You may know by now (although since the movie has been tracking poorly and will likely flop this weekend, many people clearly don’t) that Tom Cruise has sunk his perfect teeth into a reboot of The Mummy, the 1999 version of which gave Brendan Fraser his biggest hit.
Let’s just get the Cruise thing out of the way first. Much as I’m a fan, he’s way too old for this, playing a character, Nick Morton—a roguish plunderer of ancient burial sites—who by rights should be in this late twenties or thirties.
Tom Cruise is 54! Okay, he’s still in fine shape but the screenplay makes no concession to Cruise’s age at all. Morton is just like the cocky mavericks Cruise played in his first flush of stardom in the 80s.
The idea is to launch—yawn—a new “cinematic universe” resurrecting Universal’s trademark monsters. A roly-poly Russell Crowe plays Dr Jekyll and future films will revolve around the likes of The Wolfman, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and Van Helsing.
Someone bury me in a tomb and wake me up in a thousand years. The two Mummies—18 years apart—tell you everything you need to know about modern Hollywood and the dreary franchise obsession which is killing off original filmmaking.
Judging by the disappointing receipts for the latest Alien and Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, it’s snuffing out audience enthusiasm too. Have we reached “peak” franchise?
The 1999 Mummy movie was a cheapish and cheerful period romp with Fraser’s engaging, cut price Indian Jones swashbuckling and wisecracking his way across 1920’s Egypt and London alongside Rachel Weisz’ bookish sidekick.
It was unpretentious fun and free of the weight of franchise expectation: no self-aggrandizing A-list star, no labored back stories, and no annoying, inconclusive ending. It cut to the chase, literally, and was satisfying on its own uncomplicated terms.
Whatever happened to Fraser? The likable star hasn’t made a movie in five years (since dud domestic drama Gimme Shelter) and it’s nearly a decade since he appeared in his signature role as adventurer Rick O’ Donnell in The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor.
Fraser recently reportedly landed the lead role in the upcoming FX series Trust about the kidnapping of oil heir John Getty so ironically he now seems to be chasing the same kind of credibility that Cruise hankered after when he starred in Magnolia and Vanilla Sky around the time The Mummy was released.
Brendan Fraser in the 1999 version of The Mummy
Contrasting its 1999 predecessor, the 2017 Mummy is a greedy, over-produced exercise in grabbing audience coin by an aging star hoping for another reliable franchise outside of the Mission: Impossibles and a studio hungry to replicate the success of Marvel (Disney) and D.C Comics (Warners).
Cruise might be able to defy gravity in the film’s signature action sequence —a plane crash filmed in zero-gravity conditions—but he can’t shake off the feeling that he’s too old for such nonsense, especially as this is meant to be just the start of Morton’s cinematic adventures.
As for the story, well, to steal one character’s description of Morton, it’s “utterly devoid of soul”. Directed by Alex Kurtman, the movie is an efficient, box-ticking exercise in laying out the characters and themes that will come to define this new cinematic Dark Universe (how it takes a monster to fight a monster etc.).
Of course hero Cruise has to learn humility and love for someone other than himself, that person being Annabelle Wallis’s earnest archeologist Jenny Halsey.
But it never feels anything other than a movie product, slickly executed and lacking heart and inspiration.
That said, Sofia Boutella kicks up a (sand) storm as vengeful Egyptian princess, Ahmanet, who Morton releases inadvertently from a tomb in Iraq, kicking off her quest to fulfill a pact with Death—for which Morton is lined up as a tasty human sacrifice.
The Algerian-born actress makes for a fiery female villain and is way more convincing than Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The former is an upper crust doctor searching for a cure for evil, the latter a chaos-loving British Cockney thug who sounds like Ray Winstone.
As anyone who remember’s Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood will know, Crowe and British accents don’t go well together.
Nevertheless, it’s not all bad news for franchises. The Mummy is likely to be whipped at the US box office this weekend by Wonder Woman which is doing well precisely because it doesn’t feel like a cynically manufactured product.
It’s a self-contained story with heart and humor and a sweet, self-effacing hero. Not unlike The Mummy. From 1999.