The Mummy (2017)

JUNE 25, 2017

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Much like DC (which is only now getting it right with Wonder Woman), Universal is going about their idea to create a new shared movie universe based on all of their classic monster characters - Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, etc. I'm all for the gamble - the old ones crossed over anyway, and successful big budget horror (or, "horror") films can only help the greater good. Things were supposed to kick off with Dracula Untold, but pre-release press for The Mummy suggested that one has been retconned out of the grander plan for some reason. Well, I mean, the reason might be that it was not a big success nor was it liked all that much, but same goes for this goddamn movie (in fact it got even worse reviews), and Dracula didn't have one of the most dependable actors in the world starring in it, so in some ways Mummy is an even bigger flop (both films managed to make back their money thanks to overseas grosses, for what it's worth). The next one is Bride of Frankenstein, inexplicably coming before any actual Frankenstein film, so it seems to me they really don't know what the hell they're doing.

(For more evidence: they've also cast Johnny Depp in one of the proposed films.)

Anyway, I can't say I would be opposed to the idea of Tom Cruise going against the other monsters down the road, because he's Tom Cruise and I will watch him do anything, but this film does not inspire much confidence for their franchise or even a straightforward sequel. There's a great video online of Trey Parker and Matt Stone talking to a film class about how they hate big budget movies that can be broken down with "And then this happens, and then this happens" (as opposed to "This happens, which causes this to happen, which results in this happening", etc), and even though it's a few years old they might as well be talking about this movie, which is never boring as far as "stuff is happening!" goes, but I couldn't tell you much about WHY any of it was happening, and I certainly never cared about a goddamn person in it. The movie was so weightless that at one point I woke up without realizing I had ever fallen asleep, and couldn't tell if I had missed 30 seconds or 30 minutes based on how little engagement the film had provided until that point anyway.

Sadly, per the Wiki synopsis it turns out that what I missed (it turned out to be about five minutes, maybe) was a scene with Russell Crowe, who is the only good thing about the movie as he's clearly having fun and using a goofy accent on occasion for good measure, so I was at least charmed by his scenery chewing silliness. He's playing Dr. Henry Jekyll, a character that has been inexplicably refashioned into a sort of ringleader for a secret society of folks who take down supernatural entities. So he's a good guy in theory, but since he wants to kill Cruise (which will allow the film's female villain mummy, Ahmanet, to complete a ritual that will allow Jekyll to kill HER in turn) and also turns into Mr. Hyde for a few minutes the movie treats him as a secondary antagonist, which was a boneheaded call. Worse, we in the audience have to try to figure out how much of the actual Jekyll - i.e. the one moviegoers are familiar with - is still part of this character's story, since he's basically playing the exact same role as Colin Farrell in last year's Fantastic Beasts (he's even introduced the same way, waltzing into an area where workers are trying to clean up and throwing his weight around) instead of the usual scientist, and thus his split personality has no bearing on anything. You could cut his Hyde freakout entirely and it wouldn't make a lick of difference.

In fact you could cut any chunk out and it wouldn't matter. The editors (three of them credited) certainly did, as Annabelle Wallis' character has an awkward introduction that seems recreated with looping in order to hide what was an actual intro that got lost along the way. I also doubt Courtney B. Vance was hired to play such a thankless role as Cruise's superior (one of many things that suggest Cruise's role was written for someone younger; Vance is only like 3 years older than him but he treats Cruise like a rookie he'd like to kick in the ass) who has less than five minutes of screentime, and several other scenes seemingly come out of nowhere, as if there was more connective tissue (read: slower dialogue scenes) that got excised in order to ensure the audience never had to go more than 16 seconds without seeing another CGI effect. Once Cruise is "killed" (as seen in the trailer) and revived, the movie is little more than an endless chase scene where Cruise and Wallis dodge CGI (they even outrun a flood at one point) while trying to... well, I have no idea. They don't have any particular goal, no "We must return the stone to the tomb" or any kind of silly ticking clock scenario to deal with - they're just basically trying to not die, and run until the movie has reached a runtime that is acceptable for a film that cost $125m (at least).

One thing I can give it some credit for, however: it's closer to horror movie than the Brendan Fraser version. Ahmanet is constantly sucking the life out of dudes (it's very Lifeforce) and conjuring zombie minions and the like to do her bidding, and director Alex Kurtzman keeps things fairly dark unlike the more sun-drenched Stephen Sommers films. It's still more of an action-adventure film than horror, but the balance is better than I expected, so for that I can give them some credit. I'm not sure why Universal is hellbent on creating a "monster" universe that downplays the monstrous side of things, but at least they're not totally dropping the genre angle. There's a bit where Cruise gets swarmed by bugs that's genuinely unnerving, and the scenes with Jake Johnson (as Cruise's best bud) are mostly lifted straight out of American Werewolf in London, as Johnson is a zombie/ghost thing that shows up to tell his still-living friend what's going on. I can't see how Bride of Frankenstein (from Bill Condon, no less) will be anything but a gothic romance/horror, but hopefully if this series goes forward it they embrace the horror elements as much as possible - I get that they can't go full R with these big budgets (and future installments being planned), but there's no need to turn all the monsters into superheroes. We have those in the other cinematic universe movies - make this stand out!

I also hope future films have zero involvement from Alex Kurtzman, who has proven time and time again that he is a simply awful storyteller. I can't imagine anyone trying to make sense out of this film if they had no previous knowledge of (and, more importantly, affection for) these characters, and more than once I was reminded of the Transformers films that he co-wrote. Everything is a big climax, everything is spectacle, and there's nothing holding it all together - the "slow moments" exist for no other reason than to provide the characters with an excuse to change locations before all the chaos starts again. He's one of the many filmmakers of modern times who seem to have never learned that action can't continue to be exciting when there's never any break from it. Even a movie like Speed, which is literally "non-stop" (since, you know, the bus can't stop) takes time to just let the bus be driving along without obstacles so the characters can talk, or cut back to Jeff Daniels (or even Dennis Hopper) doing non-action stuff, before they get back to the next impending disaster. Kurtzman's version of Speed would be an endless series of "Oh no the bridge isn't finished!" moments with zero dialogue beyond "Oh no!" and "Get down!" type of shit, and we'd be rooting for the bus to explode after 20 minutes.

Unfortunately he's set to produce them all, so unless they drop him like they did Dracula Untold, there's little reason to be hopeful. I mean, separate from all this shit I can't think of a better potential director for a Bride of Frankenstein remake than Bill Condon, but I also don't know how much influence Kurtzman will have over it and if Condon will have to acquiesce to including any of this film's characters and/or shoehorning in some introductory roles for ones from the next films (Depp's Invisible Man and, presumably, a new Dracula, since it'd be weird to leave him out). After some missteps in the middle there (Iron Man 2 being the worst offender), Marvel finally figured out how to keep their films from feeling like extended previews for the upcoming ones, and it seems DC has gotten it under control as well since Wonder Woman saves such crap for its bookending scenes (basically just a reference to an unseen Bruce Wayne), so there's hope Universal can follow suit. They'd be best to just let Condon be and figure out how to tie them together later, i.e. once they've gotten to a point where they've made a movie or two that people actually like. You know, like they did in the 1930s and 40s anyway.

What say you?

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