Premature ejaculation; Islamic State; infanticide – the 2017 remake of The Mummy is a little bit more hardcore than the Brendan Fraser franchise I remember from the tail end of the 90s. Then again, I suppose we live in less innocent times now.
Yep, that’s right, we’re back in the Middle East, and touching on some of MENA’s more unsavoury aspects like drone warfare and insurgency in a way the Fraser-led Mummy films, set in 1926, never would have needed to. The child murder, at least, only happens in the now seemingly obligatory flashback sequence where we see the heinous crimes whichever morally flexible and power-hungry ancient Egyptian committed 5,000 years ago in order to get themselves mummified alive. (The same format, of course, introduced us to Imhotep’s crimes in 1999’s The Mummy and The Scorpion King’s exploits in The Mummy Returns.)
In this iteration, the eponymous villain Ahmanet, played by French-Algerian actress Sofia Boutella, kills her baby brother and parents in a fit of jealousy inspired by the New Kingdom’s (admittedly unfair) agnatic succession laws, and the relevant authorities make the smart decision to execute the last remaining member of the royal family by (surprise, surprise) burying her alive. Cue the passing of 3,000-odd years of history; her tomb is opened by a Middle East drone strike and a curse involving an ancient artefact is unleashed leaving a trail of desiccated corpses in its wake. It seems some things never change.
The prologue is just one of the many aspects of the original Mummy series the remake has retained. Other old hallmarks include hordes of creepy animals chasing and attacking people including rats, spiders and crows; scarabs, or at least some small bitey insect that I think was a scarab; and the obligatory scary faces in sandstorms. There’s even a nice little nod to the double-decker bus scene from The Mummy Returns.
There’s still a wisecracking, posh British archaeologist-cum-love interest – though this time she actually starts out having had a one-night stand with Tom Cruise’s character, which leaves space for the writers to shoehorn in unfunny jokes about “stamina”, and so on. I initially thought Annabel Wallis, who plays said love interest, was Viva Bianca from Starz’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand but no; she cut her teeth in the almost-as-bad The Tudors. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge her on a confused script, but her character is ultimately just a damsel in distress for Tom Cruise to rescue repeatedly from the clutches of the undead, and little more. I much preferred Rachel Weisz’s Evie.
Like all recent reboots, things aren’t purely restricted to references to the old franchise, even if that’s the film’s primary raison d’etre. There are new elements too, like New Girl’s Jake Johnson adding some zom-com as Tom Cruise’s wingman, bitten by a spider and zombified into serving Ahmanet near the beginning of the film. In a sense, he might be considered a replacement for John Hannah’s Jonathan in terms of comic relief, and he offers some. TC himself is a decent Brendan Fraser substitute, but not too much more than that. I mean, it’s Tom Cruise in an action movie – what’s left to say about that?
And, of course, Imhotep has finally been allowed to rest in peace. Instead, we have Ahmanet, a young female mummy. The reason why that’s significant is that another slight idiosyncrasy that pushes The Mummy into 15-rated territory (rather than the 12A one would assume for a film aiming for this level of mass appeal) comes in the form of a series of unexpectedly erotic almost-nude Egyptian seduction scenes; visions and flashbacks where Tom Cruise, quite weirdly for a man of 54, hooks up with a girl who is surely not meant to be beyond her mid to late teens…
The CGI is, thankfully, better than that in the original Mummy series, whose transformation of The Rock into a giant half-scorpion bodybuilder with leprosy could easily be argued to be the worst film CGI of all time. On the other hand, the film suffers from all the typical American problems that blockbusters set outside the States do: weird English accents—Russell Crowe brings out his cut-glass “Maximus” again—and random jumps between Oxford and Waverley Abbey in Surrey as if they are next door to one another, to name a couple.
Yet despite all this, I found I was having fun. The Mummy’s not scary at all beyond the odd jump scare, and the film loses its way badly—terribly badly—in the last third, to the extent that I still don’t know if I understood the ending correctly or not, even after poring over Wikipedia, but the bad jokes and attention to small details were almost endearing. A success The Mummy is categorically not, but nor is it without any merit whatsoever. I wouldn’t recommend bothering to see it, but don’t write off Universal’s Dark Universe just yet. After all, it took DC three tries before they finally worked things out.