Monday 12 June 2017

The Mummy 2017

MILF Dead Ramble

The Mummy 2017
2017 USA Directed by Alex Kurtzman  
UK cinema release print.

Semi warning: Very minor spoilers here.

I’ve always loved the Universal Monsters movies, ever since I was a nipper when I first saw the classics like Dracula (and his daughter), Frankenstein (and his bride), The Wolfman (reviewed here), Creature From The Black Lagoon (reviewed here) and, of course, The Mummy. I even loved the ‘actionised’ versions by Stephen Sommers too (well, the first two anyway). When I bought my first DVD player, many years ago, the imported discs of the various Universal Monster gems were at the top of my list of cool movies I needed to purchase...along with the other big essentials The Final Programme (reviewed here) and the 1930s Flash Gordon serials. I rediscovered these timeless classics again and loved to be able to finally see all the movies produced in clean transfers and in the correct sequence without resorting to disjointed TV broadcast dates.

Regular readers of this blog will probably know that, although I don’t have anything good to say about Scientology, I really think a lot of Tom Cruise, both as an actor and as a personality who brings a heck of a lot of good thoughts and hard work to the roles he undertakes. So when I heard that one of my favourite modern performers was going to join yet another reboot of The Mummy, I was pretty happy about that. I went to the debut concert of one of my favourite modern score composers last year... Brian Tyler (concert reviewed here)... in London and Tom Cruise was in the audience too (presumably over here shooting this movie, as it happens) and the next day it was announced that Mr. Tyler would be doing the score for it too. So, again, I was happy about that.

I didn’t think too much of the trailers for this movie, to be honest... but I was intrigued by the fact that the film was being headlined by a female mummy (not such a rarity, actually... but they’re usually downplayed for some reason). This time we had the gorgeous Sofia Boutella as the new “boobs n’ bandages” incarnation of The Mummy, Princess Ahmanet and I was intrigued to see what kind of dynamic a female antagonist would bring to the picture this time.

I also got wind somehow that Russel Crowe was playing Dr. Henry Jekyll and it was then that I realised there was going to be a bit of a 1940s Universal ‘monster rally’ vibe going on in this picture. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the company announced that this was going to be the first of the Universal ‘Dark Universe’ series, which would include such characters as Frankenstein’s monster, The Bride Of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Invisible Man (played by Johnny Depp, no less). True, I could be cynical (and very accurate) in saying that the company was obviously doing what DC have started doing and going for that Marvel Avengers money... in that they obviously want to cross over all the characters and reap the huge profits to be had from the combination of different characters that appeal to different fans... but of all the companies going for this kind of cross pollination of characters at the moment, I reckon Universal studios with their famous monsters have the right to do this more than any other company out there. After all, they’ve being doing it since 1943 when they unleashed Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman... which was so successful that their next two pictures had three monsters apiece... the Frankenstein monster, The Wolfman and Dracula... in them, in House Of Frankenstein (1944) and House Of Dracula (1945). Although that last one was pretty much the last hurrah for these particular Universal monsters in a totally serious horror movie for a while, they did all return together for what must be one of the first films to cross pollinate both serious horror and comedy in the much loved Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein... which starred Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster (his third time in the role), Lon Chaney Jr as The Wolfman (his fifth time in the role) and, returning for his second and final time as Dracula, the original champ vamp Bela Lugosi. Of course, Lon Chaney Jr would also play Dracula once and The Mummy in three of the Mummy sequels (after Boris Karloff and Tom Tyler had both had a crack at the role). Strangely enough, The Mummy character never came up against his fellow monsters back then and even an appearance in Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy was devoid of any monsters. So I’m really hoping this modern film series runs its course and sets things right on that score.

So, yes... no matter how bad the trailer was, not to mention the terrible critical drubbing the movie has gotten... this was a Universal Monster movie, scored by one of my favourite modern composers and... I was looking forward to it a lot.

Funnily enough, despite what people have been saying about it... I was not disappointed with it.

Okay, so the film doesn’t start off as strongly as it could. After an extension to the Universal fanfare which ushers in their new Dark Universe logo (Was this also scored by Brian Tyler?) we get a brief detour with the Knights Templar (which does, I promise, become somewhat relevant to the story much later in the film) and we are also introduced to Russel Crowe's Jeykll. Some of the dialogue is not great in this scene as Crowe sets up the story, for the audience, with a big flashback to Princess Ahmanet’s history and her origin as The Mummy. Now, I have to say that the brilliant Stephen Sommers movie of 1999 also has a similar sequence at the opening but, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the 1999 one doesn’t need the ‘not very well written’ narration as this one does. True, it does also use voice-over narrative but a lot of the points that Sommers needed to hit in his version are made more interesting in the lurid but actually quite subtly expressed visuals and, although this new version certainly has that, the narrative just feels a little overplayed here, truth be told.

That being said, this is a, mostly, different kind of movie from that incarnation of the franchise and this opening, pre-title scene is pretty much the weakest moment in the picture. Which is a shame because for some of the audience that will really set the tone and persist in their memory. After this, the movie is actually pretty strong and although there’s plenty of action in it, I’m wondering if a lot of the disappointment from the critics comes from expecting an action/horror movie rather than what we have here which is actually more a horror/action movie... if you know what I mean.

One huge difference is that Sofia Boutella is not once sympathetic. In the Sommer’s version the audience can, at least, identify with the reasons why the two lovers do what they do... here, Ahmanet was as evil in life as she is in her living death so that’s a clear difference in the way you are asked to view the monster. And, while the script is possibly a bit ropey in places... such as the ludicrous but hugely enjoyable fight scene between Tom Cruise’s anti-hero Nick Morton and Russel Crowe’s ‘gor blimey guv’nor’ performance as Jekyll’s alter-ego Mr. Hyde, it is at least, for the most part, focusing on a singular story goal.

That is to say, it’s not the potpourri of different movies and scripts sandwiched together as some critics have been saying, I believe. Sure, it’s got a few moments where the tone is uneven and it perhaps tries to do a few too many things... we have the main story line of Ahmanet trying to reincarnate Set in Tom Cruise’s body, we have the secret organisation of Monster Fighters run by Crowe’s Jekyll/Hyde character and we also have a series of strange moments where Cruise’s best mate Chris, played by Jake Johnson as the comic relief, returns from the dead to talk to the cursed Cruise character in much the same manner as the male protagonist of John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London is ‘cursed’ with his dead friend visiting him at regular intervals. However, I don’t think there’s enough of a melange here to cause too much confusion for the audience... well, unless you have the attention span of a two year old maybe but most people, I suspect, will be fine with it.

The performances are all cool too. Cruise is pitch perfect as always and Sofia Boutella absolutely nails it as an incarnation of seductive evil as Ahmanet. The on-screen chemistry between Cruise and his other leading lady in the film...  Annabelle Wallis as Jenny Halsey... is perhaps a little off but I honestly think that’s nothing to do with either of these actor’s performances and everything to do with a script which moves so fast it could have, perhaps, just allowed a little more breathing space with another scene or two to establish the, ‘already before you met them’, strained sexual relationship between these characters.

There are also some great little rewarding references to the history of the Universal Monsters franchise of both the long past and the more recent history. A vampire’s skull, for instance, plus a nice moment where you see the hand of the gillman from Creature From The Black Lagoon preserved in a jar. Also, aside from the obvious giant sandstorm face reference to Stephen Sommers’ version of The Mummy, check out the brief appearance of the quite distinctive tome with which Anabelle Wallis knocks Jekyll’s bodyguard unconscious. A little hint... “You must not read from the boooooooook!”

Oh, and for the record... Brian Tyler’s score is characteristically excellent and adds some interesting textures to some of the quieter, suspenseful scenes too. I’m a bit annoyed that the electronic download (I don’t do downloads) is twice the length of the already generous CD release which is due out in a few weeks but, you know, at least it’s getting a CD release so I’ll at least be able to hear half of it away from the movie. Looking forward to revisiting some of his quite distinctive themes for this coming from my stereo.

All in all, The Mummy is not a bad movie at all and far from the disaster that everyone, the critics at least, seems to be making it out to be. I understand it’s not done too well at the US box office but I also understand it’s done very well, Tom Cruises biggest opening, at the Chinese box office and so I’m really hoping the Dark Universe project at Universal is not scaled back or dead in the water because of its domestic performance. I really want to see the sequel which is left very clearly primed for this movie... as well as all the other monster mash-ups the new franchise has got planned (although I don’t really see how the proposed Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera movies would work alongside the other projects they have planned in this series, to be perfectly honest). Still, good luck to them and if you are a fan of the old Universal monster movies and don’t mind the possibly over-adrenalised action sequences that these kinds of movies utilise to capture a younger audience, then you should have an okay time with this one. I’ll certainly be looking to pick up the Blu Ray as soon as it gets released.

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