ScreenCritics Shaun goes back to revisit 1999’s popular ‘The Mummy’ – does it hold up against modern action adventure flicks?
Indiana Jones not only defined what an action adventure should be – he became the gold standard. Yet in his wake came a multitude of films that staggered desperately to keep up. One such film released in the shadow of Indie was 1999’s ‘The Mummy’, a film that borrowed the name of a much-loved cult 1930’s classic and threw in a boatload of CGI and mythology to try and compete. Was it any good though?
The movie picks up way in Egypt’s past – with high priest Imhotep sleeping with the Pharaohs wife, Anck-su-namun. They get discovered and she gets sliced up – but it’s fine because he wants to revive her. Except those plans get foiled and our intrepid villain gets buried away for 2000 years. It’s all very silly and it never really stands down from that position.
I’ve always had a soft spot for ‘The Mummy’. There’s a certain charm to the films quirky nature that overrides a lot of the negative aspects and gives the audience a lot to enjoy. Not that the film doesn’t have negatives which are worthy of critique – it’s just that when the film is relishing in all the moving parts so well it’s hard to pick it apart. Because when the movie is having fun and doing what it does best – it certainly has a feel of a blockbuster series in the making. It’s a monument to Hollywood excess and relishes in the tropes of the genre it finds itself in. Yet when it tries to step beyond this, things unravel.
Underlying the whole thing is a screenplay that is very by-the-numbers; opting to keep things simple for the convenience of plot and time. Our characters have no issue finding their objectives with relative ease. Regularly they’ll say “We want to find x” and “x” will be found within the next few minutes – even if the indication is that finding said thing should be a Herculean feat. In the flow of the film it works but critically it’s somewhat lazy and staggers the films between its acts very obviously as objectives shift. It also creates a slight problem in that it leaves the back end of the film with very little focus. Once The Mummy has been awoken – our characters logically should flee as fast as possible. But instead they kind of hang around – which doesn’t really fit with the logic the movie tries to push.
There’s also an issue with the tone of the whole thing. The film tries it’s hand at horror although most of these are cheap in execution; the kind of jump scare horror that leads to eye rolling from horror enthusiasts. It tries to go for grand adventure but half the time these scenes give way to very tedious character building exercises which hamper the plots progress. Getting to Hamunatra might be interesting but once there we spend a good 15 minutes idly milling around while the plot builds up to reveal of the titular character. This time is filled by lots of infighting and bewildering nonsense that comes to nothing when all the people involved end up dead by the films midpoint anyway. And then the film tries to throw goofball curves into the mix – ribbing the audience with physical comedy and situations that feel out-of-place. Once such scene features Evelyn knocking over all the libraries books – with some questionable ladder work. It feels entirely out-of-place in a film that joyously shows us a man post-eye removal and several henchmen being eaten by bugs.
Plus it’s hard to escape the sense that the writers are desperately trying to capture that Indiana Jones vibe – the kind of cheeky self-aware grizzle that made Harrison Ford sizzle in his prime. Instead this movie makes do with Brendon Fraiser who is fine in what he delivers – but never escapes the shadow of Harrison Ford. His quips aren’t as sharp, his action never really that action-y and his forced romance with Evelyn so heavy-handed you’ll need boxing gloves to fight it off. It’s not that he hands in a bad performance, it’s just a performance that is hard to get invested in when his character is so dim-witted.
Still the actors around him roll in with somewhat interesting performances. Rachel Weisz’s performance in particular deserves some praise. She tries to ground the Evelyn character in the “fish out of water” category and for the most part it carries – though by the third act the film has found the excuse it needs to have her rollicking about tombs in frilly dresses – effectively undoing much of the work to set her character apart.
I also want to give praise to the action set pieces. Back in the day this was an expensive film (Clocking in at around $80m) and it certainly shows. The CGI is above average – even if the film does stray close to over-indulging. The early Egypt scenes are particularly well done – although the wall of sand in the shape of our Mummy again adds to the goofball element of the film that it never quite recovers from. The Mummy himself is fine and we clearly get to see him regenerating as the film progresses.
Overall I think The Mummy is OK, if only because it doesn’t take itself super seriously. There are issues and the films pacing staggers as though it’s just wandered out an Irish bar but for all this there is a charm to the film. Go in expecting little and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by it all. Go in expecting an Indiana Jones beater and you might find yourself asking for the plague to descend.