Movie Review: The Mummy
Tom Cruise tosses himself across the screen as a treasure-hunting soldier who stumbles into a cursed sarcophagus carrying an ancient queen with a score to settle
Starring: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Running time: 1hr 50 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13
By Katherine Monk
You know it’s almost summer when Tom Cruise is on an airplane, and being treated worse than your average United passenger.
The centrepiece sequence in The Mummy features Cruise tossed around in the fuselage of a crashing Hercules, struggling to strap a loose parachute onto a mysterious — but beautiful — government employee with an obsession for Egyptian antiquities.
It’s easily the best scene in this monolithic action movie aimed at reanimating the dormant monsters in the Universal vaults. Filming it required 64 zero-gravity sessions that put Cruise and co-star Annabelle Wallis in a controlled free fall while they performed a pivotal dramatic scene. For a brief minute, everything in this movie works. Then it crashes, leaving an elaborate debris field of character, plot, motivation and Egyptian myth in its wake.
The Mummy is a great big expensive mess of a movie. It has the visual ambitions of a Lawrence of Arabia as it uses the vast desert horizon as an existential reference, but it has the emotional depth of a Martin Lawrence Big Momma comedy.
There’s a sense of shtik to the whole exercise that undermines the deeper message. Writer-director-producer Alex Kurtzman (Transformers, Mission: Impossible, Now You See Me 2) was clearly trying to pay homage to the original tone of the Universal monster movies that set the foundations of film horror in the early 1930s.
He uses a darker palette of earth tones and creates shadowy crypts for his characters to inhabit, because unlike most comic book superheroes, monsters do not want to be seen. They are the anti-heroes who represent the shadow side of the human spirit, forever trapped between the land of mortals and the underworld of the incubi.
We’re supposed to have sympathy for these poor, misunderstood creatures cursed to be alone. Yet, Cruise remains sympathy-proof once more as he takes on the role of Nick Morton, a decorated soldier fighting in the Middle East who also has an eye for treasure. He’s a bit of an outlaw in uniform, always looking to pad his own pockets and hang out with his buddy, Chris (Jake Johnson), the perfect sidekick.
Needless to say, when the two stumble into an ancient Egyptian vault in Iraq, they’re not afraid to repel down a deep hole to see what’s inside.
A crypt filled with liquid mercury provides a pretty cool effect, but it ends up competing with another mysterious mausoleum revealed in the opening sequence as a boring machine ploughs into an antechamber filled with the bodily remains of Crusading knights.
We get fragments of an explanation from Jenny, the Egyptologist played by Wallis, as well as Dr. Jekyll, played with a wink to 30s-era stagecraft by Russell Crowe. The plot bumbles and fumbles its way through one Cruise-oriented action sequence after another — which is what the actor seems to do best at this point in his career — but there’s no emotional connection, which makes most of the movie feel like pricey clutter.
Contrary as it may be these days, especially after the last iteration of The Mummy (featuring Brendan Fraser) relied so heavily on special effects, but less really is more when it comes to a monster movie — even a kitsch one.
After all, these are films about human beings stripped down — literally — to the bone. The difference between life and death must be stark and compelling. Here, it’s a giant blur of pixels twirling through exotic locales, occasionally resolving into something recognizable, or maybe interesting, but never dramatic.
Cruise is the biggest part of that problem because he’s too self-aware, struggling to find his inner Han Solo without a hint of Harrison Ford’s bad boy charm. It’s shtik, not sincere — and that goes for the movie as a whole.
The only character who comes close to anything resembling soul is Sofia Boutella, the de facto mummy and central villain who sucks life from everyone around her in a bid to regain the throne stolen from her millennia ago. She’s supposed to be terrifying with her dual irises and decomposing flesh, yet somehow, amid this cluster of ambiguous heroes and dull heroines, she’s the only character who really registers on the emotional meter.
She’s the only real monster, and the only one who even seems to feel pain. Cruise does the best he can, and randomly throws his body across the screen with great aplomb, but if it weren’t for the plane crash to show off his skill, this movie wouldn’t even fly.
THE EX-PRESS.CA, June 9, 2017