Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There’s a reason why Universal keeps remaking films from their classic monster movie library. The timeless tales speak to a universal (pun intended) quality found in humanity – how we all have the capability for good and bad inside. Some wrestle with this more than others, naturally, pitting the light against the dark. Though we’ve seen a handful of different iterations of THE MUMMY before, it’s director Alex Kurtzman’s modernized version that establishes the genre’s subtext as text. While they sufficiently pit good against evil, and even spotlight some ambiguity between the two, a myriad of elements weigh things down.
Years ago, in ancient Egypt, skilled warrior Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) was set to take the throne right before her father bore a male child. Consumed with hatred and the lust for power, she makes a pact with the God of Death and kills her family. However, right before she was to seal the deal, her people mummify her alive, trapping her in a sarcophagus, burying her deep within the ground. Hundreds of years later, Sergeant Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), Corporal Vail (Jake Johnson) and private antiquities hunter Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) uncover her tomb and unwittingly set free a possible end to mankind. Nick is easily manipulated by Ahmanet to become her chosen one, because he’s impulsive, selfish, cocky and brash. But what she doesn’t count on is the good inside him aided by Jenny’s love. As Ahmanet regains her strength and searches for the maguffin the “Dagger of Set” to complete her ritual, Nick and Jenny do everything in their power to stop her.
THE MUMMY, which kicks off the studio’s new “Dark Universe” franchise (which was supposed to begin with DRACULA UNTOLD until they hit the reset button), does a terrific job laying the groundwork for the upcoming features in this burgeoning franchise. Their universe building technique is noticeably stronger than in either of the comic book cinematic universe’s. Allusions to the announced titles are integrated seamlessly, placed obviously enough for even a casual fan to notice. Pay attention to what’s in the formaldehyde jars and what decorates the walls when Nick is led into the headquarters of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe). The filmmakers seem to have spent the most time working on this portion as it’s the most engaging part of the entire film.
That said, it’s a shame the filmmakers didn’t take a similar approach when constructing the rest. Screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, David Koepp and Dylan Kussman, who work from a story by Kurtzman, Jon Spaihts and Jenny Lumet, aren’t terribly interested in gifting us with a sense of wonder, spectacle or awe. Action set pieces are decent, but still manage to be generic in their lack of intensity. It doesn’t get much better than the plane crash in the first act. Attempts at levity are made with the interjection of a dead Vail haunting Nick, but most of those scenes don’t land. You might find humor elsewhere, like in the church scene, or maybe inadvertently at a clunky line Johnson delivers at the end. There are a few minor frights since the story’s roots are planted in the horror genre. However, despite its nods to body horror and the psychological anguish, tonally it’s reinvented primarily as a family-friendly action-adventure fantasy more than anything. Nick’s inner conflict – his conscience’s struggle between good and bad – is back loaded, saved until the third act forces it to be there rather than peppered throughout. Cruise has the deft ability to play this undercurrent, but the material hobbles him.
While I would love to praise it for gender inclusion and creating strong, capable female characters (villains or heroines), I just can’t. The filmmakers take the sexist adage, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” to heart. Jenny is introduced as a scorned lover, and devolves from an intelligent archaeologist to someone exclusively there to aid the male agency – servicing both boss Dr. Jekyll and love interest Nick. Where did her autonomy go? She’s ultimately downgraded to a damsel in distress trope. Ahmanet, too, shoulders her fair share of problems. The character’s feminist underpinnings suffer from a slight case of daddy issues. She’s turned evil because of societal sexism, not necessarily because of her unquenchable thirst for power. Though it was also done by Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep in the 1999 version, the not-so-subtle metaphorical implication of a woman sucking the life out of men isn’t lost on me. Plus, there’s an oft-used breakup line at the end that’s jarringly out of place, and whose snarky sentiment detracts from the stakes – making you want to kiss this one off.
THE MUMMY opens on June 9.