The Mummy (2017)

 

I’ve been staring at my computer for a while trying to put my feelings about this movie into words. I can think of few relevant ones. Mainly:

Fuck you, Universal. Fuck you very much.

The Mummy was meant to kick off Universal’s take on the shared universe, essentially using old school monsters to create their version of Marvel’s cinematic empire. Remember Frankenstein, the Swamp Thing, and the Invisible Man? Universal sure does. And they smell money. Unfortunately, the enterprise has gotten off to a shaky start. Universal decided that Dracula Untold would be the headliner of the new franchise but failed to tell the production team that until after filming was nearly complete, resulting in a chaotic mess of reshoots and editing that left the final product struggling to find its footing. Then it was decided that nope, sorry, it’s actually the Mummy that will be headlining the new universe!

Well, okay. Dracula Untold was doing its own thing and despite the last minute scrambling, probably didn’t fit with the aesthetic that Universal is going for. Despite the missteps, I was hopeful about the upcoming films. All things considered, doing a series about old horror monsters isn’t the worst idea in the world. There’s a reason people are still making Frankenstein movies in this day and age. The images and story are powerful and there’s always new ground that can be dug thematically. There’s a lot of stuff to unpack in horror and if done right, monster movies can be wonderfully eye-catching and compelling on screen.

Unfortunately, The Mummy is exactly none of those things. The pacing is off, the effects are lackluster, exactly two of the characters actually have backstories, the humor is atrociously bad, and the story is just ham-fistedly awful. It’s a lazy production through and through. The scenery is boring, the action is as generic as it gets, and any depth the characters have comes either from the acting prowess of Sofia Boutella, who deserves a much better film, or subtext that unintentionally provides some genuine horror.

Let’s break it down, shall we? Spoilers to follow.

Monster movies are ultimately about the monster. The trailers promised to give us a new mummy; Princess Ahmanet, the “ultimate evil”, who would carry the weight of the film and provide a new interpretation of a classic monster. Instead, what we got was a vampire who drains her victim’s life force by kissing them, flirts with the protagonist, and spends the entire film wearing nothing but bandages. She’s never seen as a genuine threat and despite a few lukewarm jump-scares, never achieves the true menace or quiet tragedy of Karloff’s mummy. Sofia Boutella acts the hell out of this role, but there are limits to what even a talent actress can do with a weak script. Furthermore, the movie isn’t even about Ahmanet. It’s about Tom Cruise. Or rather the character Tom Cruise is playing, an amalgamation of every snarky tough guy he’s ever performed. His character doesn’t have a backstory, he has a scorned ex-girlfriend and a monster that won’t stop flirting with him. What’s his motivation? Exactly what is his job? Why should we care about him in the slightest? Nobody seems to know!

This is a problem, since the big reveal of the movie is that he steals Ahmanet’s power and becomes the “new” mummy.

Yeah. Tom Cruise is going to be the mummy in however many upcoming movies Universal feels like subjecting us to. Let that sit with you for a while. The white guy is going to be the mummy. That’s a choice Universal made. They’re hoping to springboard a franchise off this film.

I’ll let Baby Groot describe my feelings about this.

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Yeah.

Setting aside my general dislike for Tom Cruise’s brand of acting, the way that The Mummy treats its female characters is the only genuinely scary thing about the film. Ahmanet, who I’ll remind you is supposed to be the Big Bad – the Ultimate Evil – spends two scenes as a skeleton and the rest of them wearing only a few strategically placed bandages. Her use of seduction isn’t treated as a threat so much as an amusing throwaway that Tom Cruise can quip at. Despite the body count, Ahmanet is never once treated as genuine threat. If anyone is scary in this film, it’s Russell Crowe’s Doctor Jekyll, who’s casual disregard of human suffering in the service of “the greater good” is probably the film’s only moment of real menace. The suffering that Ahmanet undergoes at the hands of the movie’s heroes is ham-fisted and unintentionally disturbing. Consider the scene. A young woman is placed in chains and put on a literal pedestal by a large group of men, who cause her immense pain in the name of “putting her down” and eventually dissecting her – their aim is not only to kill her, but to turn her into an object of study. The only other female character expresses concern and disgust at the treatment of someone she rightly points out is sentient and – more importantly – visibly capable of feeling pain.

Furthermore, Ahmanet is almost entirely naked in this scene. Despite the aims of the film and who it intends to make the heroes, I felt a sense of fear and unease for Ahmanet in that moment and several that followed. Furthermore, her “prison” is inside a museum. The heroes intended to treat her as an object – something to be put on display and studied with the other artifacts. The fact that the climax involves the hero holding Ahmanet down and kissing her against her will while she screams and kicks only makes the subtext that much more disturbing. I’ll repeat that: the hero kills Ahmanet by holding her down and kissing her while she struggles. That is a scene that happened. Someone thought that was a good idea. Someone looked at that and didn’t see a rape lurking under the surface.

And in all honesty, that’s the problem with The Mummy. No one really stopped to think about how the scenes were going to be read. No one looked at the decision to put the mummy in Baghdad instead of Egypt and then have the monster rampage through London and thought, gee, that might possible come off insensitive considering recent events. No one thought about the implications behind not allowing Ahmanet to wear clothes. No one thought about what it would look like to have the heroic mummy be a white guy while the villainous mummy is an Egyptian woman.

No one though her death scene would look like a rape.

Well, guess what. I looked. I saw. And I got angry.

It’s not that there can’t be good monster movies. It’s not even that good mummy movies are hard to make, or that they’re hard to make with decent female characters. Remember Evie from The Mummy (1999)?

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That series was far from perfect, but it was fun, it was entertaining, and it had interesting characters. It can be done. Hell, it was done in 1999! So why are we fucking up so badly in 2017? Is it because people are looking at a female monster and thinking, how can we make her sexy? instead of how can we make her compelling?

I wanted to like this movie. I was looking forward to it. I was looking forward to the Dark Universe. And now I’m not. It’s simple.

You fucked up. Do better.