BR: Mummy, The (2017)

October 6, 2017 | By

Film: Weak

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Universal

Region: A

Released:  September 12, 2017

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Supernatural / Ancient Egypt

Synopsis: A treasure hunter in Iraq develops a telekinetic connection with a vengeful ancient Egyptian spirit, herself wanted by scheming Dr. Jekyll.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with director-producer Alex Kurtzman and actors Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, and Jake Johnson / Deleted and Extended Scenes / 9 Making-of Featurettes: “Cruise & Kurtzman: A Conversation” + “Rooted in Reality” + “Life in Zero-G: Creating the Plane Crash” + “Meet Ahmanet” + “Cruise in Action” + “Becoming Jekyll and Hyde” + “Choreographed Chaos” + “Nick Morton: In Search of a Soul” / Ahmanet Reborn Animated Graphic Novel / Digital Copy.





When Stephen Sommers pitched to Universal’s studio brass his vision to reinvigorate their classic monsters into a new franchises, he hit gold with The Mummy (1999), a boisterous and blatant homage of sorts to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) that benefited from high energy, broad humour, and the buddy-buddy pairing of a male and female leads, but follow-up The Mummy Returns (2001) was a rehash and a narrative mess, and featured a finale comprised of effects seemingly left unfinished due to a tight release date.

Subsequent efforts to expand the franchise – The Scorpion King (2002), and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) – emerged stillborn, but it was Sommers’ Van Helsing (2004) that shuttered further efforts for a while, being loud, dumb, and overblown with too many monsters delivered in a film reflecting Sommers’ ADD directing style.

Then came Benicio Del Toro’s passion project, The Wolfman (2010), released to unimpressed audiences after a change in directors, undergoing heavy reshoots, a new composer, and major editing fixes. The production was still grand, but the story fell apart, with Del Toro severely miscast as cursed Lawrence Talbot.

With the exception of the first Mummy reboot, it seemed Universal couldn’t get the monsters they’d mastered quite right, although if one looks back at their Wolfman, Dracula, The Mummy, and Creature from the Black Lagoon franchises and hybrids, almost every sequel went down a few notches in quality (and sometimes running time). Only Britain’s Hammer Films managed to sustain vampires, mummies, and wolfmen over several entries before the stories became exceptionally ridiculous; Hammer didn’t have the luxury (or perhaps patience) to gamble on new monsters, so they kept, er, hammering them out whilst Universal focused on other creatures and released some of Hammer’s own variants.

During the intervening 18 years since Sommers’ Mummy debuted, Fox and Warner Bros. have burped out their respective comic book series, and Disney’s expanded the Star Wars mythos by fixating on younger, older, and separate character entries, but Universal remains one of the rare big studios lacking a library rooted in comics and graphic novels, so it made sense for them to revisit the monsters resting in their own backyard, this time with an even broader scope via the Dark Universe brand.

Not every Dark series flourishes. Warner Bros. released several horror entries under the Dark Castle brand that’s loosely tied to prankish filmmaker William Castle (House on Haunted Hill, Homicidal, Mr. Sardonicus), but more money seemed to have been spent on casts and production design instead of functional screenplays; with few exceptions, the Dark Castle series has been a complete failure.

The pedigree attached to The Mummy (2017) is hugely attractive, as is the premise of smugglers within the U.S. Army discovering an ancient Egyptian tomb in war-torn Iraq, but after a few amusing early scenes it’s obvious the story remains fixed in London once the plane carrying the remains of ‘disgraced’ queen-to-be Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella); being London-locked, things get wobbly when the chief villain in charge of reclaiming the ancient cadaver is Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) who must inject himself with a clumsily packaged, multi-component serum gun to keep Hyde at bay.

Perhaps borrowing a bit from Three Kings (1999), the story begins with enlisted man & sneaky smuggler Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), stationed in Iraq during the Second Gulf War. After discovering a massive sarcophagus entombed in liquid mercury, he becomes slightly possessed by dead Egyptian babe Ahmanet. After the Hercules transport plane crashes en route to London with its unique cargo, Nick wakes up in a London morgue unscathed, but experiences flashes of Ahmanet’s memories of love, death, and bloody sacrifices; sometimes his ‘mummy senses’ have him sensing her whereabouts and portents of her next moves much in the way Sil tracks a fellow alien killer in Species 2 (1998), if not flashes of trippy violence from The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978).

Teamed with fetching antiquities expert Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) in London, it’s also a recap of the boy-girl leads and goofy banter from Sommers’ Mummy, but Wallis and Cruise have zero screen chemistry. Nevermind the banal dialogue written and rewritten by credited David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Mission: Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation), and 4 others; their romance isn’t even allowed to gel because Nick’s supposed to be controlled by Ahmanet, whose presence in mind and in person discombobulates the boy.

Because Ahmanet spends her time regaining her physicality and later being chained in a preposterous scheme by Hyde to inject mercury into her system for some nonsensical vivisection, Boutella doesn’t have much to do, much in the way Aaliyah was wasted in the dull & mopey film version of Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned (2002), being striking in pose and movement but having little dramatic meat to enliven her character. Ahmanet’s scenes also question the depth of the shooting script’s originality, because Mummy sure feels like iconic material stolen from other films.

Ahmanet’s regenesis requires sucking the life from ordinary humans, and walking faux-naked much in the way fully naked Mathilda May in Lifeforce (1985) usurped the lives of the healthy to become whole in flesh and blood. Lifeforce was Tobe Hooper’s failed attempt to create a Hammer film with plenty of sex & blood, and in each films May and Boutella cause all windows and glass panel doors to shatter when they pass by. Ahmanet also desiccates and zombifies her victims, but they also conveniently turn to ashes when the screenwriters have no further use for screen filler material.

The biggest theft is Nick’s dead pal Chris Val (Jake Johnson), who dies from Nick’s gunfire but pops up now & then as a ghost, teasing Nick and averring looming danger much in the way Griffin Dunne plays David Naughton’s dead pal in An American Werewolf in London (1981). Chris doesn’t decompose over the film’s length, but as in American Werewolf, he teases his buddy between dollops of slight life-saving advice.

Director Alex Kurtzman (People Like Us) doesn’t blow through material in an ADD fashion, but action scenes are overcut, and there’s no desire to linger on Ahmanet, as though Universal had fears some nudity might bleed through her costume and endanger the film’s PG-13 rating. Brian Tyler’s score is fairly subliminal, but it neither adds depth to characters nor deepens horror – perhaps because the digital effects are too sterile (albeit pretty).

Dark Universe is reportedly working on remaking / re-imagining / re-whatever Bride of Frankenstein with Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) at the helm, but it’s highly unlikely Cruise will return in a further Mummy installment; in the finale, Nick emerges alive as kind of a God-human hybrid, but a full classification of what he’s become is kept murky. We’re left to assume that with Chris brought back to life (it’s a new skill for Nick), maybe the pair will restart their looting and black marketeering, riding on horseback across the Arabian desert, encountering other really peeved mummies.

Universal’s Blu-ray sports an excellent transfer with some occasionally punch 5.1 effects, the usual batch of making-of featurettes and fawning interview pieces, and a trio of deleted scenes that are mostly extensions (and in one case include additional material between Nick and Chris).

Tom Cruise is no stranger to horror and supernatural tales, appearing in Ridley Scott’s gauzy Legend (1985), the elegant (but very mopey) film version of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1994), and the eerie American remake of Open Your Eyes (1997),  Vanilla Sky (2001), but The Mummy is a major dud, especially since he’s trapped playing a character who’s almost as big of an unlikeable idiot as Ray Ferrier in Steven Spielberg’s shrill remake of War of the Worlds (2005).

Perhaps in a rush to cash in on The Mummy’s re-release publicity, two rival mini-series debuted prior to the film’s release – Spike’s Tut (2015), and ITV’s Tutankhamun / aka The Mummy of Tutankhamun (2016).



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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