If you were a cook – no, this isn’t a career advice column – and you come across a rather impressive recipe penned by your favorite aunt or loving grandmother or any such rare, benevolent species in your family, what would you do? You would, in all probability, light up the gas stove, and get to work, keenly focusing on what’s written on that precious page. Let us also say that the end product is rather tasty and satisfying, reveled by all near and dear, while you bask in the reflected relative glow. What would you do next? Stick to the recipe, or try to upgrade it with your own creative instincts?
I’m not sure about you, but if director Alex Kurtzman was a chef, he’d have, going by his recent behavior, rewritten the recipe, causing much heartburn to the recipients of his culinary adventure and said relative who documented the wondrous dish process. And the reason for my oracular confidence is his latest cinematic outing, The Mummy. In 1999, director Stephen Sommers launched the very enjoyable, racy movie by the same name. As monster movies go, Sommers’ version was lots of fun, chills, and laughs, thanks in no small measure to Brendan Frasier’s perplexed hunky turn and John Hannah’s very English and bumbling act. In Kurtzman’s reboot, there’s the devilishly dishy soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), who along with his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), is stealing antiques and archaeological pieces in Iraq during the war, and making money on the side, much to the chagrin of their superior, Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance).
In an airstrike that’s manipulated by the duo, the aftermath of the bomb reveals a tomb, even as there arrives Jennifer “Jenny” Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), ostensibly an archaeologist, and who wants the place sealed off to ensure there’s no more damage done. Col. Greenway inexplicably commands Nick and Chris to accompany Jenny inside the tomb, and that’s where Nick sets off a series of events that put everyone’s life in imminent danger. If you must know, he awakes the mummified Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who, in ancient Egypt had murdered her father and his newborn son to stake claim to the throne. But before she was captured and bandaged for life, she’d already invoked the God of darkness and death, Set (Javier Botet). You don’t need to be a Pyramid hugger to guess that all these characters eventually intertwine with Nick and Jenny, and not in a “What ho! Let’s grab a drink!” way. Right at the very beginning, you’re also introduced to Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Edward Hyde (Russell Crowe), who, as you eventually discover, heads Prodigium, an organization that’s dedicated itself to locating and exterminating evil. The Jekyll-Hyde naming is, as you’ll learn, is a reference to a mishap that’s affected the good doctor for life.
At its heart, The Mummy strives to be a battle between good and evil, and for the first half it succeeds superbly. There’s some dazzlingly choreographed action, and what took my breath away was the plane crash carrying most of the above-mentioned characters into England (I’m assuming this was before the Brexit vote.) For those who’ll sniff away the sequence to pure special effects, you must know that Tom Cruise insisted on shooting the scenes inside the plane, as it plummets, in actual zero G conditions, going for multiple retakes to get it right. And my, did they crack it! The action and atmosphere is all fey, even as the promise of pure evil and gloweringly ominous atmospherics portend of more cinematic chill to come. For, there are scenes where you’ll jump in your seat in sheer terror, and you anticipate there’ll be more such campy fun.
But, what do you do when the shocks begin to wane and the tricks begin to fade, even as they appear with an almost exemplary predictability of cadence? And that is what kills The Mummy in the second half. Having run out of their bag of boos and frights, director Kurtzman and writers David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman dip into other containers of the past, borrowing from anybody and everybody in the genre, making your checklists look like lame duck laundry lists. Indiana Jones meets The Walking Dead? Check. A whiff of The Conjuring? Check. All zombie movies and their resultant resolution? Check. And just like that, as the mummy’s bandages unravel, so does the movie. By the time Nick figures out to how resolve the entire problem, it’s all very didactic and incoherent. Bodies fly. Monsters do the walk in groups, as if prowling around for a team lunch. And Nick, that rogue, that rake, now threatens to overwhelm us and all saints who we know, with such goodness that you weep –not out of emotion but sheer stupefaction.
In this zany-to-listless journey from bandages to the current dark ages, most of the cast is good, considering what they’re assigned to do. When she’s not let down by weak dialogues, Annabelle Wallis exudes some strong will power and determination. Russell Crowe sounds hypnotizingly sonorous, especially when narrating the Egyptian story in the beginning. Later on, he appears as dazed as the audience, wondering whether to kill or hide. Sofia Boutella, when not all bandaged up, is either in the throes of scary CGIs, or in the past scenes, pouting in the desert. It is left to Tom Cruise to pilot The Mummy to some sense of safety, and he does succeed for the most part. Also the eye-popping good looker, Cruise’s act is marvelous, his act a mix of rakish and roguish fun. And if you’re into that sort of trivia, there’s also a scene of him in the buff, with strategically placed hands to avoid familial blushes. But dash it, he looks good.
With even composer Brian Tyler’s score running a predictable channel, The Mummy is a victim of its own premise, waking up a story that needn’t have been. And in the end, when you’re all but told that there’ll be a sequel, and you get a glimpse of what’s to come sounds nastily close to the TV series Supernatural, you realize you’ve arrived at the scariest part of the movie.
The Mummy is rated A (Restricted to adults). There’s Tom Cruise in his birthday suit, while the Indian censors snipped away a glimpse of Sofia Boutella in a similar attire; there’s also cursing that’s been silenced out. Which pretty much leaves the scary bits.
Director Alex Kurtzman Running Time 1h 50 min
Writers David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman,
Stars Tom Cruise, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe
Genres Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Watch the trailer of The Mummy here: