Let’s start this off by saying, I 100% came in having heard and read a lot of the terrible reviews, but I don’t usually give a crap about reviews. Though I did read a really good review about all “The Mummy” movies, from the 1932 one onward. Now, I love a lot of “terrible” movies. This movie was said to be terrible. And it was. But the thing is, I can actually see where it could have been a good, if not a fun movie.
Where The Mummy 2017 fails is very simple, it doesn’t give us characters to root and care about. I’m sure I’m not the first person to say that. The magic of the 1999’s The Mummy was the characters and their interactions. The chemistry and emotional connection between every single character was clear and layered. The plot was simple and followed the basic premise set up by the 1932 version: A cursed Egyptian priest comes back to life by someone reading an incantation and tries to resurrect his lover by kidnapping a woman to use as her body, his powers are great and phantomless and can bring about the end of the world. Our intrepid heroes must stop him! But, wait, his backstory is sympathetic. What? Yes, it is. Imhotep and Anck-su-namun had a forbidden love which they were both killed for. They’re our villains, and his curse feeds into his destructive powers, fueling his revenge, but they cared about each other.
Plus our heroes were great. They were fun, funny, they cared about each other, they all fight into the action adventure tropes, but flipped them so neatly and made them better. They quickly became a team and family. They’d do wild and crazy things to protect each other. Rick and Evie’s romance flowed so naturally. The care Evie and Jonathan had for each other was as easy as breathing to take in. Even the secondary team had a camaraderie between them. Ardeth Bey became a quick and natural ally. It understood character interaction within the action-romcom-monster horror movie that it was.
The Mummy 2017 seems to forget all that.
Now, if The Mummy 1999 was an action-romcom-monster horror (A GEM OF A TRIFECTA) this is an action-monster movie. That’s fine! I have no problem with them trying to do something a bit different and it’s opening the Universal Dark Universe – to which the SUPER EXTRA “Dark Universe” opening they did was a bit over the top – but it was really only as the end scene happened and Henry and Jenny do their voice over but it all clicked for me.
Before that my struggle was that none of these characters seemed to have a true investment in each other, until that moment. How are you supposed to enjoy and care about a movie if it’s not until the last minutes that the connections between the characters blossoms?
They share scenes together and they save each other but it all felt like beats they had to hit for the script to move forward. Meet our male hero in peril, meet our brainy female lead, he will save her, she will see him a hero, trouble comes, a lot of trouble, our hero saves the girl but wait. I’ll get to that.
First off, Ahmanet revenge story wasn’t even a revenge story and her backstory isn’t sympathetic. That’s cool, I don’t need female villains to be sympathetic. The problem became when her driving plot wasn’t even about her and her desires but about finishing her side of a deal with Set. To gain her powers she made the deal that she’d bring him back to life and make him all powerful. So a story about a woman choosing evil to become more powerful and become the rightful ruler she believes she is becomes a story about a woman oweing a man her power and giving him more. Ugh. Boring.
Nick’s plot is almost like every recent Mission Impossible Tom Cruise as done except he’s in full anti-hero mode, and knows it. I literally fell asleep in the last twenty minutes and had to rewatch it because it was the classic Tom Cruise runs around a city. A military trained “liberation of precious antiquities”, but really a good man inside. A moment undercut when he tells Jenny that he thought there was another parachute when he saved her from the crashing plane. Still, this is all a classic anti-hero trope you can make work. See Edge of Tomorrow you want to see Tom Cruise actually work and nail this trope. You can even make the dynamic of “this is my life’s work and you were going to steal it” work. I mean, has anyone ever watched The Saint? Not Cruise, but one of my favorite movies. However in very few instances do you really see or feel Nick’s a good guy. He’s thrust into this position of being hunted for his body, literally, and he wants out. Understandable. The problem I found is that his heroic transformation happens almost too quickly. Suddenly: he makes a selfless choice, but there was nothing there before to anchor it.
Jenny, our other female lead, is basically the Alice Eve of this movie. If you don’t know what I mean by this, I’m referring to Alice Eve’s character in Star Trek: Into Darkness. The sexy lampshade. She’s an archeologist, cool. She works for Dr. Henry Jekyll’s paranormal agency, cool. Nick slept with her and stole her map, not cool, but he really likes her, he’s not lying this time. (*eyeroll*) These facts are pretty much all we learn about her. It might worked better if Wallis and Cruise had better chemistry, but strangely for Cruise, this is the first time I’ve seen barely connecting with his female costars. But Jenny is here to be reactionary to the events around her and remind us Nick is A Good Guy. Even Ahmanet with her messy and buried motivations get to be more of a character than Jenny.
Our final two main characters are Dr. Henry Jekyll and Phil. They both play guides to Nick in different ways. Henry Jekyll is our exposition and reminder that this movie is gonna be part of a greater universe. Phil’s our ghostly guide to the plot.
Together none of them really ever hit a moment where you believe these people care about the other’s wellbeing outside the plot. I’ll throw the exception with Nick and Phil, as Nick uses his powers from Set to bring Phil back to life. Ahmanet is used to make Nick into our ultimate anti-hero monster Nick/Set, but in his heroic plot twist it becomes his choice to which, oh yeah, Nick sacrifices himself, taking in Set, and becomes more powerful than Ahmanet. His struggle never feels earned, but he still reaps the rewards. He becomes super powerful, can bring people back from the dead. I personally find having two Jekyll/Hyde archetypes to be bloated, but I think that’s going to be the vibe of the Dark Universe. People fighting the monsters they became.
In the end, the movie can’t and won’t escape being compared to the 1999 version, and while it’s in no way trying to tell the same story of the 1932 or 1999 version, it missed out on what made Stephen Sommer’s version great: excellent and layered character interaction within a simple plot. Notice I didn’t talk much about the plot, because at it’s core it is simple and does parallel the older Mummy plots: Ahmanet feels, rightfully, slighted when her father has a male heir. Makes a deal with the devil (Set), kills her family, has to bring Set into our realm. Is stopped, cursed, and now is unleashed on the world, still looking for a host for Set. Our heroes stop her. Unfortunately for us and the movie our heroes are so shallowly written.
The only way I can look back on this movie and get past it’s many flaws is realising what it could have been about had they had a clearer plan: a movie about terrible people becoming monsters, and within that transformation their better natures are enhanced as they battle the monstrosity in them. The sympathetic villain is now tried and true sub-genre in Hollywood, but it has to hit the mark to work. This did not.