“This means something bigger than you can imagine. My life’s work and you were going to steal it. How much is that worth on the black market?”
When I heard this line, I heard the cry of a thousand monster kids when news of the Dark Universe started appearing.
I’ll add my standard disclaimer now: I didn’t come to old school horror through Universal like most people did. Hammer was my entry point. While I’ve seen the Universal films and appreciate that horror as a genre would not be what it is without them, I don’t have the emotional investment in them a lot of people do. That also means I will be much more forgiving of this movie than most (I do understand how Universal people feel though. If you want to hear some wailing and gnashing of teeth, ask me about current Batman comics).
Let Me Get This Out Of My System First
Now, I’ve been obsessed with Egypt ever since I was 10. I don’t know as much as I should as I had periods where I was lax in keeping up with the archaeology, but I know a fair bit. And I know enough to have to get this out of my system…
Also, if you’re going to make politics part of your plot, understand how the politics of your country worked. Egypt had a harem system, which meant the chances of Pharaoh not having a son were slim and even if the situation in the movie arose it would have been super easy for Ahmanet to Hatshepsut that shit: Rule for the kid as regent and just claim the title of Pharaoh before the kid was grown. End of story.
And you want to erase someone from history? You don’t give them a tomb. The surest way to curse and insult someone was to have no funeral, no rites, and nothing to mark the grave.
And mummifying someone alive is not a thing. It’s kind of impossible.
Okay. *straightens tie and smoothes back hair* Moving on….
The Head That Wears The Crown
Whatever else we want to say about this film, it is called The Mummy so the mummy is the really important thing here.
Sofia Boutella NAILED… THAT… SHIT! She was, hands down, the best thing about the movie. She was believably hurt and vulnerable when she needed to be, a stone cold bad ass the rest of the time and beautifully manipulative and calculating throughout.
Now, I’m a fan of the Gothic, so tragic romance floats my boat, but a change every once in awhile is nice. That’s where one of the key, and most refreshing, changes comes to this movie.
Ahmanet was not some woman who lost her lover due to the misfortunes of chance and shares the curse that stalks him through time. Ahmanet was the daughter of a god and the god who was supposed to wear the crown next. Every decision she made was toward the ultimate goal of securing what she saw as hers by right.
The makers of this film never lost sight of that and a bunch of details (though I’m guessing a great deal of them were unintentional) show that. Ahmanet carried herself ramrod straight with her chin up and out. She stood slightly awkwardly but always in a way that took up slightly more space than anyone else which is consistence with the way Egyptian monarchs were depicted in art. She projected regal and when people – alive or dead – did as she commanded, even when she didn’t say anything, it made perfect sense. God-queens must be obeyed.
One of my favorite scenes is when Ahmanet walks into the tomb of the Templars for the first time and all the undead warriors take a knee. The filmmakers probably didn’t realize it, but that’s a big deal. Taking a knee (a.k.a. genuflecting) for Catholics is reserved for God and for the Host. You bow or kneel on both knees for everything else. So you have Christian knights making a holy gesture of servitude before an undead, pagan god-queen.
This is a woman who was born to rule and will do whatever she has to to secure that crown. That is what makes this my favorite iteration of The Mummy and if it weren’t for Ingrid Pitt, Ahmanet would totally be my undead queen.
I also think there was a major disservice done in the marketing for this movie (which actually probably bled into the movie now I think of it) because it was titled The Mummy, which meant we should have been focusing on our monster. Not Tom Cruise. Ahmanet feels like an afterthought. In that way, she does become like a typical female in a horror movie. What she does doesn’t matter, even though it should since she’s the baddie. What happens to her is where our focus is.
Ugh. That guy?
While I rather liked this movie, it did basically suck. One of the reasons was that you have an amazing baddie but the hero is a total schmuck named Nick Morton.
Now, I didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy so it grates on my last nerve that the male lead in every movie now is Star Lord.
Hate to break it to you: A dick-bag with a heart of gold is still a dick-bag. And the love of a good woman has never, ever fixed a dick-bag. All it’s done is exactly what it did in this movie: Get those around him hurt and killed. Worse still, the “redemption” Nick gets in the end is in no way earned. It’s given to him because he’s Tom Cruise, er, I mean, the “hero.”
I do feel like there’s squandered opportunities in the character. First off, earning his redemption, but I also especially liked the idea of him going into these war zones and exploiting the fighting for his own gain. That is an avenue that is fertile ground for a new generation of ancient folk horror.
And the humor, which was mostly at Nick’s expense, was solid. That was a welcome borrow from Stephen Sommer’s Mummy.
Wait, Who’s Pulling The Strings Here?
If this movie had been made in the 30’s, Jenny Halsey would have been the victim. She’s pretty, she’s useless and she contributes nothing to the story except the hero’s tears at the end.
But another fun aspect of this film is that it was made now and we have a gender swap on our hands. Our female lead is the power grasping monster and the puppet on her strings is male. Nick has absolutely no agency until the very end. He is completely at the mercy of Ahmanet.
This really hit me during the scene in the cathedral when Ahmanet was going to sacrifice Nick. She starts pawing at him in a way that is pretty clearly supposed to be sexual but Nick is NOT enjoying it (and women everyone cry “see how that feels!?”).
But the gender swap is at its best, I think, during the fight scenes. It makes me so happy to see a female villain pick someone up by the throat and chuck them across the room with one hand. Talk about empowering! And I was giggling madly when the final fight scene descended into Ahmanet repeatedly bitch slapping Nick (because those were bitch slaps).
It’s also nice to see Ahmanet take a hit like a champ. Pick axe through the thigh? Whatever. *bitch slap*
All that promise did fall apart at the very end though. The nonsensical love triangle where there’s no evidence that anyone actually loved each other won out. Ahmanet got inexplicably jealous and the man with no willpower until that moment managed to contain the god of evil, so the woman gets shirked and the man becomes all powerful because… he’s Tom Cruise? Because they feel like they have to put Tom in another movie? Because of some other stupid reason that’s gonna get me angry if I think about it anymore?
The Important Things In Life
The dead people. Let’s talk about the dead people in this movie because dead people are fun to talk about and they always make me happy.
Now, the scene where Ahmanet wakes up for the first time and sucks the life from the two cops had me wanting to run up and down the aisles of the theater skweeing and waving my arms around. It was soooooooo purdy!
I’m also madly in love with their version of Set. We only saw a little bit of him, but it was super sexy and I hope he pops up again.
There was a pretty clear attempt to make the dead people in this movie scary. When they first died, they didn’t move easily and it was creepy as all get out. They were gross too and I really appreciated that. I was madly in love with the scene where the Templars were swimming after Nick. It was a silly scene, but it looked so nice.
Here’s The Part Where I Earn The Side Eye
I’m gonna bring the skeleton out of the closet here: I’m gonna set this movie side by side with Dracula Untold for a second.
Dracula Untold was being made when the Dark Universe was being conceived, so all the tie in stuff was tacked on at the end. But the big reason you can tell it wasn’t supposed to be part of the Dark Universe is because Dracula Untold doesn’t have much of an old school, 30’s feel to it. It actually leans pretty hard into Lord of the Rings style fantasy.
On the other hand, The Mummy smacks of the 30’s and, as much as I hate to say it, is probably the movie Universal would have made in ’32 if they’d had the means. Universal made those movies to put butts in seats and cash in hand. The fact that they ended up being such elegant masterpieces was mostly an accident because the stories had to be well written to balance out the fact that they had no means to do anything truly spectacular. They probably would have sacrificed story to go for the cheap scare back then.
The thing I associate most with horror films of that period (and later, to be honest, it’s not like Hammer never did it) is story sacrificed for the sake of style and plot convenience. That is all over this new film.
For example, the deal Ahmanet makes is a deal with the Devil. Tit for tat that goes awry and bites her in the ass. But Egyptians weren’t dualistic in the same way we are. Set was a bad dude, but the bad things he did were necessary for balance in the universe and he wasn’t ultimate evil. Not to mention that one did not bargain with Egyptian gods.
Another example is the sarcophagus on a lever system. In spite of taking all that effort to seal her away forever, the priests put in a lever system to pull the sarcophagus out. How else were our heroes going to get her out? Looked cool too.
How does Nick come back from the dead when he’s had no special experience outside of some visions? Dunno. But it’s cool if he dies so we’ll do that and bring him back.
My point is that this movie followed the pattern of a 30’s Universal film and I think we can expect more of that type of barely sensical-ness from future films, especially if you want to force monsters together.
“You Have To Be Weary Of A Man Like Me.”
There is another aspect here that is quite modern. Prodigium is basically a government conspiracy to hunt evil. It subverts other branches of government in pursuing its goal, which fits perfectly with the personality of the man who created it.
This is one aspect of the story that really bugged me: Prodigium is headed by Henry Jekyll.
I like the idea of Prodigium and I like the fanaticism that rears its head in the way Jekyll deals with evil. There is no negotiation, no alternatives, only destruction.
My problem is a) I don’t like Jekyll and Hyde (personal taste, but it does factor into my opinion), b) what we seem to be dealing with in the Dark Universe is absolute good and evil. Black and white. To me, Jekyll and Hyde was the gray area between because the story itself was about the evil that men are capable of. Even good men. And c) Russell Crowe was not pulling off Jekyll. He was a fine as Hyde, though the transformation was lackluster. I heard that Eddie Redmayne was considered to play Jekyll and Hyde, and I think he would have been magnificent.
I Spy With My Little Eye…
This is a miscellaneous list of references I thought I spotted in the movie. Some of them are probably totally in my head but I stand by them.
– In the lab at Prodigium we see the Gill Man’s hand and a vampire skull. In Jekyll’s office there’s also a skull that has had the top sawed off and reattached, ala Frankenstein. I also kept seeing ape skulls, so I’m not sure what that could mean.
– The Egyptian dream sequences and the flashbacks where Ahmanet performed the rituals to Set borrowed heavily from Coppola’s Dracula stylistically.
– Ahmanet awakening in the wet, gross boggy area – The Mummy’s Curse with Ananka being found in the muck of a Louisiana swamp. During this scene the policemen also follow a strip of bandage that reminded me of the scene in the original Mummy when Imhotep walks away, leaving the laughing clerk insane.
-Rats on the streets in London – Dracula. I can’t see rats in a horror movie and not think Dracula.
– All the stuff from Stephen Sommers’s Mummy: Bugs. All them Bugs; Sandstorms and faces in sandstorms; sucking the life breath from people to heal; and, of course, the Book of Amen Ra.
– The Templars: TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD! That makes Ahmanet my hero since she commands the Eastern Knights.
– During the fight in the cathedral, one of the zombies ends up tacked to the wall horizontally and that reminded me of the golden unicorn/catapult kill in The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
“This, My Little Prince, Is The Ultimate Game.”
(That line is from Dracula Untold, for the record.)
At this point, the Dark Universe is a chess game we’ve only seen the opening moves of.
Dracula Untold has already been dismissed from Dark Universe continuity, but I think reintegrating it would be extremely easy and fun.
I’m a firm believer that Charles Dance should stay involved in the Dark Universe (he’s the closest thing to Sir Christopher Lee we have left!) and I think his master vampire would butt heads nicely with Jekyll and Prodigium. They probably would not be the group the vampire mentioned wanting revenge on, but they would most likely end up getting in the way. This would make Dracula choose sides, or not choose sides, so he can be a hero without being a hero and a villain without being a villain, ala Dark Shadows’s Barnabas Collins.
By adding Jekyll and what are basically zombies, they have made steps toward making the Dark Universe a much bigger, more all encompassing thing then it was in the 40’s, which is a step in the right direction if we’re going long game.
Last I heard Bride Of Frankenstein is up next, and I almost wonder if we won’t have Nick approaching Dr. Frankenstein, asking him to remove Set somehow. Perhaps the monster can act as a vessel for the god.
But, for me, the really fun implications are for Ahmanet. We see her desiccated corpse being put back into its sarcophagus and the sarcophagus being filled with mercury. Setting aside the fact that we know she’s not gone because franchise, within the story this denotes that they still consider her a threat. She was a queen on the verge of becoming a god. She killed her own family to seize power. When she wakes up, who’s to say she won’t hunt Nick down and murder him to seize the throne of Hell itself? Who knows what allies and enemies she’ll make along the way?
We’ve just been given our Queen, and in chess the Queen is the most versatile piece.
Did I like The Mummy? Yeah, I did.
The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.