Friday, June 9, 2017

The Mummy Review

We live in a day of cinematic universes. Thanks to Marvel, who beautifully set up their cinematic universe of superheros, which has blossomed into $11.7 billion worldwide and counting, every studio is scrambling to come up with their own cinematic universes and movie crossovers to cash in on this new fad. Some time back Universal looked at this and made the decision that everyone wants to see all of their classic monsters back on the big screen. As a brief history lesson, Universal made a grand total of 89 monster movies between 1923 and 1960, which started with "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) and "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) and eventually included classics such as "Dracula" (1931), "Frankenstein" (1931), "The Invisible Man" (1933), "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), "The Wolf Man" (1941) and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954). And now all of these that I mentioned, as well as several more, will be getting modern remakes in a cinematic universal that Universal has titled Dark Universe. At least that's what they tell us. If audiences decide not to show up to this films, they may have to reconsider. At the moment, though, they seem to be rather bullish with this plan as they've already announced plans for around 10 films.

Kicking things off in this Dark Universe is the latest iteration of "The Mummy." In terms of the number of sequels and remakes, believe it or not, "The Mummy" is right behind "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." While "Dracula" has had at least 30 films made and "Frankenstein" has had at least 20, this 2017 remake of "The Mummy" is the 14th Mummy movie that has been made. That's right. The 1999 Brendan Fraser remake that I've heard many people refer to "the original" is far removed from being the original. You can call that movie No. 11 in our Mummy series. The actual original film was released in 1932, the year after "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." Instead of making a sequel to this original, Universal remade it in 1940, titling it "The Mummy's Hand." They then made four sequels to this 1940 version for a total of six Mummy movies overall in their original Universal Monsters phase. Then the British took the reins as they made a total of four Mummy movies beginning in 1959 as a part of the Hammer Horror Series. It's only after all of this that we can fast forward to 1999 when Stephen Sommers' Mummy trilogy began. And now here we are in 2017 with what is officially the fourth remake of the original 1932 classic and, as I noted, the 14th Mummy movie overall.

Before I saw this latest remake in theaters, I wanted to go back and familiarize myself with this franchise. I didn't watch all 13 movies, but I caught the highlights. Specially I watched the original 1932 movie as well as the first movie in each reboot franchise while reading over the plot synopses of the sequels. Long story short, the only movie I'd consider a great movie is the 1932 version. The movie is simple, short and brilliant with our mummy Imhotep being a fascinating, deep character with a very interesting lore. The 1940 movie switched up the lore quite a bit, named our mummy Kharis, and made a very stupid B-level monster movie. And from what I gather with the four sequels, none of them are any better. Then when the 1959 movie remade the franchise, they chose to do a remake of the 1940 movie instead of the classic 1932 movie, which was frustrated for me as I was watching. Granted they did a much better job at making the movie creepy and intense, but it still wasn't that interesting. And again, apparently the three sequels are pretty bad. Then we get to everyone's favorite 1999 version, which is bigger, louder, weirder and grosser than the previous movies. They also turned the franchise from a horror movie to a dumb, brainless action movie.

After going through all of this, I was suddenly a lot less excited about this movie as it seems that no one can get this franchise right following a fantastic first entry that is now 85 years old. And unfortunately I was right to be nervous because this movie is yet another missed opportunity. However, I will say this is a huge improvement over that 1999 movie. Now if you're one of the people that loves that 1999 movie and didn't know that any previous Mummy movies existed, I encourage you to go actually watch the 1932 movie, then re-watch your beloved 1999 film and tell me yourself what is wrong with the latter movie. It's pretty darn obvious and thus I would be willing to say that nostalgia is the biggest thing holding it up. If you want to claim it as a guilty pleasure, then I'm fine with that. We all have those. But it's a giant mess of a film where few things make any sense. It's style over substance and I prefer substance when it comes to my monster movies. I'm also frustrated with this idea that we are taking old horror films and removing the horror. An action-packed remake of an old horror film is not my idea of intelligent cinema. I would've loved to see a modern horror master take this Mummy franchise and make it into modern horror movie instead of giving us a dumb, brainless action film.

What actually surprised me with this new 2017 Mummy was that it actually did have some substance to it and was more of a streamlined, focused movie. In our 1932 film, we followed a mummy named Imhotep who some archaeologists accidentally uncovered and eventually learned was buried alive for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, the Egyptian princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. When these archaeologists read a certain scroll and accidentally bring Imhotep back to life, he sets out to resurrect his lover again so that the two of them can live forever in immortality. Imhotep only harms those who get in his way, with the added drama being that he thinks one of our main female protagonists is his beloved princess reincarnated. This is a lore that I was fascinated with. I felt that if we were to take this lore and build off of it, we could create a fascinating modern remake. Instead all we've received is a bunch of hogwash that not only changes the lore and turns the mummy into a dog (metaphorically speaking) to chase after people, but also over-complicates the lore adding new and weirder elements to what happened to this guy once he was buried or what the consequences of unleashing him are. Sometimes bigger and crazier does not equal better.

This simplicity is what this 2017 Mummy reverted back to in many ways, thus I started this movie with a lot of hope. First off the backstory here is a lot more interesting than any Mummy movie since the original. And it's also not simply a second-rate, uninspiring copy. For one, our mummy is female this time around and is named Ahmanet. She's played by Sofia Boutella from "Kingsman: The Secret Service," "Star Trek Beyond" and the upcoming "Atomic Blonde." If nothing else, I'm sure that at least some would agree with me that Sofia Boutella absolutely nails the role of Ahmanet. When they are showing her backstory or implementing flashbacks and dream sequences throughout the movie, she is successfully cunning and seductive. She's beautiful enough to be able to ensnare people into her trap, but is extremely manipulative and straight-up evil when she has them trapped. And when she's resurrected in the modern-day after the mindless, stupid decisions by Tom Cruise and his friend, she is extremely creepy and rather awesome. In fact, Sofia Boutella did such a great job in this role that I was kinda cheering for her to succeed with whatever plan she had up her sleeve. I cared about her a lot more than Tom Cruise and his damsel-in-distress girlfriend.

Thus comes to our problems with this movie. Everything not having to do with Ahmanet. Now for one, I will say that I was a bit confused as to what Ahmanet's final plan actually was and why she was doing it. Her motivations behind doing this were set-up very well. The betrayal she felt by the people around her was justified well enough for me to buy her delving into this dark, evil magic. It's just that her final plan didn't seem connected very well to that, both in the past when she was stopped and buried alive and in the present when she was trying to finish what she started. Imhotep's backstory and final plan all made complete sense. Ahmanet's was a bit fuzzy. But most of this movie is in the present day with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe. And man was it dull. First off, there was a ton of set-up and storytelling. After our first introduction to Ahmanet in the opening credits, it took a while for the movie to get back to her and once it did, it took another while to get to her attempting to completing her master plan once she was released. We instead were forced to wander around with Tom Cruise, who plays perhaps one of his least interesting characters to date. And the movie tried to set-up a romance with him and Annabelle Wallis, who was more useless than Tom Cruise.

Then we have Russell Crowe. We actually start the movie with him as he's telling the story of Ahmanet... to no one. Just us as the audience. That was frustrating. The 1932 movie told the backstory of Imhotep at a point in the plot that made sense when our main protagonists were first learning about him. Yes, it was exposition, but it was exposition that was necessary and made sense to the plot. Then in the 1940 movie, they told the backstory in the opening sequences in an effort to get it out of the way. I didn't like that. And every movie since has decided to copy that 1940 formula. But at least with those movies, it was usually someone talking to someone else. This is Russell Crowe talking to no one. Also with Russell Crowe, the movie spent a lot of time with him as he's obviously Universal's Nick Fury. He's there as the glue that is going to attempt to hold and bring this Dark Universe together and thus I think this movie got a little carried away in setting up this cinematic universe instead of simply giving us a stand-alone movie. Thus this movie fell into the recent common trap of spending too much time setting up a universe and not enough time giving us a good movie. This was especially frustrating here because I didn't care about this set-up.

I think the right way to set up a cinematic universe is to give us several solid stand-alone movies and make us care enough about these characters and stories that will make us excited to see them come together. This is exactly what Marvel initially did with their five movies leading up to "The Avengers." Nick Fury existed and he was there to recruit them, but he was very much a small, side-character in the movies as opposed to being a main character that the movie spent half of run time focusing on. I hope this Dark Universe works out. I really do. I really hope that Universal is able to learn from this with their next portion of this saga, which is currently scheduled to be "Bride of Frankenstein" on Valentine's Day in 2019, which will be directed by Bill Condon from "Beauty and the Beast." They need to completely forget about setting up the Dark Universe and just give us a solid "Bride of Frankenstein" remake. If they do that well enough, then maybe more people will jump on board when they bring us "Creature from the Black Lagoon," "The Invisible Man," "Wolf Man" and others. I think DC just struck gold with "Wonder Woman" and I hope that teaches them how to properly set up a cinematic universe. Now I hope Universal figures it out, too.

As regards to the rest of the movie, I don't want to dive into any spoilers, even if you don't care, but I will say that I enjoyed the sequences in the final act when Ahmanet was actually in the movie. But I didn't like Tom Cruise and I didn't like Annabelle Wallis. I was intrigued by Russell Crowe, but I think it was the wrong movie to focus on him. They could've completely cut him out of the movie and we would've missed nothing. Or maybe they have him in for 5-10 minutes at some point. But in the end, the movie wasn't focused on doing a proper remake of "The Mummy" and was instead focused on setting up the Dark Universe, which I found frustrating. Then when they did focus on our Mummy storyline, I really only cared for Ahmanet as a character and no one else. Having a great villain is fantastic, but we need good protagonists and a solid story or else we're just wasting our villain, thus I feel bad because Sofia Boutella did a great job, but it didn't seem that any of the other actors or crew members had her level of commitment. Yes I enjoyed this more than the 1999 remake as well as several other Mummy movies, but 14 movies in and we still haven't had a proper remake or sequel of the original 1932 film. Thus I will give our 2017 remake of "The Mummy" a 6/10.

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