Friday, May 24, 2024

The Mummy Digs Its Own Grave

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As I fish around my brain to come up with a proper way to describe Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy, the one phrase that keeps popping up is ‘aggressively meh’. Don’t get me wrong the movie is spectacularly bad. It’s just never bad enough to be entertaining.

There is not a thing in this movie that works save the actual mummy and they find new and inventive ways to make her bland too. Characters stand next to each other spouting the blandest, forced, grating, and insipid dialogue I’ve heard this side of Phantom Menace. The irony is the movie would have been more entertaining if the people involved had been less talented.

Tom Cruise’s Nick is smack in the middle of his wheelhouse. Nick is roguish, sarcastic, and arrogant. He’s a solider who’s in over his head and in the end he will be saved by the love of a good woman. Cruise has spent a decade perfecting this role to million dollar gleaming perfection.

There is not a hint of charm, intelligence, or anything at all about our reluctant hero Nick Morton. Cruise’s trademark lopsided smirk is oddly absent and his intense stare falters in a movie too busy world building to actually make any kind of emotional or tonal sense. But honestly, no matter who played Nick, their performance would still be lacking because there’s nothing for them to do or think.

The script by committee, a total of six writers, is a hodge podge of ideas, genre staples, and utterly vague notions of good vs evil. There’s a scene early on, after they discover Ahmanet’s (Sofia Boutella) tomb, where he and Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) banter back and forth. The context of the scene is Nick’s superior officer Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance) is on the scene interrogating Nick and his partner Chris (Jake Johnson) about why they are around a thousand miles from where they are supposed to be.

In sweeps Jenny claiming Nick seduced her and stole her map. Now, the movie, by this point, has previously established that Nick and Chris are soldiers.  It has also previously hinted at and implied Nick and Chris’s history of looting ancient cultural artifacts and selling them on the black market. It has also informed us that Nick and Chris are off course and are at the city of Hamamn against orders and without headquarters knowledge.

What is has not done is said word one about Nick having a one night stand at any time, at any place. It has never said where Nick got the map. Nor is the name Jenny Halsey ever mentioned or any woman at all even talked about.

Jenny is introduced to us, quite literally, out of thin air. So with no prior knowledge of who she is or what her history with Nick is, we are forced to read into the performances. A poorer compass there never was.

When Jenny accuses Nick of using her just for sex and access and Nick replies with denial of even knowing who this woman is. The result is a baffling scene in which two people of zero chemistry force banter while we are left wondering A.) Wait did he actually sleep with her? B.) Who is this woman? C.) Does he know her? D.) Am I supposed to know what’s going on here? E.) Wouldn’t it be great if they were both telling the truth? Sadly it’s not E, it never is.

The Mummy is so badly jumbled in terms of ideas basic character motivations are left to be dust in the sandstorms. The movie so badly wants to be hip and clever that it cribs from other hip and clever movies. After Chris is shot by Nick, don’t ask, just know he deserved it because Chris shot Greenway; i.e. the one character that made any kind of sense emotionally or logically. They have Chris appear to Nick, rotting corpse and all, in a direct rip off to Jon Landis’s brilliant An American Werewolf In London.  

You may be asking what is the difference between a rip-off and a homage? An homage is when you take something from another film, understand why it works, use it for your purposes in a fun and interesting way. A rip off is when you take something from another film use it for a cheap hackneyed purposes and then repeatedly go to it for shoddy plotting and horrible exposition.

Speaking of horrible expositions, there is the curious case of Doctor Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) noted physician, specialist, and head of a secret underground organization called boringly Prodigium. Their purpose is the same as all secret underground organizations run by seemingly heterosexual white males; is to fight evil. I won’t go into the wisdom of such an organization having a man who can turn into a raging psychopath with super strength if he doesn’t take his meds as its leader.

Their purpose to fight ‘Evil’ with a capital ‘E’ seems circumspect at best. If they are so willing to kill Nick to end the curse, then shouldn’t they do the same for Jekyll?  Not to mention the idea that they would want to pump Ahmanet’s body with mercury as a sort of living torture seems extreme considering her real sins are centuries old.

That’s not true, Ahmanet does wish to rule the world using Nick’s body as a vessel for the God of Death but I’d be willing to overlook all that to be ruled by Ahmanet. If only because the mummy is the best part about The Mummy. Fittingly, of course, then you’d want to focus on the white hetero male protagonist.

Boutella, more than anyone in this entire cast, seems to have a bead on her character. Out of everyone we see, Ahmanet is the most interesting, charismatic, fleshed out character. The problem is Kurtzman spends most of the movie trying to show us as much of Sofia Boutella as possible. Her burial wrappings exposing as much of her skin as the PG-13 rating will allow; swaths of bandage covering strategic portions of her body.

Kurtzman seems to take every available opportunity to plant his camera behind Boutella so her hindquarters are framed next to the action. The real crime is how Boutella as an actress has been underserved and how we as an audience have been deprived of what could have been a truly interesting Universal Monster like the ones of old.

The Mummy is so utterly devoid of anything resembling personality that it won’t even be remembered as the stinker it is. Outside of of Boutella, there is nothing memorable about it. This is corporate franchise by the numbers filmmaking at it’s most bald face worst. All you can do is remember the name Sofia Boutella and anticipate the next time you see her name it will be better than The Mummy.

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

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