Review – All Wrapped Up And No Place To Go (“The Mummy”)

Here we go… again! That’s right, kiddies, it’s yet another reboot/reimagining of a movie that’s barely 20-years-old, but this time Universal Pictures really hopes to kick-start their Universal Filmland Monster world (Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula, et al) just like the DC or Marvel Universe. Dark Universe they’re calling it. (giggle giggle) Yeah, good luck with that!
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Backstories are nice and we are treated to one (via narration) after a London subway excavation unearths an ancient Crusader burial vault. We learn of the treacherous Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who, determined to usurp the throne from daddy dearest, sells her soul to the demon god Set and becomes pure evil herself. But she’s caught and mummified and that leads us to modern day Iraq and two wacky illegal grave robbers of antiquities. Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his buddy, Sergeant Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) find, quite coincidentally, Ahmanet’s last hidden resting place and that’s where the trouble begins.

Transporting Ahmanet’s huge sarcophagus back to England is tricky, especially with nosy archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) along for the ride. Chris goes crazy from a camel spider bite, the plane gets attacked by a weird bird strike, and nearly everyone dies in the subsequent crash. But Nick survived. . .or did he? Looks like his close encounter with Ahmanet made him her “chosen one” and now they’re linked (like Harry Potter and Voldemort). Not only that, but dead Chris keeps popping up (like in American Werewolf In London) and giving Nick advice. Advice like Ahmanet wants Nick to join with her to complete a ritual she started a millennia ago using a particular dagger.

Things gets even weirder when Ahmanet assumes human form again, but gets captured by an elite Monster Squad (like in Van Helsing) called the Prodigium. Their specialty is hunting down monsters (check out Dracula’s skull, the Black Lagoon creature arm, and 1999’s The Mummy Book of the Dead) and now they got a living mummy to kill. Oh, and did I mention their leader is Dr. Henry Jekyll? Yup, THAT Henry Jekyll! (Russell Crowe). Will Edward Hyde make an appearance? Gee, what do you think? Anyway, since Nick is cursed by Ahmanet, only he can break it by dying… again… something he ain’t exactly keen on doing.

Quicker than you can say, “Yeah, I saw that coming”, Ahmanet gets loose, unleashes a destructive sandstorm–with her face in it (like in 1999’s The Mummy), an army of the dead (like in any zombie movie ever made), and finally gets Nick right where she wants him. Ah, but is Nick ready to be Mrs. Mummy for eternity and give up his love for Jenny? The ending is just about as silly as you can imagine and paves the way for a possible sequel but, really, I can’t see that happening.

Three writers (Christopher McQuarrie, David Koepp, and Dylan Kussman) wrote this dull remake that has “tired retread” written all over it. What happened? Okay, so Kussman is a first-timer, Koepp wrote the lousy War of the Worlds remake and the last Jack Reacher disaster, but McQuarrie is the ringer with an excellent history. I guess somebody was asleep during staff meetings. This fan-fiction mixture of a wanna-be actioner with dumb jump-scares and some awkward comedy thrown in desperately tries to be what the terrific 1999 Mummy film was. Is it a comedy? A action-adventure? A horror film? It struggles to be all three with terrible dialogue and a recycled plot(s) that needed several rewrites.

And lets talk about the stiff direction while we’re at it. This is Alex Kurtzman’s directorial debut and it shows it. Normally a TV producer for shows like Hawaii 5-0 and Sleepy Hollow, the man isn’t a director. Playing it oh-so safe, the direction is (at times) weak and just plain boring. You can’t have that in what’s supposed to be an action film! Yes, there are some moments (the rolling plane shot) that are cool, but overall, it needed a veteran filmmaker. At least the cast that did their best to elevate the sub-standard script.

Cruise looks a little lost in this movie, not quite sure of his character, while Crowe and Boutella are solid. I really wish they would have given Wallis MORE than just a pretty  ‘damsel-in-distress-to-be-rescued-every-five-minutes’ part. Even in 1999’s The Mummy, Rachel Weitz’s Evie was cunning, spunky, and daring. Here, Wallis just needs saving. Booooring! At least Jake Johnson (from TV’s New Girl) tries to bring the comedy with his natural wit and charm. And he’s supposed to be dead!                                   

 
The Mummy (1932)
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Reboots, reimaginings, and remakes have to pay homage to the original Universal classic that started it all. Filmed in glorious black and white and starring Boris Karloff, who had just finished a record-breaking run as Frankenstein’s monster a year earlier. With dozens of sequels that had a rampaging mummy-wrapped creature attacking people, this movie defied that trope went for a straight-forward sinister tale.
 
It’s 1921 in Egypt and some British archaeologists have found the mummified remains of Imhotep (Karloff) and with him, an ancient curse if anyone disturbs and reads the Scroll of Thoth (Book of the Dead). So, of course, some idiot does and the mummy comes alive, stealing the scroll and walking away into the night. Ten years later another expedition is on the verge of leaving until a mysterious Egyptian named Ardeth Bey (Karloff again) tells them where to dig. Bingo! They find the untouched ancient tomb of Ankhesen-Amon, the princess that was buried by her dad for loving Imhotep against his wishes.
 
Meanwhile, lovely half-Egyptian Helen Grovesnor (Zita Johann) is having some problems, like suddenly leaving a party and going to the museum where the body of Ankhesen-Amon lies. It looks like Ardeth Bey summoned her by telepathy with his glowing eyes and reciting lines from that stolen scroll. Yup, that old putrefied mummy is now an articulate, thin, really creepy looking fez-wearing man who barely moves his lips when he speaks. Ick! But rescuing the fair maiden is scholar Frank Whemple (David Manners) who, naturally, falls instantly in love with her. As museum creator Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) figures out that Bey is really Imhotep risen, he is also powerless to stop him.
 
But you know 3500-year-old arisen mummies, they are persistent! Bey is convinced that Helen is the resurrected soul of his beloved Ankhesen-Amon and will stop at nothing to raise her soul again in the mummified world… just like him. He even kidnaps her and shows her what happened to them, via a kinda pool of water/video-playback thing. Not bad for 1932, huh? But just as Imhotep/Bey is about to sacrifice Helen to the god Isis, Dr. Muller and Frank arrive to save the day and the movie ends on a rather dull and sudden anticlimax.
 
Written by prolific screenwriter John L. Balderston, who wrote many of the Universal monster movies, it looks like he just ripped-off his own Dracula plot. Even Edward Van Sloan (who played Dr. Van Helsing in 1931’s Frankenstein) plays the same character here. First-time director Karl Freund was a major P.I.T.A. for Universal as he caused problems on the set, especially with Zita Johann. They hated each other and each tried to get the other kicked off the picture. Freund would shoot hours of scenes that he knew would never make Universal’s strict film code policy, just to piss Zita off. Worst part is, all these scenes were lost.
 

And check out Karloff’s makeup here: that suffocating bandaged-wrapped mummy (that we all know) is only on camera for a minute or two, a process that took legendary Universal make-up master Jack Pierce eight hours to apply each day! Afterwards, all that icky make-up is why Karloff can barley move his lips and it makes Ardeth Bey even more creepier! BTW: ‘Ardeth Bey’ is an anagram for ‘Death by Ra’. The movie exploded at the box office and was a monster hit, making Universal crank out five sequels, including the comedy, Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy.      

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