On the Wrong Side of the River — The Mummy (2017) Review
Note: He who reads from this review will be cursed with spoilers.
I’ll start this off by saying I didn’t walk in the theater with high expectations. The reviews had forewarned me, box office receipts were a telltale sign, and my own sense of judgment gave a me stern look and said, “Okay, but just remember if it turns out to be a waste of six dollars, that’s on you.” In its second weekend, The Mummy (2017) could barely rouse a group of ten people to come see it — including myself, I’m pretty sure there were eight people crowding up those seats in the auditorium I was in. If its opening weekend was any indication, this film was not one people were going to brave this unlawful humidity to see. I personally went because I wanted to have an opinion, actually see if it was as bad as the public deems it is, and because with The Mummy (1999) being one of my favorite films and one of my key introductions to horror, I wanted to see how this one — being a reboot — could stack up. Can somebody say Jenga!
Now, this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself, because I did. It was cheap, fun action/adventure popcorn flick entertainment. I was slightly amused (among other things) almost the entire movie and Tom Cruise once again proves that he’s a leading man. But that’s just it though. At 54, with a career spanning more than 30 years and having become a household blockbuster name in that time, being a leading man should be the last thing Mr. Cruise has to prove. Yet The Mummy plays out like some child’s desperate attempt to get their distracted father interested in them, trying to show that they can perform this specific trick through overperforming, underwhelming execution, and incoherent actions. It was quite confusing and almost sad to watch at times, because I get the sense that the filmmakers and Cruise had good intentions. …They just forgot what those intentions were along the way.
What makes The Mummy such a disappointment for me is, first and foremost, it falls victim to what I’ll call the Revolting Redux, basically a strain that has swept through Hollywood and made them voracious for remakes. Reboots. Re-it hasn’t even been ten years but we gon’ run this thing through the remix wheel and milk it for all its worth! You know what I’m talking about. These days, originality is severely lacking in film. I get that nostalgia is a thing but it’s now become an almost vile anachronism, bringing up something from the past and tweaking it to fit today’s standards with the same title. Sometimes it works. …When it happens rarely. But it’s happening all the time now and it takes away the novelty of the work, that “Oooh! I remember this but this version looks better!” feeling. Very rarely do I hear anyone say something of the sort about these remakes and reboots nowadays.
The Mummy got a bad rep upon announcement because it had been only 13 years since the last version, which was itself a remake. Granted The Mummy (1999) came about sixty-seven years after the original The Mummy (1932), the one from this year was too much too soon in comparison and in general. I mean, after the disappointment that was The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) (and I’m talking more about society’s reception to it than my own, here) there should not have been any more Mummy films unless they A) got everything figured out to make a good sequel again, B) waited until they got the original cast back — and I mean everybody; Rachel Weisz, come on back; Oded Fehr, we miss you, boy — or C) all of the above, with Stephen Sommers manning the helm. The Mummy (2017) was getting the side-eye because wow, we really don’t need another of those — and a remake/reboot no less — and second, Tom Cruise? Was I reading hieroglyphics when that was announced? Because it just didn’t make sense. These types of movies just didn’t seem to fit Tom Cruise for me, didn’t seem to be suited to his acting frame. Sure, he did Mission Impossible. But listen.
The Mummy isn’t all about high-key, frenetic action. It’s more about action rooted in some kind of mystery/fantasy theme, complete with a dash of horror on the side. This isn’t to say that Cruise isn’t capable it’s just does it fit him? He’s not Brendan Fraser, who was the heart of the 1999–2008 Mummy movies through his humorous charm and adventurer action. He isn’t a young Harrison Ford, whose navigation of deathly cave traps solidified him as Indy in the hearts of millions. I wouldn’t be surprised if some characteristics of Rick O’Connell are modeled after him. What makes Cruise not blend with this series of movies is he doesn’t have that down-to-earth feel, that “I’m an adventurer!”-that-truly-reeks-of-exploration vibe to him. I don’t say this to say he’s a horrible actor because he’s not. But Cruise’s eminence is so inadvertently off-putting for the kind of series this film comes from that it has him trying too hard to keep his feet on the ground, viciously struggling to get the audience to like him in this role. It didn’t feel natural. Granted again, Fraser and Ford weren’t very well known when they nabbed their respective roles in The Mummy and Indiana Jones franchises — well, Ford was, considering Star Wars but Indiana Jones was his first big leading role. All things considered, those were actually the two roles that really shot them into celebrity status and one of the roles they’re arguably both still well known for today. What filmmakers could have done with this version is actually repeat that method and cast lesser known actors for something as big as this. I understand because it was big that they wanted to gun for big names but still — I truly feel some other male lead that was not Tom Cruise would have been a better fit for the role, maybe even more so if we didn’t already know their name. But, Cruise is what we got and what we’re going to be dealing with going forward, now that The Mummy serves as the introduction to Universal’s Dark Universe film series, a la Marvel’s Cinematic Universe but for monster movies. Which brings me to my next point.
With The Mummy acting as our first foray into Universal’s planned monster cinematic universe, I feel it could have been better handled. I understand they’re excited and eager to get us into this universe but there’s a difference between a handshake and a full-on grab-my-hand-and-yank-my-docile-frame-into-an-unwanted-and-unwarranted-bear-hug. You know what I’m talking about, so let’s just talk about it. The Jekyll + Hyde scene. What in the utter mess was that?! See, one of the film’s biggest red flags was its inconsistency, the pure incoherence of structure and narrative. At times, it felt like I watching two different movies! And at this particular instance, it felt like I was watching three. So, on top of Tom Cruise trying to get us to believe him in this role through the over-reliance of humor and chemistry flatter than my chest with Annabelle Wallis’ character Jenny, y’all just gon’ throw in Russell Crowe pulling a Me, Myself, and Irene at the cusp of everything? Okay.
Crowe’s character’s identity being hinted as Jekyll and Hyde’s was excessive at most but I suppose fit with the introduction of the Prodigium, the setting I expect will serve as the central hub for the Dark Universe (a la Stark Tower from the MCU). Crowe was doing enough as his character with what he was given but I think he was given too much because for virtually five minutes, The Mummy (2017) abruptly became The Jekyll and Hyde Show. Now, seeing Tom Cruise get accosted by a rabid and I admit humorous Mr. Hyde was entertaining, it just didn’t fit the movie. Like a pair of expensive sneakers with a loose-fitting t-shirt and saggy, torn skinny jeans, it was a visual faux paus, a mesh of ideas that just did not end up going together. That particular scene should have been saved for another movie in the Dark Universe (I don’t know, perhaps Dr. Jekyll’s?) or at least been given less emphasis.
As an audience member, I can get that Jekyll/Hyde is important and will be a central character in the Dark Universe. Let me get that. But don’t shove it down my throat. This scene may have been intercut with Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet’s escape but even that came off as opaque. Instead of trying to glue the two scenes together to form a cohesive narrative, you should have just taken out Crowe’s transformation. You were fine just showing him begin to transform but then stopping it via injection of Hyde-suppressant or whatever the hell was in that nanite-syringe. That was enough. We understood where you were going with that. The main point of that scene, aside from establishing Hyde as a possible central antagonist of the Dark Universe, was to show that Hyde wanted to partner with Nick and become an evil dynamic duo (I’ll give them props for “The ladies’ll love us.” line. That’s what you call good comedic timing, Tom!). Right. Okay. I also get that. But then again, on top of what is going on — which is a lot at this point — you honestly don’t have to add anymore to the pot. The soup is already so thick. The scene was incredibly hard to swallow because it made me trying to like this movie that much harder. Earlier, I mentioned it felt like I was watching two different movies. Allow me to elaborate.
One of the biggest reasons why I assume critics and audiences alike julienned this film was for the fact that its inconsistency was practically offensive. A film being more than one genre is not unheard of. It is a regular thing, done with complete normalcy. What is not normal is to have those lines of genre be so glaringly clear that we can actually see where on the puzzle the piece was placed. As it turns out, most of the pieces just didn’t fit. The Mummy (1999) was largely an action/adventure film that can also be considered and seen as fantasy/horror. You see what happens with that slash mark? The four genres, though different, mesh so well that when we talk about a movie such as 99’s Mummy, they practically become symmetrical.
The mixing of elements and themes was very well done with that Mummy: Mummy — horror. Hamunaptra — adventure. Rick O’Connell — action. Book of the Dead — fantasy. The mummy coming after O’Connell and O’Connell trying to procure the Book of the Dead located in Hamunaptra to stop him. Bam. We’ve got a cohesive movie of genres. Throw Beni in the mix and the humor involved in that and you have a bit of comedy — not enough to overpower the film but compliment its narrative. And it’s not just a plot that makes a film cohesive. It’s the elements of that plot, of that film as a whole. If it wasn’t the messy handling of introducing the Dark Universe to us, it was the over-saturation of Cruise and Jake Johnson’s, who played Nick’s cursed sidekick Chris Vail, disdainful brand of buddy comedy that broke this film’s metaphorical camel’s back . Also, not one camel was in this movie. Instead, they used horses. Let that sink in. A movie about a mummy… But no camels. Okay.
Anyway, I feel Cruise and Johnson’s jokes and comedic aspects were supposed to bounce off each other, really be funny and get funnier through good acting-synergy. That did not happen. The jokes belly-flopped, the humor was empty, and the overacting turned my smirks from ones of amusement to “God help these children.” Jake Johnson, much like he did in his role in Jurassic World, uses his likeable nature to become familiar with the audience. In the aforementioned film, he reminded one of the friendly and funny nerd at work. That role worked for him. In The Mummy, his humor was strangely dissonant, becoming too much for the movie because he was doing too much. It would better fit into an over-the-top, made-just-for-laughs-with-no-substance summer movie, like what The Hangover series turned into or what I can only assume Rough Night turned out to be. To put it quite simply, he was extra. He and Cruise both were when it came to the humor. Like I said before, Cruise was trying too hard for us to like him and Johnson came off as the class clown who is only funny not because he is but because he tries too hard to make us laugh. It just doesn’t work. All of this flat humor became pointless, actually ruining points in the movie where it could’ve been good but failed because of its horrid execution.
Like the scene in the church, with Ahmanet performing the ritual of putting Set inside Nick. I wanted so badly to laugh when Ahmanet’s examination of Nick’s chest and abdomen, particularly his ribs made him laugh but instead I just sat there with a look on my face like, “Is this mess actually happening? Is this what we’re doing here?” But it was when Jenny walks in on the ritual in a way that is framed as her walking in on some crazy group sex act, that I was expecting to bowl over with heehaws. Instead Cruise’s exclamation of “Jenny!” after the five second silence was met with an even longer silence from the auditorium and a Whitney Houston-grade unimpressed stare from me. It just all didn’t work. And the incoherence of the humor made the film feel at times like a really bad comedy. The horror element wasn’t that much better either, which disappoints me because one of the reasons I was so interested in the film was because I read early on that it would be “darker” than the Fraser films, that it would actually be a return to form like the 1932 Mummy, which was horror.
The humor displaced the horror and the horror felt like it wasn’t doing enough to really establish that heeey, this is Dark Universe, we’re gonna get all types of scary up in here! Aside from the scenes with Ahmanet sucking the life forces out of men for resuscitation and… Actually? That’s it. There is no “and” here. Those were really only the scary parts. Even when Nick got possessed with Set, I still wasn’t jumpy. The Mummy can clearly be seen as two, or three, movies in one, which is a bad thing here because each of the films failed on its own accord. Comedy? Not funny. Horror? Not really scary. Dr. Jekyll and friggin’ Mr. Hyde?!
I said it at the beginning and I’ll say it here: I enjoyed the movie. I will most likely get it on Blu-ray. Probably not the moment it is released but at some point in my life, I imagine the case sitting on my coffee table as I sip wine, watching the commentary to try and pinpoint the exact moment where the filmmakers messed up. I like Tom Cruise as an actor. I even like Jake Johnson. I think that Ms. Boutella stole the show but the film did her so character so dirty — I’m hoping she’ll make another appearance in the Dark Universe to redeem herself. I think the film was an improvement for Annabelle Wallis after the disaster that was 2014’s Annabelle. But this film cannot compare to the series in which it’s unfortunately a part of.
I feel if The Mummy (2017) was a standalone film, outside of the Sommers series and perhaps not with the mummy moniker, it may have fared a little better. Maybe not by much, but at least it wouldn’t have left me shaking my head in disapproval at its attempt to call itself a reboot of a series that didn’t even need to be rebooted. With all of that said, I will mention the single greatest moment of the film, which happened during Wrestlemania: Mr. Hyde vs. Capsized Cruise. Jenny, while trying to break through unbreakable glass to get to Nick and evade one of the Prodigium’s top flight security guards, grabs a weighty book and knocks aforementioned security-of-the-world out with it. Upon dropping it and fleeing, the book is revealed to be none other than the iconic Book of the Dead. My mouth dropped clean open. I was shocked. I was happy. And for the first and only time during the film, I was full of, “Yes!” So, while the inclusion of the Book of the Dead confirms that this Mummy and 99’s Mummy are set in the same universe, it also does what these reboots and remakes fail to do on the whole in a two second scene, no less: give us that feeling of what made the movies that’re being remade so good.
I can’t say exactly what that is. It varies from film to film. But with or without that small element, The Mummy is about as dry as Ahmanet’s bandages and struggles to crawl to a good enough conclusion to keep up interest in the Dark Universe. Not to worry. I’ll still be watching because I believe that what Universal is doing has immense potential. I would just hate to see it be squandered, as was done with this film. Put The Mummy in that reservoir of mercury with Ahmanet’s sarcophagus. I’ll trigger the pulley system when I feel like it. Just don’t hold your breath.