Thursday, June 8, 2017

Review of THE MUMMY (2017): Familiar Fare, but Forward Facing

June 7, 2017

The Mummy had been a Hollywood horror film staple since Boris Karloff got all wrapped up in those burial linens back in 1932. In 1999 and 2001, director Stephen Sommers directed a couple of successful Mummy films starring the charming team of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz as Egyptian explorers Rick and Evy O'Connell who discovered the mummy of Imphotep. However, an ill-conceived third installment in 2008 which replaced Weisz with Maria Bello as it moved the action to China doomed the franchise to its extinction. This year, as if there was nothing else for Hollywood to do, there is yet another stab at reviving the Mummy as a worthy film monster. 

Ahmanet was a princess all set to be queen of Egypt, until her father had a newborn son. This bitter turn in her fate caused her to turn to the dark side and exact revenge on those who intervened with her destiny. Just as she was supposed to summon the god of death Set to be her partner in a life of evil, her spell was interrupted and Ahmanet was shackled, mummified alive and buried in a tomb in Mesopotamia. 

In the present day, a skilled but crafty army sergeant Nick Morton dabbled in illegal sales of ancient artifacts with his accomplice Chris Vail. When a bomb dropped by a plane uncovers an Egyptian tomb in Iraq, Nick, Chris and archaeologist Jenny Halsey stumble into and wake up the malevolent spirit of Ahmanet who was still hellbent in completing her original spell to unite with Set, choosing Nick (but of course) to be his human vessel.

The direction by Alex Kurtzman made for an engaging 107 minutes as he navigated the story with just the right mix of action, scares, comedy and special effects to keep things interesting. Though some plot points may feel rehashed or iffy, the script is healthy, jointly crafted by David Koepp (who wrote the box office hits "Jurassic Park," "Mission: Impossible", "Spider-Man") and Christopher McQuarrie (who wrote "Valkyrie" and "Edge of Tomorrow" for Cruise and won an Oscar for "The Usual Suspects" before those).

Having Tom Cruise in the lead role of course meant that his character Nick Morton would get involved with the Mummy more intimately than Brendan Fraser ever did. The whole story eventually turned to revolve around Nick's character more than the Mummy, setting up for sequels to follow. We are all so familiar with how Cruise does in these adventure roles. There is no doubt that he could nail this new role, and he did deliver as if this was another one of his "Mission: Impossible" cases with a supernatural twist and a sense of humor. Now whether a viewer will like his performance (or not) will depend on how he likes Cruise, still a most polarizing actor to date.

Annabelle Wallis is beautiful and passionate, but felt too icy as Jenny Halsey, making me miss the warmth Rachel Weisz brought to Evy O'Connell in the previous Mummy films. Jake Johnson provides much of the comic relief as Nick's sidekick, Chris -- a character whose development in this film makes him someone to look forward to the sequels. Now he's warm, even if he is undead.

The exotic Sofia Boutella fulfills the promise of her scene-stealing turns in "Kingsman: The Secret Service" and "Star Trek Beyond" in her title role of Ahmanet/The Mummy in which which she totally immersed. Russell Crowe tries his best in his role as Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that one with Mr. Hyde), but I felt that having this character in there was a case of too much artistic license by the writers. The odd inclusion of the line "This is the moment" can be annoying for some viewers, but it can elicit a smile from theater goers who recognize the lyrics of the musical.

Overall, I thought this new incarnation of "The Mummy" is a promising boot of the planned Dark Universe franchise by Universal Studios (with reboots of Van Helsing and Frankenstein in the works). The way this film ended pointed towards sequels which may go in a totally different direction from how this first film went. I am optimistic for its ability to connect with its audience because it did not take itself too seriously, knowing it is treading on very familiar ground. The effort to create an original mythology for a mysterious new character whose future is yet unknown is much appreciated and something to look forward to. 7/10.

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