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Shouldn’t somebody be saying “There’s a storm coming”?

by Thom Yee

mummy-one

The Mummy (2017) images courtesy of Universal Pictures

The odds are you’re never going to talk to Tom Cruise.  I mean, that’s pretty obvious from the perspective of logic and reason and cosmological significance — the odds are you’re never going to talk to a lot of people, important or otherwise.  Even you and I are probably never going to meet or have a conversation (and you come here to read our reviews all the time, don’t you?). What I mean when I say you’re never going to talk to Tom Cruise is that you’re never going to get to know Tom Cruise.  You’re never really going to meet him.  Maybe you’ll be allowed to ask him a question if you’re lucky and get chosen out of a crowd at a press junket, maybe you’ll hear what seems like a personal anecdote about him from someone you know who works in Hollywood, but Tom Cruise, a world-famous actor, a franchise unto himself and an icon who’s likely to spend the rest of his life in the public eye and leave a body of movie work behind that will be watched, loved, and even studied for generations after?  That’s not someone you’ll ever have a personal conversation with or learn a lot about even if you do somehow find yourself in a position to say something to him.

When you’re talking about someone of Tom Cruise’s stature, you’re talking about a space of extremely rarefied air, the kinds of spaces reserved for the British Royal Family, absolute titans of industry, or current presidents, people whose everyday lives are nothing like ours, instead highly calculated and obscured behind layers of protection, whether that protection takes the form of representatives, publicists, speakers, body guards, or secret servicemen (and women… actually I don’t know if there are any secret servicewomen left; I certainly don’t think it would be right to ask any woman to jump in front of Donald Trump if he were being shot at).  Someone like Tom Cruise is basically no longer of our world, and even if you were a Hollywood reporter or his best friend since childhood, you shouldn’t believe for a second that whatever he’s saying back to you wasn’t planned, rehearsed, focus tested, and reviewed before being released for public consumption.  If you see him at a movie opening, if you catch him on the red carpet of an awards ceremony, if you watch him in his movies or listen to him respond in an interview, hell, if you became a movie producer and he agreed to take a part in your movie, you’re never actually going to meet the real Tom Cruise (if there is such a thing anymore).  Oh, and if he did agree to take a part in your movie?  That movie you’d conceived of, that movie you’ve been incubating, nurturing, raising, and watching over like a loving parent, proud to finally be able to present it to the world?  It would no longer be your movie.  It would be Tom Cruise’s movie.

mummy-cruise-premiereNone of this is meant as a slight against Tom Cruise nor does it come as the result of some sort of petty jealousy of his success, a desire to pull the actor back down to our Earth, or to say something about the things he’s associated with like Scientology.  The point is, though we, he and us, are all of this Earth, though you could, theoretically, arrive in a situation where you’d shake his hand, feel his flesh gripping yours, and get the vibe from him that he and you aren’t that different, we have no idea what it’s like to be Tom Cruise or someone like him and there is very little chance we ever will no matter how well we do in our own lives.  The machinations of the Hollywood elite are mysterious and difficult to fully recognize, the result of years of radical diet and exercise regimes, backroom money laundering schemes and projective cycles of psychological influence, calculated selective breeding, and probably many other things so unspeakable that they defy full comprehension or effective description.  We… we are just here to observe what we can of theirs, think what we’ve always thought of them, spend our money on the things they make for us to buy, and ignore as many of their evils as we can for as long as we can.  So when you ask the question, “Why the hell is Tom Cruise starring in a Mummy movie?”  Such answers are not for us to understand.  Especially not with those reviews.  And especially not with that first weekend domestic box office opening.

What’s it about?

You know the mummy, right?  The dead, buried, entombed Egyptian guy in the bandages with horror inherent in his personage?  He’s back!  And he’s a girl now!  And Tom Cruise is going to stop her… from… doing…something…?  Also, shared Universal Monsters Dark Universe!

Those Mummy trailers have been coming out for a while now, seeded over the course of the last few months in the usual Hollywood blockbuster fashion, and while they haven’t exactly made a huge dent in the ‘movies-we-can’t-wait-for’ landscape the way that the latest Wonder Woman or Black Panther trailers have and just did (respectively), I for one really enjoyed most of them.  Especially with the first one, which began with the sudden, catastrophic plane crash that led to our lead character’s seeming death and resurrection, I got the sense that this 2017 version of The Mummy might actually have something interesting to say (even if that something probably wasn’t going to be very original).  Now I’m also someone who’s never had anything more than a passing, basic knowledge of the 2017 Mummy’s Universal movie monster forebears, and I’m also someone who very deliberately never saw any of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies (because Brendan Fraser should only be observed in small doses as a guest star on mid-2000s sitcoms), so I really had no pre-existing expectations of or mixed emotions about this version of The Mummy.

This latest version has been in various stages of development since at least 2012, with various directors and stars attached and the news that it would be the starting point for a shared universe of the classic Universal monsters trickling out somewhere along that production path, but it wasn’t until the news that Tom Cruise would be starring came out that the project started to get much attention.  Of course, in our modern cinematic age of shared universes, it’s only natural to be at least a little skeptical of Universal’s cart-before-horse approach to their shared monster universe (now officially operating under the moniker of the “Dark Universe”), but the news that Universal had landed a major star like Cruise seemed enough to legitimize the whole thing if only because:  a) it’s never a mistake to add genuine talent to a project, and b) it’s not like Cruise is hurting for work.  Tom Cruise might not be the first actor you think of for a given role, but he’s exactly the kind of movie star that lets you know that Universal’s taking this thing seriously, especially when you consider how big a share of the profits they’ll be giving up to Cruise to keep him involved in the franchise.  And money is, once again and like always when it comes to these big, multinational movies, what you have to keep in mind when you look at how these movies are received here in North America, because even though The Mummy hasn’t been received very well by critics and, for this kind of movie, it didn’t make a lot of money in its firs weekend at the domestic box office, these movies aren’t about those things anymore.  It’s all about the international take, because Tom Cruise movies (that aren’t Mission:  Impossible) actually haven’t done very well domestically for a while.

Is it any good?

You know it’s a problem when you’ve had a good night’s rest, a day off work after a work week of no particular stress or import, and a free afternoon to see a movie, you walk into The Mummy feeling not particularly tired, but you can’t keep your eyes open by the movie’s mid-point.  You know it’s a bad sign for The Mummy when you don’t at all think about it in the days that follow your viewing of it.  And I know it’s a problem for a movie when I spend pretty much the entire introduction of my review not really talking about the movie itself.mummy-cruise.jpg

In the fullness of what you can and should expect from a movie, The Mummy isn’t actually that bad.  It’s action packed, it’s shot in a way you can follow most of that action, it has some interesting characters, and it has some moments that really surprised me.  I think there’s genuine potential in the Dark Universe because it taps into some of our most classic cinema heroes/villains and it’s genuinely interesting to see these monsters clash, I liked Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde as the leader of the Prodigium organization charged with containing these monstrous threats, and even though it’s the very first scene I ever saw of the movie, I still remain very impressed with the plane crash sequence because it was quite visceral and it was shot quite well.  And there are a couple of other cute scenes as well.

But you shouldn’t see it.mummy-boutella.jpg

Let’s step back for a moment and think about all of the things The Mummy should be.  First and foremost, it should be a horror movie, though one more adventurous than straight up terrifying.  I don’t know what all of your thoughts are on mummies and what they’ve come to represent as monsters in our shared cultural cinematic history, but they’re elements of horror at the very least, and as a horror movie, there is nothing remotely scary about The Mummy.  At least in terms of potential scares, I would feel comfortable showing it to a five year old.  As an adventure movie, it’s not bad, it spans enough of the globe to feel big, but the stakes never quite feel big enough.  Second, it should have strong elements of romance because that’s how these movies work, especially with leading-men types like Tom Cruise, and on that level it fails pretty badly.  Putting aside romantic chemistry, because I don’t even think that’s a thing in this movie, Annabelle Wallis’ Dr. Whatshername is largely a non-entity, at times there for exposition, and at others to be damsel in distress, and all of that is particularly bad considering how much the plot of the movie hinges on Cruise and Wallis’ relationship.  Third, and this is most important, it should be a good time, and The Mummy just isn’t.  It’s just there, not too bad, not very good, but definitely a movie, and it’s right around this point, right here and now, that I’ve realized I can’t really write a whole lot more about The Mummy.  It’s a movie.  It looks like a movie, sounds like a movie, and features movie stars.  I have a few more notes and I had planned to go on a bit longer, but… I don’t feel there’s any need to.  I really just don’t have much more to say.mummy-run.jpg

So should I see it?

The biggest surprise I got from The Mummy is the discovery that a Tom Cruise movie is a very specific thing.  A Tom Cruise movie is fast, a Tom Cruise movie is exciting, and a Tom Cruise movie needs to have at least a few smart moments.  It turns out, then, that you can’t just write a movie and then decide somewhere along the line that Tom Cruise should be the star, even when you think your movie is all of those things, because, most important of all, a Tom Cruise movie needs to be something.  It can’t be nothing.  It can’t be completely typical.  It can be constructed, but it shouldn’t feel that way.  And it can’t just be the sum of the limited screenplay and calculated production budget you put together to try to start a shared universe series of movies you, as a studio head, want to do well but don’t really believe in.

As a blockbuster movie meant to kickstart a bigger universe of movies, The Mummy is acceptable, but it’s extremely bland and predictable, and it’s both of those things in a way that it’s hard for me to imagine anyone being engaged by it, and I think the one thing that’s most striking about it is that it feels like a waste of time.  Now my time isn’t all that precious, and most of it is spent with movies and comicbooks anyways, so I don’t mind that I’ve seen The Mummy, I don’t mind that I spent my free afternoon seeing it when I could’ve been doing something else, I even got to try out a nearby pizza place I’d had my eye on for a bit (it was decent, better than The Mummy, mmiiiight go back), but if you don’t want to feel like you’ve wasted your time or you want to feel anything at all, The Mummy probably isn’t the right choice.

Thom’s The Mummy final score

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