After watching The Mummy, my immediate thought was that this flick should be thrown in a sarcophagus, placed deep in the bowels of a tomb with the doors sealed shut, never to be unearthed again. While I didn’t enjoy this disaster for many reasons, I have to acknowledge the few positive aspects the movie offers. Jake Johnson (Nick from New Girl) plays Tom Cruise’s sidekick, and he generates all the charm, levity, and sympathy single-handedly. The action sequences were nothing to scoff at, and while impressive, they still didn’t pack the punch they should have due to the weakness of the script and phoned in performances. Lastly, Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll was very enjoyable and I give the veteran actor credit for trying to make the best of weak and nonsensical dialogue and absurd motives. Clearly, Tom Cruise was half asleep during this shoot, and I have to believe that this was simply a quick cash grab for him.
I can’t help but compare The Mummy (1999) to this reboot, and when you look at the movies side by side, it’s clear how far off the mark the new film landed. The version from ’99 is a great movie for the following reasons: you feel like you’re on the adventure, the protagonist is a charming and capable reluctant hero, it’s fun, the characters are three-dimensional, and the performances feel natural and real. The Brendan Fraser rendition gives you everything one could hope to get from a big budget action adventure story that revolves around monsters and magic. They established from the opening scene who the villain is and what his motives are, and quickly follow that sequence with O’Connell’s background and we discover his characteristics during the gunfight in the desert. Two other aspects that make the movie work are the love story between Evey and O’Connell and the easy-to-digest delivery of the mystical lore. This 2017 version fails in all these regards, big time.
The 2017 mummy, Ahmanet, is played by Sofia Boutella. Ahmanet, the sole heir to the Egyptian throne, was groomed from childhood to be a ruler. Her father, the pharaoh, has a son late in life which means Ahmanet is no longer next in line to rule. This is the inciting incident for the story, and Ahmanet makes a pact with Set, the Egyptian god of death, to take her revenge against her family, and she does. She is apprehended by royal guards after slaughtering her family. She is mummified before she is able to fulfill her promise to Set to find a human vessel for the god to inhabit. What was missing from the story is Ahmanet’s ambition after getting her revenge on her family. Did she want to rule Egypt, partner with Set and take over the world, avoid capture and flee? It’s anyone’s guess. Tom Cruise’s character, Nick, has no business being involved in the “excavation” of the mummy, and even more frustrating is his lack of personality and defining qualities. This hero is a smug and quippy soldier who disobeys orders to treasure hunt while on assignment in Iraq during active duty. Nick is a thief with no moral standards, no expertise in mummies or archeology, and lacks any redeeming qualities as a person. Thankfully, Nick always drags Chris (Jake Johnson) along with him when he goes out treasure hunting, but I’ll get back to Chris later. The most unsatisfying part of the movie for me is the female lead, Jenny, played by Annabelle Wallis. The performance is wooden and dull and I defy to find any trace of chemistry between her and Cruise. Jenny claims to be an archeologist, which we find out later to be a lie, and she cares for Nick who treats her like garbage until the climax of the movie. Jenny is a weak and borderline offensive female lead. She is inept, unless spewing exposition, doesn’t reveal why she’s partnered with Dr. Jekyll, cannot fight for herself, and falls for a guy who treats her very poorly.
What made this action adventure story so painful to endure was the abundant exposition. Exposition, for those unfamiliar with the term, is when characters spew dialogue that explains the movie outright to the audience instead of showing the story with well written scenes and proper use of characters. Ahmanet’s origin, Nick’s tether to Ahmanet, Jenny’s motives, and the magical elements are lazily told to the audience through expositional dialogue that is so brazen its hard to believe the extent of carelessness from the filmmakers. Why I find this so offensive as an audience member is because spoon-feeding the plot to viewers is avoidable, even a decent writer can figure out ways to divulge the story naturally. The ’99 version does it right: After the western explorers resurrect Imhotep, Ardeth, the guardian over Imhotep’s tomb, tells O’Connell (and the audience) what the consequences of their actions are, who they raised from the dead, what Imhotep is driven by, and in that scene the threat is put into perspective and it all makes sense.
Now to discuss the good elements of the movie, namely Jake Johnson and Russell Crowe. Jake’s performance as Chris is better than good. Chris is loveable, funny, sympathetic and provides essential comic relief. Chris reluctantly joins Nick on his treasure hunts and is the only character who seems to use common sense and logic. Jake Johnson is a charming actor, and unfortunately was underutilized in The Mummy. He should have been given way more screen time. Russell Crowe was well cast as Dr. Jekyll and his scenes truly had me engaged, but the weak writing diminished his efforts. Through exposition, we are told that Dr. Jekyll is the head of a secret organization that combats evil forces and monsters, and he somehow knows more information about Ahmanet than he possibly could or should. On top of the disconnected and inexplicable behavior of Jekyll’s organization, it really bummed me out that they attempt to establish an interconnected classic monster universe so poorly. It was fumbled so badly that I have no interest in paying to see the next installments in the new continuity. The only thing that could get me to reconsider writing off this new monster movie series Universal is producing is a standalone Dr. Jekyll movie with a good writer and director attached.
Bottom line, don’t waste your time or money on this dud. The Mummy could have been salvaged if the right screenwriter was tapped to do some serious rewrites. It needs a hero to care about and understand, a love story that makes sense, less exposition, and a villain with an endgame that is defined. The reason for my level of dissatisfaction is because the result of this production is a sloppy and lazy mess. While I was not expecting Citizen Kane, I still have higher standards for big budget Hollywood summer releases. The wasted money that delivered this lame duck makes me feel sick. Do better, Hollywood, and stop half-assing it.
Reel Talk gives The Mummy 1 Reel