Mumms the Word (The Mummy, 2017)

The_Mummy_PosterEverybody wants a shared Universe these days.  Granted, this is not an entirely new concept.  And Universal used to cross over their monsters all the time.  Dracula Untold was supposed to kick off the “Dark Universe” and then got “removed from Canon” and this latest incarnation of the Mummy was the new starting point.

Nick Morton and Chris Vail are fortune hunting soldiers.  They stumble on a bizarre discovery in Iraq…the tomb of the Egyptian princess Ahmanet.  They search the tomb with archeologist Jenny Halsey, ultimately taking the coffin of Ahmanet. Nick finds himself selected to be the cursed Princess’s beloved, and also the host for the god Set. After an event that results in the death of Chris and Nick, Nick awakens in the morgue.  He now finds himself haunted by Chris (think Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London) and hunted by Ahmanet.  After she is captured by a mysterious organization headed by Henry Jekyll, Nick is filled in on the history of the monster hunting organization and the plans for Nick.

The film largely is about Nick trying to escape from his unwanted destiny.  There is an ill-fitted romance between Nick and Jenny.  The design sense of the film is kind of pedestrian, except for the mummy herself.  The look seems to be inspired by the Enchantress from last year’s Suicide Squad.

Clearly, a lot went into the mythology of this mummy, but the film itself seems unsure of its identity.  Are they trying to be scary?  It just is never chilling.  Is it an adventure?  It is certainly a dour one if it really is one at all.  This film lacks both the dark bite of earlier films and the gleeful fun of the 1999 predecessor.

Kingly Status (The Scorpion King, 2002)

Scorpion_King_PosterSo, in the Mummy Returns, the Scorpion King is a threat to the world, a servant of Anubis.  In this prequel, set well before that part of the story, the Scorpion King is more the underdog hero, seeking vengeance on the King responsible for the death of his brother.

Mathayus is a mercenary hired by free tribes to kill a sorcerer who works for the evil King Memnon.  The mission goes awry and his brother is killed.  Mathayus seeks vengeance and finds himself teamed up with happy fool Arpid.  When his attempt at assassination of Memnon is thwarted, he discovers the sorcerer is, in fact, a sorceress…and a beautiful one at that. He kidnaps her to use as a means of luring Memnon out into the open.

The Scorpion King is a pretty typical light fantasy film in the vein of Conan the Barbarian.  It does not get anywhere near as given to magical dealings as it’s Mummy brethren, the story hints of magic, but we do not see a lot of magic in practice.

The fights are pretty well choreographed, but the film lacks a lot of the humor of the Mummy franchise with only a few really funny moments.  This is probably one of the Rock’s most charmless roles. The female characters are treated as objects first…characters second.  This is unfortunate for Kelly Hu, as the film basically places it’s emphasis simply on how attractive she is.

The digital effects run from okay to pretty unimpressive.  There are digital snakes towards the end that look like cartoons.  Nothing about the film really stands out at all.  It remains a rather forgettable exercise, in spite of spawning three o it’s own sequels (all lacking Johnson).


One More Shot (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, 2008)

The_Mummy_Tomb_PosterIt took seven years to get a sequel to the Mummy Returns. Helmed by the Fast and the Furious and Dragonheart director Rob Cohen, The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is set in China.

Rick and Evie’s grown son Alex has followed in his parent’s footsteps and has discovered the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.  While investigating, he meets a ninja named Lin, who tries to stop him from making the kind of mistakes the O’Connells are prone to making.

Meanwhile, Rick and Evie have settled into a less hectic lifestyle, with Evie writing pulp romance novels inspired by their adventures.  They are asked to transport an artifact to China which leads them to meet Evie’s brother Jonathan in Shanghai where he has a mummy themed restaurant called Imhoteps. They meet up with Alex and Li who has joined him as they need to stop the Dragon Emperor who was raised by Chinese General Yang.

This leads our gang on an adventure that includes women thousands of years old, Yetis and good guy mummies.  The end result is mixed.  The adventure is there, the humor is there.  And the effects are greatly improved.

It serves the franchise well that they left Egyptian Mummies behind, giving them a fresh setting.  The majestic mountains of China make for an impressive backdrop.

The thing that feels off most of all is the change for Evie.  While most of the primaries returned, Rachel Weisz did not.  While Maria Bello is a perfectly fine actor, she has a different presence, so much so that Evie feels like a noticeably different character, especially next to Fraser who is the same Rick O’Connell.

The film is a decent enough sequel, though not anything special unless you are a die hard fan of the franchise.

Let’s Get the Band Back Together (The Mummy Returns, 2001)

The_Mummy_Returns_posterStephen Sommers returns to helm the next installment of the franchise.  Set about ten years after the first film, Rick and Evie are married and maverick adventuring archaeologists.  Think if Indiana Jones was rich, rather than a college professor.  With their young son, Alex, they explore an ancient site and discover artifacts related to the fabled Scorpion King.

The film actually begins by establishing the myth.  In his film debut, Dwayne Johnson (billed in the film as The Rock) is the Scorpion King.  A fierce Warrior who wandered the desert and on the verge of death made a pledge to the god Anubis.  In the present day, a Cult has resurrected Imhotep with the help of Meela, the reincarnation of his beloved Anck-Su-Namun.

Alex tries on a bracelet that reveals a map to the oasis of the Scorpion King…and the bracelet won’t come off.  This sets into motion both the O’Connells and Imhotep racing to the oasis.

The Mummy Returns is guilty of the sequel tendency to be “bigger”.  Every action scene is a major event.  Every character a greater purpose.  Evie suddenly has super fighting skills, and it is discovered she is the reincarnation of Nefertiti, daughter of the Pharoah and opponent of Imhotep and Anck-Su-Namun.  And Rick? Well, he is revealed to actually be Magi (with magical knowledge of their code phrases) the watchers over Imhotep from the first film (Oded Fehr returns as Ardeth Bay).  They must fight an army of pygmy mummies.  I mean, the movie is full of mummies beyond Imhotep.

This is not to say the film is not fun.  It actually carries a lot of the spirit of the first one.  The action is fun, there are daring saves, exciting sword fights and so on.  The film relies on the same humor of the first.

The digital effects are mostly on par with the previous film. There were not real leaps in technology for these films, and it all looks…okay.  But there is one glaring issue here.  Even by the standards of digital effects in 2001 (and remember, this is post “Phantom Menace”)?  The digital Scorpion King monster looks absolutely terrible.  It looks like a sub par video game creature.

In spite of the ridiculous flourishes (reincarnation for Evie, Rick being Magi, etc) the Raiders of the Lost Ark feel still works in the film, and it comes out as a fairly decent sequel.

Wrapped in Adventure (The Mummy, 1999)

The_Mummy_1999_PosterIn the 1930’s an ancient book has been discovered.  with the help of her brother and drunken adventurer Rick O’Connell, librarian Evie Carnahan leads an expedition to locate a lost city and the tomb full of treasures and antiquities.  They are racing against mercenary thieves. Both sides have a person who has been to the lost city before(Rick for Evie and the mercenaries have the cowardly Beni).  Upon finding the city, both sides set to exploring the tomb they find at the center.  Each has a piece of the puzzle, Evie a key to the  Book of the Dead, the other group has the Book.

After discovering a corpse that seems to still be fresh, in spite of its age, Evie gets drunk and reads from the Book of the Dead.  This sets off a chain of events that could result in the end of the world. On a more personal level, Rick and Evie must find a way to stop Imhotep from using Evie to bring back his beloved Anck Su Namun.

While the Mummy has traditional been a character of horror canon, this film takes a very different approach.  Stephen Sommers opts for an Indiana Jones style adventure full of crazy action and special effects.  Lighter on the gruesome and elevating comedy, this is a fun film.

It’s heavily reliant on digital effects, and almost two decades later they hold up to varying degrees.  It definitely dates the film, and yet, in the end, does not change that it is a pretty solid action movie.

The cast turns in entertaining performances.  Rachel Weisz is charming as the beautiful, clumsy and ambitious Evie.  Brendan Fraser channels Indiana Jones with swagger and goofball confidence.Sommers regular Kevin J. O’Conner is funny as the duplicitous Benji who ends up helping Imhotep to save his skin.

The film’s approach to the Mummy mythology is nicely thought out, tying Imhotep’s return to the ten plagues that beset Egypt in the Old Testament.  The film even connects the oppression of the Jews under Egypt with Benji trying a variety of religious symbols to ward off Imhotep, only for Imhotep to pause when he sees a Star of David.

The Mummy is full of action and humor.  It still holds up in spite of the dated effects.

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