' ' Cinema Romantico: The Mummy

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Mummy

In his tentpole movie roles Tom Cruise often has a supernatural quality resistant to vulnerability. In the exquisite  “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” his otherworldliness is played for a joke. When a certain bit of potential derring-do requires his character to hold his breath underwater for over three minutes, Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn comically, incredulously remarks “You can do that.” Of course he can! And he does! Tom Cruise is invincible! So it only makes sense, I suppose, that Tom Cruise would need, in this era of cinematic superheroes, his own superhero movie. But what if Marvel or D.C. Comics or whoever else has no need for your services? You find another way in obviously, and so here is Cruise in the re-boot of the Universal Monsters film franchise “The Mummy”, transforming it something less than a project based on a version of the 1932 Boris Karloff character and more the superhero origin story of Cruise’s Nick Morton. I might even be tempted to call Cruise’s move a little brilliant if not for the fact that “The Mummy” is so rarely enjoyable.

Its unenjoyability stems directly from a kind of inadvertent More Becomes Less philosophy, where the myriad writing credits suggest a focused original concept that erupted into an out-of-control cinematic bloomin’ onion. For if its official basis is the Karloff black & white original, its real basis is the Stephen Sommers 1999 “Mummy” reboot, less horror and more action/adventure, even though its conspicuous lack of breezy execution is more in line with Sommers’ atrocious 2004 “Van Helsing.” The latter suffered from monster overload and so does this version of “The Mummy”, stretching to even make room for Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), who occasionally goes Hyde, a non-Universal property that, seeing as how little we get to know him, seems to suggest a move for the next movie in line. Director Alex Kurtzman has made his bones in the business as a producer, a role given to Ideas rather than artistic follow-through, and it shows as he struggles to coalesce this preponderance of material, resulting in a lurching cinematic behemoth which is why more times than I could count he fell back on explanatory voiceovers laid over montages, emitting strong whiffs of editing cover-ups.

The unwieldy story opens with a monologue and montage, in fact, recounting the ancient tale of Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), set to become Pharaoh until her father has a son, stealing her birthright, the impetus for her giving her soul to the Egyptian God Set for a special dagger with an extra-special gem to kill her father and his son and then sacrifice her lover as a means to give Set bodily form. Alas, she is stopped pre-sacrifice, arrested, mummified, and entombed alive, while the dagger’s gem finds itself re-located to England. It is the tomb that Nick Morton (Cruise) and his sidekick Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), military contractors cum grave robbers, discover in present-day Iraq and remove from its resting place which, as it must, arouses Ahmanet to mummified life to unleash unholy terror trying to finish the job at which she failed so many centuries ago.

This is not an uninteresting opening. That Nick and Chris find the tomb at all is owed to an airstrike on an insurgent stronghold, just as the all-important gem to Ahmanet’s dagger is discovered in London on account tunnel construction, little seemingly throwaway plot details that actually underline the intrusion of man into an ancient world where they do not belong. To that point, the shots of Nick and company descending into The Mummy’s prison, where mercury floats in the air, evokes modern men out of time, and vice-versa. The film’s most comical line, in fact, for good and bad, is Ahmanet in the present day explaining her age-old evil: “It was a different time.”

That sentiment might be challenged by Jenny Halsey (Anabelle Wallis), archaeologist, obligatory love interest for Nick and member of Dr. Jekyll’s Justice League-ish anti-evil contingent, who enters the picture by literally punching Nick in the face for his roguish behavior, though that is pretty much the high point of her fieriness, as she gradually morphs from Marion Ravenwood into Willie Scott. In the second half of the film Jenny is reduced to doing nothing much more than following Nick into cavernous, ominous rooms and saying his name over and over and over. “Nick?” she’ll say, as if she’s afraid of the dark.

Though Ahmanet is not afraid of the dark, her character is essentially shunted there anyway, taking a backseat to Nick, who takes the form of her lover in the present day so that she can slay him to unleash Set on the here and now. That it does not go quite as planned goes without saying, though, of course, it is part of “The Mummy’s” broader plan all along, wherein Ahmanet, for all the power she possesses, is nothing more than a conduit to conferring supernatural status on Nick to make him, for all intents and purposes, a superhero in order to no doubt propagate so many superhero sequels. Alas, Tom Cruise’s greatest supernatural feat would be getting a sequel to this stinkbomb greenlit.

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