Monday, 19 June 2017

Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)

With Marvel sweeping in box office hit after box office hit, it seems that everyone and their backyard sound stage want to get in on this ‘shared film universe’ trend. Sure, Marvel didn’t exactly invent the idea; filmmakers like John Hughes and Kevin Smith both filled in their films with little threads that tied them together for those willing to pay attention. However, those guys did it more in passing than anything else, whereas Marvel has officially turned it into a new blossoming branch of the Hollywood franchise system. From DC’s attempts to match their graphic novel rivals to Legendary Studio’s increasingly-promising big monster franchise, even individuals like M. Night Shyamalan who seems to be setting up his own comic book-inspired world off the back of Split, this is basically the big new thing in Hollywood right now. So, naturally, it seems that Universal Pictures wants to get in on this trend as well, using today’s film as a springboard for a shared universe based on their classic cavalcade of movie monsters. Of course, if the rest of the entries in the Dark Universe series are anything resembling this, we may be in for a very bumpy ride over the next several years because this film is something truly special. This is The Mummy.

The plot: Mercenary Nick (Tom Cruise) and his partner-in-shady-dealings Chris (Jake Johnson), while searching for treasures in war-torn Iraq, uncover the tomb of Egyptian would-be-queen Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella). After accidentally releasing her from her imprisonment, Nick is brought to the attention of his ex-flame Jennifer (Annabelle Wallis) and her employer Henry (Russell Crowe), who is on a mission to rid the world of monsters. With Nick being under Ahmanet’s influence, he must work together with Jennifer and Henry in order to stop the Mummy from destroying the world and bringing the Egyptian god Set into the mortal realm.

“Let’s remake this over-10-year-old film! We’ll get Tom Cruise to star in it!” sounds like the set-up for a bad joke about how little actual creativity is going on in Hollywood, so you can imagine how well it turns out when that is actually what they did here. Don’t get me wrong, Cruise was a great choice to play this very dickish soldier of fortune, but the way he’s written, his charm falls through the cracks of the asshole that is his character. To make things weirder, it seems that his attitude on set was rather in keeping with his egocentric “I can get away with anything” on-screen persona, if Jake Johnson and the myriad of on-set stories are anything to go by. And speaking of Johnson, he’s a decent match with Cruise in terms of their character dynamics, but his comparable ability with unsavoury characters doesn’t manage to outweigh not only how annoying he can get but also how out-of-place he becomes as the film drudges on. Wallis could have become one of the biggest setbacks for female supporting roles in blockbuster films with how regressive her character is, but fortunately, she’s way too unengaging for that to be a possibility. Boutella as the big bad Mummy is alright, I suppose, but once again, I chalk her okay-ness up to the writers not really knowing what kind of villain they wanted her to be. Crowe is probably the best actor here but that’s only when he lets his darker side loose. *SPOILER* warnings now, because this review will likely be full of them: He’s playing Dr. Jekyll. Seriously. And even though it last for only 2-3 minutes, his turn as Hyde is the single best part of the film.

The writers for this film are David Koepp, whom we last checked in with last year’s abysmal Inferno, Christopher McQuarrie, the man responsible for one of the highest points of Cruise's entire career with Jack Reacher, and Dylan Kussman, largely known for his acting role in Dead Poets Society with this as his first film script. I bring all this up because, between them all, they have sizeable experience in the industry and should have a pretty good idea on what makes a working script. Unfortunately, you’d never guess that just from their efforts here because, dear God, this is one of the dumbest films I’ve seen in a very long time. This is almost classic stupid, as it has all the usual hollow bells and ear-shredding whistles of your standard idiot plot blockbuster, something we honestly haven’t gotten that much of of late (at least from what I’ve seen). The characters are written solely in terms of how they can progress the plot, resulting in character actions that make little to no sense compared to their other actions or even the context of the scenes they take place in. I mean, when you’re at the point of a character visibly dying, coming back to life and stabbing the main character’s superior officer and all without anyone noticing on-screen, you know you’re in prime shitweasel territory. What’s more, the ridiculousness of how much the film doesn’t make sense with itself only seems to accelerate once we get to the final reel, building and building until we hit a truly baffling open ending, resulting in the kind of hysterical “what the fuck did I just watch?” reaction that I haven’t experienced since Pan.

And you know what? I would perfectly fine with all of that. With how the titular Mummy’s powers manifest themselves, this is basically a dumb zombie movie with some mild Egyptian undertones; I have a real soft spot for the stupid exploits of the undead, and I have a real fascination with Egyptian theology. Unfortunately, for as goofy as this mostly is, it also has some serious tonal issues on top of that. On one side, you have Cruise (let’s not bother with character names by this point; you’re all just going to refer to him as ‘Tom Cruise’ anyway) being messed around with by the Mummy, being taken on a head trip that has him questioning what is actually happening to him. And on the other side, you have Cruise and an undead Johnson arguing in a women’s public bathroom about just letting the Mummy do with Cruise what she wants. These two halves don’t fit together; in fact, you can almost smell the cheap Clag glue used to try and hold them in place. Amidst the original-Xbox-era special effects at work and the limp action beats, there’s this lingering feeling that underneath the layers of idiocy is a potentially decent movie. Of course, it’s buried far too deep to be of any use, with the filmmakers instead going for weak jokes off the back of incredibly unlikeable and brick-headed protagonists intercut with scenes featuring the Mummy that we’re apparently meant to take seriously. Sorry but, no matter how much you try and bandage up this mess of a screenplay, it’s still dead and slowly decaying before our very eyes.

So, between the shit writing and the weak visuals, this film is already pretty bad on its own. But how is it as an introduction into the Dark Universe? Wait… Do you hear that? That faint sound in the distance as you’re reading this? That’s me laughing my head off because, even without considering its competition, this is an embarrassingly weak start to a franchise. Let’s get the small things out of the way first: This film’s lack of knowledge about Egyptian gods is matched only by its apparent lack of knowledge about Jekyll and Hyde because they manage to screw up pretty critical details in both. The film keeps bringing up Set as the Egyptian god of death, and yeah, I’m gonna be That Guy on this: Anubis is the god of death, not Set, and I learnt that from the bloody Yu-Gi-Oh movie! If a cartoon about a world-ending children’s card game can get simple details like that right and your movie can’t, you need to rethink things, especially if you’re dealing with something as reliant on minor details as a cinematic universe. But that’s small potatoes when you realize that, since Jekyll and Hyde are also in this movie for a time, they can’t even get the Universal monsters right. Like, it is weird how much they completely miss the mark with Dr. Jekyll, turning a story about the dual nature of humanity into a yarn involving catching evil like a disease, all in the space of a single on-screen conversation. I mean, I get the idea of retooling stories we all know to keep them interesting, but when said retooling involves missing the entire point of the story you’re retooling, it ceases to make any sense why they even bothered in the first place. Oh wait, they bothered because name-brand recognition and “give us money, please!”; nevermind. But here’s the real kicker: Outside of those two instances and the introduction of Jekyll’s monster hunting organization, that is literally all we get in terms of world-building. Nothing set in stone, nothing tantalized to keep audience’s attention outside of a couple vampire skulls and what I think is a scale from the Creature From The Black Lagoon and nothing that ultimately makes it seem like this universe has that many places to go from here.

All in all, this is the new Battlefield Earth. Think about it: Lead actor with heavy ties to Scientology who made the entire film his own passion project, woeful production values, rock-stupid writing which still carries traces of Scientologist doctrine (treating human evil as a foreign element that can be removed with the right ‘treatments’) and attempts at grandeur and scope that fall hideously short; the only thing missing is the legendarily awful camera work and this would tick every box possible. Hell, say what you will about Dracula Untold, the last attempt by Universal to kick off this sort of franchise, but it looks like Iron Man compared to this thing.

But the weirdest part of all this is that I’m not even mad; I’m certainly bewildered and holding back laughing fits as I type this out, but I’m not mad. Because this is the kind of film that film critics, particularly those on YouTube et al. whose bread-and-butter are bad Hollywood movies, are going to be very happy with. Give it about a year, and I guarantee that you’ll see video reviews for this popping up in a lot of places; films like this, where the review material is practically gift-wrapped, are very rare and those that have that quality usually go down into bad movie legend. This is one of those films and, honestly, I wouldn’t mind the Dark Universe going ahead if they’re as consistently dreadful as this. With online film critique as a profession being particularly volatile right now, it’d be nice to know there’s a steady stream of work out there. This ranks lower than Table 19, which may have been far duller than this (and this film definitely gives you your money’s worth in unintentional hilarity) but it is far more competently-made as a film. Budgets exceeding $100 million shouldn’t look this cheap. However, with that spike of hysterical enjoyment I got at this film’s expense in mind, this wasn’t any kind of serious letdown for me; honestly, I didn’t have any real expectations going into this. As such, this still ranks higher with me than A Cure For Wellness, which still continues to piss me off.

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