There already is a straight-up action version of The Mummy, the one with Brendan Fraser. IMHO, that’s a better action movie than this one is.

6 I told you that there were a lot of spoilers in this one.

7 In the movie’s defense, one character does mention the lack of Canopic jars.

8 It was used in the mummification process. Look it up.

9 I’ll be discussing others in an upcoming post.

10 Unlike other franchises like Superman and Spiderman that waste way too much time telling an origin story that everyone already knows.