Nothing Will Prepare You…
“In a culture inured even to the shock of the new, in which today’s news is tomorrow’s history to be forgotten entirely or recycled in some unimaginably debased form, ‘70s movies retain their power to unsettle; time has not dulled their edge, and they are as provocative now as they were the day they were released… The thirteen years between Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 and Heaven’s Gate in 1980 marked the last time it was really exciting to make movies in Hollywood, the last time people could be consistently proud of the pictures they made, the last time the community as a whole encouraged good work, the last time there was an audience that could sustain it.”
– Peter Biskind, ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’.
Off I went to the movies, with a song on my lips and hope in my heart. I didn’t care what anyone was saying about The Mummy. Since it was the opening chapter in the Dark Universe series, they were going to make damned sure that they got it right. Right?
Look, I’m not one of those who doesn’t like the idea of some films as a franchise. To listen to certain people, you would swear it was a spanking new idea. It’s not. It’s nearly as old as Cinema itself.
Take the concept at hand, where a series of films are to be tied together through the central idea of a powerfully wealthy conglomerate called Prodigium, whose aim is to hunt down, isolate and destroy the supernatural evils which exist on the periphery of our own world. It’s a story mechanism that will hopefully tie together and reintroduce a new generation to those wonderful old Universal Studios monsters such as Frankenstein and the Mummy.
And the plain fact is that the originals themselves eventually comprised part of an interconnected series – yes, a franchise. Between Dracula in 1931 and the wonderful Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948 a genuine pseudomythology grew into being that was to include the Wolf Man and, on the fringes, the Mummy and the Invisible Man. And these were the films that turned me on as a kid to an enthralling new world of Gods and Monsters. Nearly fifty years on from when I first watched the 1931 Frankenstein on late-night TV, I love these old characters as much as ever.
So if Universal was now trying to reignite a passion in younger filmgoers then I was all for it. So I wanted – really wanted – the new Alex Kurtzman version of The Mummy to work.
And for about the five minutes of the prologue I was stupidly feeling optimistic: a London construction crew breaks through into the underground tomb of some Crusader Knights who have buried an ancient secret with themselves. As Prodigium take over the operation its head, Dr. Henry Jekyll, gives us a brief background on an Egyptian queen whose name has been obliterated from history. It’s nicely done and the shots of the tomb, especially the parts that are underwater, are beautifully atmospheric.
Then we relocate to modern-day war-torn Iraq and from this point on almost nothing can prepare you for the sheer awfulness of this misfire of a movie.
Film by Committee
Nick Norton is a professional soldier who moonlights as a looter, counting on the war to hide the fact that he is stealing priceless items to sell on the black market. He is an almost totally selfish, amoral and completely irresponsible creep with nothing at all to recommend him. But I think — and who the hell knows or cares? –that as played by Tom Cruise we are supposed to respond to his arrogant, wisecracking ‘charm’. But this is decades on from Top Gun and although I’m a Cruise fan and helluva envious of the great shape the guy is in, he’s just a bit long in the tooth for that swaggering nonsense to cut it any longer.
In addition, he and his side kick Chris (Jake Johnson) are the kind of guys who can dodge multiple bullets with the ease of an Indiana Jones whilst fleeing from those patented Hollywood explosions that never seem to throw off any shrapnel. And since it’s set in an area where real people are dying it is just a bit off, to put it mildly.
And that’s not to say that it can’t be done and done well. David O. Russell’s 1999 film about looters in the Persian Gulf, Three Kings, proved that. Here, though, it is just distasteful, with not one single line of Cruise for the entire first half-hour being anything other than stone-cold embarrassing. How in the bejeezus did no one notice this while shooting was taking place?
It has all the feel of a film made by committee, with no one unifying voice. Instead, there are three screenwriters and no doubt with Tom himself having a fair input, not to mention some increasingly nervous producers and a director under severe pressure because of the budget and the need for this to launch other films in the series. To paraphrase the great Sam Peckinpah: “125 million dollars in the hands of insane children.”
What could go wrong?
Through an action that makes not even the remotest sense – it is before he develops his strange mind meld with her — Nick releases our imprisoned Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). And off she goes rampaging through London, creating zombies to beat the band. And if I tell you that stopping her includes something called the Dagger of Set you will know that these filmmakers don’t plan to leave even the hoariest of film clichés lying around unused.
Russell Crowe and Edward Hyde
I am trying desperately to find something positive to say about this piece of utter awfulness.
Boutella looks good as the Mummy. She kind of put me in mind of Akasha from Anne Rice’s novel The Queen of the Damned.
The Crusader tomb, that was nice.
The similarities between a good man trying to get out of Nick and a bad one trying to get out of Jekyll…that might have been interesting if the dreaded Committee hadn’t stepped in.
Then, as if it wasn’t already on a hiding to nothing, The Mummy goes and reminds you of much better films (almost anything ever made): there’s the completely unfunny dialogues between Nick and the dead Chris, which only makes you realise how well John Landis did something similar in An American Werewolf in London. What am I talking about? There’s no comparison. One is hilarious and oddly touching; the other is untreated sewage that makes you want to run screaming naked down the street and into the arms of an arresting policeman. And I’ll let you figure out which is which.
I guess that the only thing that really kept me interested in any way was every time Russell Crowe appeared on screen. He just steals every scene, particularly when he’s towering over Wee Tom. I could have listened to him spouting those eyebrow-raising lines on the nature of Good and Evil all day, especially as he keeps a straight face and yet weirdly seems to be letting you know that he’s aware of what a steaming pile of shit he’s appearing in. And contracted to do more of.
And even here I’ve got a mild moan. Why is it that as Jekyll he speaks with an educated accent, each word perfectly enunciated; and yet when he turns into Mr. Hyde he suddenly sounds like a cross between Bill Sykes from Oliver Twist and one of the dodgier characters from the soap opera Eastenders?
It doesn’t matter. This Mummy is beyond resuscitation. The next film up is Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man. And it better have lots and lots of Russell Crowe in it. So far, he’s the only reason to tune in for another helping of the Dark Universe.
Oh yeah…and coming down the line from Cruise: Top Gun 2: Maverick. Hollywood has run out of ideas? What makes you say that?
AFTERWORD: I avoid reading other reviews until I’ve gotten mine written. Having done that, I’ve just been looking over some of the others and to my horror Capone (a blogger I enjoy) has made some of the same points –especially the Film by Committee — over at Harry Knowles’ site, AICN. I’ll put it down to ‘great minds thinking alike’.
Mind you, Harry loves it. No surprise there, then.