Although there’s no such thing as a necessary movie, 2017’s reboot of The Mummy is such an affront to the cinematic arts that I couldn’t help but question its reason for being. Here is a movie that seems at pains to be as unimaginative and uninteresting as possible. It tells a story that not even suspension of disbelief can improve. It features characters who are dull and unengaging. As a supernatural action thriller/comedy, its only apparent goals are to distract us with scene after scene of special effects and look good on the screen. And indeed it does, especially in IMAX 3D. Oh, and of course it’s intended to be the start of a franchise, because God knows we don’t have enough of them already.
There are many films that share its title and basic premise, an Egyptian mummy resurrected in the present day, but it will most likely be compared only to Stephen Sommers’ 1999 film starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, if not because it’s the most recent, then because both it and this new film use humor to cut through the horror. Yes, but it worked for the ‘99 film, which was more Saturday matinee serial than monster movie; like Indiana Jones, it presented a romanticized vision of rip-roaring adventure and action-packed thrills. The ‘17 film doesn’t share those pulp sensibilities. It’s simply a modern movie that wants to be both scary and funny. In trying to be both, it succeeds in being neither.
This is the only Mummy movie I know of in which mercury suppresses evil spirits, Egyptian sarcophagi are buried within an Iraqi war zone, and the title character’s resurrection is possible without reciting an incantation on an ancient stone tablet. I will give credit to the title character’s backstory, if not for its originality then for being the one aspect of the plot that seemed at least halfway thought out. The daughter of a pharaoh, she sold her soul to the dark gods when her father remarried and produced a male heir, stripping her of the kingdom she was to inherit; upon being caught trying to invoke a god into a living body, she was mummified alive and buried thousands of miles away from Egypt.
Once this has been established, and you should know it amounts to little more than the first five minutes, the film loses all momentum and devolves into silliness and apathy. Tom Cruise stars as a selfish soldier of fortune who, upon unwittingly freeing the ancient Egyptian princess (Sofia Boutella), becomes her chosen vessel for hosting a dark god. At his side is a spunky Egyptologist (Annabelle Wallis), who doubles as an agent for a secret monster-eradicating organization in London. This organization is led by none other than Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who, in order to keep control of his evil alter ego Mr. Hyde, has to periodically inject himself with the kind of sadistic multi-needled syringe that exists only in screenplays.
Every actor in this movie has proven him or herself competent and engaging in other projects. Here, they’re given absolutely nothing interesting to say or do, and they seem at a loss to account for their casting. Topping that list is Cruise; we know he can successfully helm action movies, which makes it all the more surprising that he’s so adrift in The Mummy. Nothing about his character necessitated that only he could play it. The character is so generic, so utterly lacking in personality, that any actor with a good build and a flair for athleticism could have been cast to play him. No one would have noticed the difference.
Once the title character has been revived, she acts less like an evil regenerating corpse and more like a zombie sexpot; she sucks souls out of the living through passionate kisses, and at one point lewdly licks Cruise’s cheek. You’d think her army of the undead would be mummies just like her rather than a group of English paramedics and the skeletons of Crusades knights. You watch them run around after Cruise and think not of mummies but zombies in a “Walking Dead” Halloween maze. And my God, how I cringed during scenes of Cruise’s character talking with the pale spirit of his army buddy (Jake Johnson); when one is in limbo and the other is alive, I don’t much want to see them engage in witty repartee. I was unpleasantly reminded of David Naughton and Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London.
I mentioned mercury before. Even if it does stem from actual Ancient Egyptian belief and practice, which I admittedly don’t know, whose bright idea was it to utilize in this film the way it’s utilized? Even in a supernatural thriller, you can’t expect me to believe that a vast network of mercury reservoirs flow under the Middle Eastern desert all the way back to Egypt. Where did these reservoirs come from? How are they being replenished? Are you trying to tell me the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt collected enough mercury for thousands of years and have it continually drip into a condemned princess’ tomb? This is the intelligence with which The Mummy was written and directed. Talk about mercury poisoning.