I’ve decided I need to do more positive reviews. When a story is awful, it’s easy to point out where its broken, but when a story works well… trying to describe how it works so well is hard to explain. Yet just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean I should avoid it. So in the coming weeks I’m planning to revisit The Witcher 3, Planescape: Torment, and Dragon Age: Origins.
Because I need more positive reviews on here.
Unfortunately, my review of 2017’s The Mummy isn’t going to be one of them.
Good god, why did I accept that challenge? He was not being overly dramatic in that tweet. There is indeed much that can be learned from the train wreck that is this newest iteration of the Mummy.
In fact while writing this review, I couldn’t recall a single character’s name… aside from one very famous one. I thought about getting them off IMDB, but even if I did those of you who saw this travesty probably don’t remember the names either, and those who didn’t won’t know who’s who anyway. So screw it. This movie doesn’t deserve that much work.
The Mummy 2017
A Storytelling Review
I don’t think I’ve ever had so many questions about a movie. The amount of baffling details thrown into 2017’s The Mummy is overwhelming.
Why is The Mummy‘s sarcophagus found in Iraq? Was using stock footage of the Pyramids just too expensive for an establishing shot? And why bother, when most of the film takes place in England anyway? Also, why was most of it in England, when the mummy is the quintessential Egyptian monster?
Actually I know the answer to that last question, it was set in England so the movie could hamfistedly insert Dr. Jekyll and try to setup this whole Dark Universe thing. Unfortunately they forgot to actually tell a story in their rush to create their own cinematic universe. In fact the Dark Universe doesn’t even know what it wants to be, other than profitable of course, which unfortunately led to….
3. The Mummy Doesn’t Know What it Wants to Be
One of the biggest problems with 2017’s The Mummy is that it can’t decide whether it wants to recreate Brendan Fraser’s 1999 The Mummy, a kid-friendly action-adventure story, or make it an old-school style horror film. So it tries to do both while also working as hard as it can to avoid committing to either.
The 1999 Mummy had scary moments, but it was also fully committed to being a fun adventure story. It had no delusions about being a serious horror film, which gave it the freedom to have some fun with an old horror icon. 2017’s Mummy tries to recapture some of this fun, but falls flat on its face. It pairs Tom Cruise with some unknown actor whose character’s name I can’t even remember so they can trade witty dialogue… only the not-Tom-Cruise character dies about ten minutes after we meet him.
The scene Not-Tom-Cruise dies in is truly one of the most baffling things I’ve ever seen in a movie, because I honestly can’t tell what the film is trying to tell me. The scene starts as a horror movie trope as Not-Tom-Cruise turns into a shambling zombie and stabs Lieutenant-Colonel Military Stereotype right in the heart. Then it immediately turns into a weird attempt at slapstick humor as Tom Cruise flails around dodging the knife before accidentally shooting what is supposedly his best friend. Then Tom Cruise turns to the soldier he took the gun from and apologizes for taking the gun.
So what am I supposed to be feeling here? Sad? Because Tom doesn’t seem too broken up about it. Horrified? Well that went out the window when Tom started doing a 90’s Jim Carey impression. Amused? Two people just died and even though I didn’t care… I also didn’t find either death funny in any way.
This continues throughout the film, it veers wildly back and forth between attempts at slapstick humor and gothic horror. Unfortunately, this ends up completely gutting any character development.
Tom Cruise plays a character who is, basically, a grave robber who steals “antiquities” as every character puts it.
[Tangent: Seriously, I think the writer had just found the word antiquities in the dictionary and decided it was the coolest word ever, because everyone says it at every opportunity. Not relics, not treasure, not antiques, or any other more common synonym. I mean I could see the archaeologist woman using “antiquities” but not Tom Cruise or any of the other characters. It felt so… wrong whenever I heard them say the word. I can’t even describe it, you just have to hear it for yourself to understand. Not that I recommend it, it’s not worth it.]
The Mummy insists that it is telling a story of how Tom Cruise went from an “antiquities” raider to a good man. Just like with the tone, however, it also doesn’t want to commit to anything. Tom Cruise weaves between an Ethan Hunt-lite type character and a somber, dramatic Tom Cruise, unable to decide which one it wants.
“There’s a good man in you, struggling to get out.” Tom Cruise’s love interest says at one point. [Paraphrased of course, because there’s no way in hell I’m going back in there to get the full quote.]
She says this after he’s:
- Saved her from a crashing airplane by giving her the only parachute.
- Tried stopping Dr. Jekyll from torturing the Mummy.
- Just been a boring, near non-entity the entire time.
In their effort to keep the Ethan Hunt charm of Tom Cruise, they never actually show him doing anything bad, and without that the redemption story it tries to tell falls utterly flat.
The closest the film comes is in the beginning, when Tom Cruise begins pocketing all the valuables from the Egyptian tomb. In real life, yes, stealing priceless pieces of human history is abominable. Yet in the film, it’s portrayed no differently than a scene from Indiana Jones or National Treasure, a minor bit of mischief. The archaeologist woman chastises them like a teacher reprimanding a bunch of five-year-olds and then doesn’t even force them to put it back.
Though emotions aren’t the only thing that contradict in this film…
2. The Film has no Logical Consistency
I don’t mean that in an obnoxious nitpicking “there’s no sound in space, so why can I hear X-Wings” kind of way. I mean the film’s narrative contradicts itself to an insane degree. For instance when Tom Cruise and company uncover the Mummy’s tomb, they find the sarcophagus hanging from several chains.
“These chains aren’t to lift something up… it’s to hold something down.” The archaeologist says. I have no idea how that’s supposed to work since the chains are coming from the ceiling, but I’m not a physics major so I’ll take her word for it. Except not five seconds after she says it, Tom Cruise shoots one of the chains and… the chains lift up the sarcophagus. So wait? Is the archaeologist just stupid then?
If that had been the only instance I could have forgiven it, but this movie has so many logical inconsistencies it’s staggering. Later Tom Cruise wakes up in the morgue after the plane crash, but then just moments later it cuts to a pair of cops making an initial sweep of the crash site… so how did they recover Tom Cruise’s body if they haven’t been to the crash yet? Oh, well here’s some clunky exposition about how this is actually just debris from the wing that broke off… but then why is the sarcophagus here? It wasn’t strapped to the wing, was it?
The absolute worst instance of these logical contradictions comes near the very end.
The Mummy has descended into the London underground and summons up an army of zombies, and here again is the film’s lack of understanding of how to make an audience suspend its disbelief. The zombies are suddenly just there, appearing from seemingly thin air. In the film’s prologue the film does tell us that London is sitting atop several ancient catacombs and mass graves from eras past. Yet there’s also no establishing scene of these zombies shambling out of the ground, not even from below the train tracks for as lazy as that would have been. No they’re just there, like they’ve been waiting for the train to arrive for hundreds of years.
Then as Tom Cruise and Tom-Cruise’s- Girlfriend scramble to escape the zombies, they suddenly find themselves submerged in water.
How did we get here?
Tom-Cruise’s-Girlfriend asks, and I was eagerly awaiting an answer because I had no fucking idea. I mean, for a second there I thought maybe I’d suffered some kind of blackout. Worse yet, Tom Cruise can’t even answer because he doesn’t know either. Obviously they shot the underwater scene first and then forgot to shoot a scene about how the hell they ended up there. But the fact that the line “how did we get here?” is in the movie means somebody noticed this fault and then didn’t fix it. They just decided slap some extra dialogue in there and keep on rolling. They couldn’t even be bothered to go back and add some CGI mummy vortex, or quicksand, or something to explain this jump in locations.
This brings us to the ending, which is awful in so many ways. So first of all, Tom-Cruise’s-Girlfriend dies in the water and that makes Tom Cruise super sad, even though all the movie established of their romance is that they had a one night stand. But she’s hot, so whatever. The Mummy promises Tom power over life and death if he lets her stab him with this superduper dagger of hers that will pass the soul of the Egyptian god Set to him. This has been what Tom Cruise has been running from for the entire length of the film.
So naturally he does what any of us would do and… stabs himself? Because fuck her, only Tom Cruise stabs Tom Cruise, I guess?
Except instead of being taken over by Set, Tom Cruise instead controls Set because reasons that are never elaborated on.
Which brings me to the biggest issue of all…
1. The Movie Trying to Establish a Cinematic Universe Forgot to create a Universe
2017’s The Mummy is supposed to be the flagship film of Universal’s new cinematic universe. Unfortunately, whoever is in charge over at Universal seems to think just calling it a cinematic universe is enough and didn’t bother to actually create one.
Which brings me back to Tom Cruise and how he takes over Set’s powers over life and death. This big, bad evil that’s been the big threat for the whole film is ultimately subdued by a few Tom Cruise grimaces and grunts. He becomes able to control life and death, sucks the life out of the The Mummy and resurrects his girlfriend. But how does he do that?
Unfortunately, I have no idea because the movie never bothered establishing how this universe works. It never even tells us what the Mummy’s powers are, which is a Monster Movie 101 kind of detail. The Mummy might be an old, established monster but there have been so many iterations of the character that it’s absolutely essential to tell the audience what this specific mummy can do. Instead, the Mummy pulls out whatever power the plot demands she possess at that moment.
Sometimes she can summon zombies to aid her, such as when she ambushes Tom Cruise at an old English church, but then she’ll be alone and helpless when a Spec-Ops team captures her. She’ll be super strong when she punches Tom Cruise, but then weak when a grappling hook rips into her shoulder. She’s able to enter Tom Cruise’s mind and talk to him, sometimes compel him to do things, and yet seems unable to predict what he’ll do. Or stop him from doing something, like stabbing himself with her dagger.
And what’s truly mind boggling is that a good 45 minutes of the film, or at least it felt like 45 minutes, is dedicated to the stupid Prodigium facility run by a purple faced Russell Crowe. Oh, and here’s the one character name I remember:
Doctor Henry Jekyll
Oh yes, they shoved another horror icon into this movie like someone trying to shove an entire ham into a toaster, and they both fit about as well as you’d imagine.
Doctor Jekyll soliloquizes about monsters and gods and evil, but it’s like listening to a politician speak: he speaks a lot, but never actually says anything. This whole section of the movie is clearly here to setup the whole Dark Universe thing, but then never actually does. I mean I can’t actually remember a single detail of Prodigium other than it’s run by Doctor Jekyll. The one thing it does establish is that mercury weakens the Mummy, but is that true of all monsters or just this one in particular? Who knows, the good doctor never bothers to tell us.
The Mummy doesn’t even try hyping the audience up for its new Dark Universe by introducing us to cool characters either. I mean if we’d also met Dracula, Van Helsing, and my personal favorite, Dorian Grey then maybe I could have at least gotten excited about the idea of this universe. But we don’t, all we meet is Dr. Jekyll as presented by people who obviously never read the actual book.
In The Mummy Dr. Jekyll has to continually inject himself with some mystery concoction to keep Mr. Hyde from taking over, which is exactly the opposite of what the story is about. In the book, Dr. Jekyll creates a potion that turns him into Mr. Hyde, an evil asshole, and yet expressing that evil hidden within him is highly addictive. Thus it’s a story about battling addiction, and an allegory for how we all continually fight back evil, because we all have a little Mr. Hyde in us. That’s what makes the original Dr. Jekyll a fascinating character, and a good monster, because you don’t know what side is going to win.
Unfortunately, The Mummy’s Dr. Jekyll is just… boring. The only drama created by his character is whether an idiot will grab away his magic syringes and allow Hyde to take over… which is exactly what Tom Cruise does of course. So way to go Universal, you’ve now already blown the only dramatic tension this character creates. Congratulations.
A cinematic universe relies on the audience wanting to see more of the characters and mythology that inhabit that universe. The Mummy doesn’t give us either. In their desire to keep Tom Cruise as inoffensive as possible he comes across as completely bland, I don’t care if I never see this particular character again (again, whose name I can’t even remember.) The only character who could have been interesting was the Mummy herself, but they kill her off at the end of the film and give her powers to Tom Cruise. I think, even that isn’t made completely clear.
So to sum up, the Dark Universe doesn’t have any interesting characters, didn’t establish any kind of overarching mythology, and didn’t even put a cursory effort into framing this universe’s powers and limitations. Universal did absolutely nothing to build a foundation from which they could launch other films. Not even by accident. I mean I’m almost impressed at how much it does to destroy its own franchise right out of the gate.
So… if I can say one thing positive about this move: at least it was so bad I won’t have to see Tom Cruise, Not-Tom-Cruise, and Tom-Cruise’s-Girlfriend ever again.