The Mummy Should Have Been About the Freaking Mummy

If you pay attention to pop culture, by now you have
undoubtedly heard that Alex Kurtzman’s reboot of The
Mummy
is all curse, no gift. Currently, it has earned a
pitiful 21 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The
nicest thing A.O. Scott can performatively muster in his New York Times
review
is this: “It is 110 minutes long. That is about 20
minutes shorter than Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men
Tell No Tales
, about which I had some unkind things to say
a couple of weeks ago. Simple math will tell you how much
better this movie is than that one. If you have no choice but
to see it—a circumstance I have trouble imagining—you can start
in on your drinking that much sooner.”

I’m sure what I’m about to say is contrary to the beliefs of
the board of experts who want this movie to be seen by as many
people as possible so they’ll then see future movies in the
Dark Universe franchise featuring classic Universal monsters
(Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon).
Buuuuut: It didn’t have to be this way. Imagine if
this movie had focused on the woman of color character it is
ostensibly named after, exploring her dark yet considerable
power—perhaps luxuriating in the gulf between badass and
asshole that is dug out in her wake—instead of giving the
lion’s share of its attention to the white dude (“the dummy”).
(That’s my name for him, not the movie’s or his parents. His
real name is Tom Cruise.)

Coming off the heels of Wonder Woman, whose narrative
of female empowerment and woman director is impossible to
untangle from its success as popcorn entertainment, if this
hypothetical mummy-centered Mummy were merely
competent, it could have been celebrated as another sign that
the big-budget movie industry was tip-toeing toward
equality/the right side of history. That would have been a nice
win for all involved, even if the movie wasn’t very good.

But even if we put aside gestures of wokeness, be they cynical
or sincere, telling the actual story of the mummy would plainly
be more logical. The movie is, after all, called The
Mummy
. Also, the mummy (played by Sofia Boutella) is,
objectively, the far richer character. Some things about her:

  • She’s Egyptian royalty.
  • She sold her soul to a god.
  • She killed her father.
  • She was killed.
  • She became a mummy.
  • Now she’s back.
  • She has double irises in each eye.
  • She’s thousands of years old.
  • She can conjure bugs and corpses and they listen to what
    she says.
  • She has lots of assorted superhuman powers, like
    teleportation, the ability to disorient those under her
    command, great strength, etc.

But she’s not the protagonist of The Mummy. She’s not
even the anti-hero. I guess she’s the villain, but she’s barely
that even. In fact, she spends a lot of the film in chains with
mercury being pumped into her veins. Instead, we follow Nick
Morton, and here are some things about him:

  • He’s an “adventurer,” whatever that is.
  • I guess he’s American (he has an American accent).
  • Didn’t kill any members of his family.
  • Has only one iris in each eye for the vast majority of the
    movie.
  • He’s played by a 54-year-old man (Cruise) who strikes me as
    attempting to hold onto his youth in decided though subtle ways
    that I can best express my own perception of by saying… he’s
    not a daddy and the inability to make mummy/daddy jokes is yet
    another drag in a movie that’s all drags.
  • He’s cursed but he’s, like, dealing with it? Able to choke
    back the brain fog that comes from being cursed and for the
    most part see clearly???
  • He’s the kind of character who responds to an announced
    plan to murder him (thus curing the world of his curse) by
    saying, “That’s your plan?… Really, that’s your
    plan???” I think that’s a joke? (I guess the joke is that he’s
    emphatically incredulous.) I don’t know, I really think I was
    supposed to laugh at that and a lot of things presented to me
    by The Mummy. I think this is part comedy, but every
    attempt at humor was met unreciprocated by the screening
    audience I sat in earlier this week—the silence during the
    film’s brief pauses for laughter was savage.

It almost feels that The Mummy is allergic to being
interesting. At one point, Annabelle, an archeologist played by
Jenny Halsey, who accompanies Nick Morton to, I don’t know,
manage the mummy’s tomb and give him a warm body to speak lines
at, tries to make the case for Nick being a good person. To be
fair, there is little indication as to why we are following him
up until that point, other than the fact that he’s played by a
movie star who showed up for work and did what he was told,
nothing more nothing less. Annabelle references an earlier
action scene, during which Nick gave her a parachute as their
plane plummeted. She notes that he saved her life, and moreover
that he put hers before his, since it was the only parachute on
the plane. “I thought there was another one,” says Nick,
refusing even the tiniest bit of shading on his crudely drawn
character.

The Mummy smacks of a real conservative sensibility
almost everywhere, not just its insistence on making the white
guy the hero just cause that’s what white guys have been made
out to be. There’s so much gunplay with automatic weapons, at
times in a joking context (Sergeant Chris Vail lets off several
rounds when a bunch of giant spiders attack, even though he has
no chance of shooting them all) that it feels sponsored by the
NRA. There’s a man-in-the-women’s-bathroom-joke when Nick…
holes up in a women’s bathroom (and doesn’t let women use it
while he talks to a zombie version of Chris). There’s more
bloodless, gratuitous, PG-13 violence (including a
full-on, life-ending stabbing) than I’ve ever seen in a movie.
I don’t want to be dramatic by saying The Mummy is
everything that’s bad about big-budget Hollywood franchise
films, so I will say this: The Mummy is very nearly
everything that’s bad about big-budget Hollywood franchise
films. And it should have been about the mummy.

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