Skip to main content

This just keeps gettin' better and better.


The Mummy
(1999)

If The Matrix was the zeitgeist-defining event of the summer of 1999, having a surplus of vitality and resonance that left The Phantom Menace looking bloated  and stranded, there was another pretender to the blockbuster crown that no one expected to be a sizable hit. One might argue that The Matrix captured something of the “never seen before” quality of the first Star Wars film. If it did, The Mummy was merely content to fill the gap in the audience’s desire for an Indiana Jones knock-off. Any knock-off would do, which goes some way to explaining how such an average film became the third biggest genre movie that wasn’t The Sixth Sense that season.

It ended up in eighth place in for the year (sixth worldwide) and guaranteed a quickly thrown-together sequel (that looked shoddy even by its director’s slipshod standards). Curiously, while that film was bigger in the US, international audiences seemed aware of its inferiority and it didn’t do so well. But still, this was a successful franchise and surprisingly it took another seven years before a third installment arrived. In the same year that it’s true inspiration (Indy, rather than the horror series that bequeathed the title and, loosely, the subject matter) made a lacklustre return to the screen.

Make no mistake, The Mummy is a family action movie. What trappings of horror there are, are so diluted by their CGI presentation as to be nigh on inconsequential; this is as scary as Scooby Doo. Universal’s plan to relaunch of one of its major monsters had gone through a number of directors over the previous decade, including Clive Barker, George Romero and Joe Dante. All of whom would surely have brought something more interesting to the screen that Stephen Sommers’ reheated leftovers.

Yes, Stephen Sommers. Who would go on to such resounding failure with the rest of the studio’s creatures in the overblown disaster that is Van Helsing. With the success of The Adventure s of Huck Finn and The Jungle Book (and the failure of the surprisingly good fun Deep Rising) behind him, Sommers had sufficient clout to demand a significant budget (previous plans had been to spend as little as feasible, one of the reasons, horror content being an other, that so many filmmakers exited the project).

There are no less than six credited writers attached to the screenplay (including John L Balderston’s for the 1932 original), but you wouldn’t have guessed. This comes across as a typically Sommers-like first draft affair, incoherent of structure and crassly witless of dialogue. There isn’t much you’d think could go wrong; the prologue introduces High Priest Imhotep reasonably well, before leaping to 1926 and Rick O’Connell’s (Brendan Fraser) encounter with supernatural forces at the site of his tomb. A few years later he leads an expedition back there, including Rachel Weisz and John Hannah’s brother and sister duo, some fellow Americans and dodgy comedy Arab Beni Gabor (Kevin J O’Connor).

But Sommers fluffs the plot logic every step of the way. Rather than killing or expelling them, the Medjai who guard the tomb give the group 24 hours to leave. Which, of course, is more than enough time to unleash Imhotep’s evil upon the world. Later, we suddenly leap back to Cairo for more frenetic carnage. When the tone is so shallow and the pace so furious, there’s no time for character or the building up of atmosphere.  If Indiana Jones added layers and depth to the classic Republic serials, The Mummy is closer to the strained gag fests of Abbot and Costello meet… (the broad tone – everything in this film is broad – is set from the outset in an excruciatingly elaborate gag where clumsy librarian Weisz causes the domino toppling of a series of bookcases).

It’s also a problem when the menace in your film as is an onslaught of very obvious CGI. This would reach a nadir in the sequel, but the scares amount to a bug-eyed mummy with a stretchy jaw, furious sandstorms and swarms of scarabs cascading over everything in their path. Maybe an undiscerning nipper would be bothered (although, this was a 12/PG-13, so a tot isn’t the target audience). None of its is very tangible, even given the creepiness of some of the ideas (creepy crawlies getting under your skin is very potent, but has little impact on screen). Arnold Vosloo has an imperious presence, but his villainy is undercooked and not really very interesting.

The trio of Fraser, Weisz and Hannah are agreeable, however. Fraser has sufficient sense of humour to embrace a part like this, even if he lacks any edge as an actor (can anyone recall a memorable role for him since, say, Looney Tunes?) Hannah follows the line of less-than-admirable Brits that Terry-Thomas excelled at; it’s just a shame that the writing isn’t up to snuff. Weisz suffers most obviously from a role that runs the gamut from B to B in development, playing the plucky gal who swoons for the adventurer hero (no wonder she didn’t return for the third movie).  As for Connor’s Beni, he’s clearly having enormous fun and it’s certainly a scene-stealer. But it’s closer to Jar Jar Binks as a treasure trove of laughs than anything approaching great comic villainy.

The problem with the movie, and his directorial efforts in general, is Sommers just doesn’t care about anything that isn’t in aid of the deliriously giddy momentum he’s pursuing. He’s like the sugar rush kid in need of a fix; that The Mummy is decidedly subdued in comparison to subsequent films tells you all you need to know about his appetite for bigger, broader, emptier. The period trappings have none of the weight of the Indy films because the director’s sensibility is entirely contemporary; that’s how he shoots the film, writes the dialogue and directs the actors. All of which means that The Mummy is an effective-enough crowd-pleaser but it’s not something you’ll feel the need to revisit (which beckons the question of why I did!)

**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If you never do anything, you never become anyone.

An Education (2009)
Carey Mulligan deserves all the attention she received for her central performance, and the depiction of the ‘60s is commendably subdued. I worried there was going to be a full-blown music montage sequence at the climax that undid all the good work, but thankfully it was fairly low key. 

Alfred Molina and Olivia Williams are especially strong in the supporting roles, and it's fortunate for credibility’s sake that that Orlando Bloom had to drop out and Dominic Cooper replaced him.
***1/2

Can you close off your feelings so you don’t get crippled by the moral ambiguity of your violent actions?

Spider-Man Worst to Best

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.

What, you're going to walk in there like it's the commie Disneyland or something?

Stranger Things 3 (2019)
(SPOILERS) It’s very clear by this point that Stranger Things isn’t going to serve up any surprises. It’s operating according to a strict formula, one requiring the opening of the portal to the Upside Down every season and an attendant demagorgon derivative threat to leak through, only to be stymied at the last moment by our valorous team. It’s an ‘80s sequel cycle through and through, and if you’re happy with it functioning exclusively on that level, complete with a sometimes overpowering (over)dose of nostalgia references, this latest season will likely strike you as just the ticket.

How can you have time when it clearly has you?

Dark  Season 2
(SPOILERS) I’m not intending to dig into Dark zealously, as its plotting is so labyrinthine, it would take forever and a day, and I’d just end up babbling incoherently (so what’s new). But it’s worth commenting on, as it’s one of the few Netflix shows I’ve seen that feels entirely rigorous and disciplined – avoiding the flab and looseness that too often seems part and parcel of a service expressly avoiding traditional ratings models – as it delivers its self-appointed weighty themes and big ideas. And Dark’s weighty themes and big ideas really are weighty and big, albeit simultaneously often really frustrating. It came as no surprise to learn of the showrunners’ overriding fixation on determinism at work in the multi-generational, multiple time period-spanning events within the German town of Winden, but I was intrigued regarding their structural approach, based on clearly knowing the end game of their characters, rather than needing to reference (as they put it) Post-It…

Doesn't work out, I'll send her home in body bag.

Anna (2019)
(SPOILERS) I’m sure one could construe pertinent parallels between the various allegations and predilections that have surfaced at various points relating to Luc Besson, both over the years and very recently, and the subject matter of his movies, be it by way of a layered confessional or artistic “atonement” in the form of (often ingenue) women rising up against their abusers/employers. In the case of Anna, however, I just think he saw Atomic Blonde and got jealous. I’ll have me some of that, though Luc. Only, while he brought more than sufficient action to the table, he omitted two vital ingredients: strong lead casting and a kick-ass soundtrack.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…