Film: The Mummy
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Running Time: 111 Minutes
*This review contains spoilers*
Naturally, Brendan Fraser’s chief complaint with Kurtzman’s attempt to revive the living dead in the reboot of The Mummy (2017) is that there was not enough Brendan Fraser in it. Yet, as anyone who has watched the three films in the previous life of the franchise; The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001), and The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), will know, there was too much Brandon Fraser in them. Despite this Fraser predicament that viewers find themselves struggling to balance, the introduction of Tom Cruise does nothing to solve the equation. Instead of reviving the franchise, Cruise’s inclusion and his character ‘Nick Morton’ provides something far more complicated and unsettling to the narrative than Fraser’s ‘Rick O’Connell’ ever mustered.
There is nothing in the discography of the fifty-five year-old actor that could convince the viewer that he is the young, cocksure ex-military intelligence officer that he claims to be. The only thing that the portrayal of looter Nick Morton accurately represents is the psyche of the modern American; cracking jokes about translations of the word ‘Haram’ – a word important in Islam – claiming that he is not a looter but a ‘liberator of precious antiquities’, stating that the destruction of historical artifacts in war is tragic whilst taking orders from the Colonel (Vance) that protects them, and suggesting that he and Vail (Johnson) can ‘slip in and out’ of an Iraqi village before decimating it in gunfire and hellfire missiles.
It is even more complicated that the hellfire missile that Morton brings down on the town unveils a cavern and, therein, the treasure that he and Vail were in Iraq appropriating the dress of Bedouin tribesmen to find, because it begins an overwhelming sensation of gratitude for the missile and the sense that the deaths of the militants were worth it because of the priceless antiquity it enabled them to find – so much so that Halsey (Wallis), the woman whom Morton stole a map from, forgives the theft and enters the cavern with them.
It seems that these moments of awkward self-reflection comes as part of setting the film in Iraq; attempting to access the ancient history of Mesopotamia but knowing that the present cannot be rewritten or excluded from the cinematic gaze. It makes sense that a reboot should distance itself from its predecessors, but producing a film about mummies and Egyptian treasure but not filming or even setting the narrative in Egypt even once could be seen as a step too far from the core idea of the franchise behind The Mummy (2017).
From here, the gasps and moments of awe by Jenny Halsey are in all the places that you might expect them to be, and all of the screams of horror at camel spiders by Vail are at the pitches that you anticipated. The team uncover a sarcophagus weighed down in a vat of mercury to prevent evil spirits from taking root. When they airlift the artifacts from the tomb, whilst being chased by an eerily large sandstorm, Morton catches a glimpse of Halsey’s stomach and instead of joining her conversation about the significance of the find or develops a curiosity for the supernatural events that are beginning to unfurl, asks only why she didn’t tell everyone that they had sex for longer than fifteen seconds.
Once the sarcophagus is out of Iraq and it is learned that the person buried within is Ahmanet – an Egyptian princess written out of history for fratricide after failing to secure herself as the heiress to the throne – the intercontinental confusion continues. From the introduction to the film it is established that, during the crusades, English knights stole a gem from the dagger Ahmanet was given by Set and took it back to London where it was buried with them beneath the Thames. Even though this is an aspect of the film that makes little sense, the viewer understands the ride that they’re being taken on and decides to take the entire film with a gigantic pinch of salt and collectively bet on how many countries the film will visit before Egypt.
Ahmanet’s revival is a curious one; choosing mainly male victims and kissing them, sucking the life out of their bodies is a statement of female power and sexuality that clashes violently with the sexist character of Nick Morton and the degrading of Halsey’s character throughout the film. Perhaps choosing Morton as the ‘chosen one’ is the jewel in her revival. She requires a sacrifice of a lover, a chosen one, using the ceremonial dagger in order to complete her pact with Seth. It might seem to the viewer that Morton was chosen because he happens to be the most ‘beautiful’ person around, but it could be that his behaviour contributes towards the feminine victory that Ahmanet seeks by sacrificing him. However, this isn’t something that comes across on screen as she is never permitted to complete the ritual.
Setting aside the confusing geography, the gendered power play, and unoriginal interpretations of mythology, the real condemnation of this film lies in the decision to cast Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll. There is an understanding that the Dark Universe has a vision for incorporating a wider mythological presence in their future films but the part is one that makes even less sense than an Egyptian mummy rummaging around a crypt in Surrey and adds nothing of substance to the film. It is understood that Jekyll is a form of collector of antiquities and a purveyor of curses and ancient magic which has been inspired by his own condition. Independently, his character makes sense and his motivations are sound, but in the narrative, this is something that could only work as a film about Dr. Jekyll or some spin-off of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003). Included in the story of The Mummy (2017), the centrality Dr. Jekyll only reduces the film’s already weak presentation into complete farce – especially when paired with the use of CGI to enhance an actor’s appearance when it wasn’t required.
The Mummy (2017) is a costly misstep for Dark Universe, becoming increasingly worse as the minutes go by. Nick’s sacrifice for Halsey, stabbing himself with Set’s dagger comes out of nowhere. The time spent showing us how bad things can be when Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde neglects an already valid villain in Ahmanet and prevents any character growth and relationship dynamism. It is hard to pinpoint the moment that Nick stops objectifying Halsey and begins to develop feelings for her, but this is something lost amongst the cheese that Kurtzman begins to throw at us thick and fast; delivering monologues about good and evil and claiming that ‘sometimes it takes a monster to fight a monster’ without even giving a nod to Dr. Jekyll after Crowe fought so hard to make the character work.
However, the one promising aspect that The Mummy (2017) provides is reminding its viewers that mummies are zombies; something that sounds obvious when you say it aloud, but an angle that has been insufficiently explored throughout cinema. There are moments throughout the film where the mummified minions of Ahmanet give the film a real atmosphere of a survival horror before reducing it to a third-rate action film.
Considering that conclusions often cement parting impressions of a film, the impression that The Mummy gives in its closing frames is concerning. Despite the act of sacrificial love that Morton performs for Halsey by stabbing himself with the dagger and inviting Set into his body to prevent Ahmanet’s ritual, he informs her that he is now a monster, incapable of love, and must run away before he hurts her or anyone else he cares about. Nick revives Vail, who is presumably the only other person he cares about, and rides off into the desert sun ‘looking for adventure’. Apart from the most elaborate ‘ghosting’ scheme ever devised, the idea that Morton or Kurtzman believes that there is any more ‘adventure’ to discover in a desert other than dehydration and already populated cities is severely outdated. Just give us Brendan Fraser back.