The Mummy 2017: An Egyptian Zombie in London

Like many people, I have a great deal of affection for the 1999 film The Mummy and its 2001 sequel, The Mummy Returns. I rewatched both of them recently and aside from a few instances of bad early-2000’s CGI (looking at you, Scorpion King) they hold up well and are just as much fun to watch now as they were when they were first released. I was excited at the prospect of a new Mummy movie, since I have so much fondness for those first two movies.

But like many people I was disappointed. The new Tom Cruise-starring Mummy film takes itself far too seriously and fails to capture the old-school adventure-serial vibe that made the first two so enjoyable. The new movie starts out well enough, but after the first 20 minutes or so it stops feeling like a Mummy movie. It shifts most of the action from the desert to London, and the urban setting doesn’t suit the material nearly as well as the filmmakers clearly think it does.

Image: Universal

Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a rather douchey treasure hunter with an irritating sidekick. As soon as the sidekick opened his mouth, I wanted him to die. Nick says they’re “liberators” of antiquities, but their form of “liberating” seems to involve a lot of machine guns and hand grenades, not to mention the occasional airstrike. And people thought Indiana Jones and Lara Croft were destructive. Nick and the irritating sidekick whose name I forget manage to drop a bomb which reveals a hidden tomb, which contains…THE MUMMY. And then they bring it to London, which is an objectively terrible idea.

Sigh. It’s just bad decision after bad decision here. This movie had a whole team of screenwriters and this nonsense was the best they could come up with. The characters are unlikable and their actions are selfish and stupid. The plot also feels rushed. In the 1999 movie, it takes about an hour into the two-hour movie for the mummy to be resurrected, so there’s a lot of buildup and tension, and you get to know and like the protagonists. The new movie is mostly tension-free and the protagonists are jerks.

Another thing that made the 1999 movie so good was that it wasn’t trying to do too much. As far as I know, when it was released there were no immediate plans for a sequel, and it wasn’t until the movie came out and became a huge hit that the sequel was announced. But these days, we are living in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (abbreviated as MCU), the massive success of which has led other studios to try their hand at creating shared movie universes, with decidedly mixed results.

Image: Universal

The newest version of The Mummy is Universal Studios’ latest attempt to create a shared monster-movie universe, their so-called “Dark Universe”, which is a pretty stupid name. But it sounds like they’re not planning it out very well. The next movie in the “Dark Universe” is Bride of Frankenstein, which is set to be released in…2019. Really, Universal? You’re hyping up your whole shared universe thing when the next movie won’t be out for two more years? That seems awfully optimistic.

One of the things that has made the MCU so successful is how well Marvel planned everything out. When the first Iron Man movie came out all the way back in 2008 Marvel already had more movies planned out for years (and they still do). Iron Man was released in May of 2008, and the next MCU movie, The Incredible Hulk, came out a month later. Marvel was on top of it right from the start. Universal’s attitude seems to be, “Meh. Let’s just release this movie, say it’s part of a shared universe, and we’ll make the next one when we get to it.” That’s doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

The result of all this sequel-mongering is that the new film has no idea what kind of story it wants to tell. At first it seems to be telling a straightforward adventure story, which is perfectly fine, but once the action moves from the desert to London the story goes off the rails. It’s too concerned with setting up future movies and not concerned enough with telling a contained story. Russell Crowe is in the movie, playing (mild spoiler alert) Dr. Henry Jekyll, who takes injections to suppress his Hyde personality. This is fine, but it feels shoehorned into a movie that’s supposed to be about the mummy.

Speaking of which, the mummy itself is one of the movie’s few bright spots. This movie has a female mummy, played by Sofia Boutella, who was great in Star Trek Beyond last year. She plays Ahmanet, a cursed Egyptian princess, and is probably the best thing about the movie. Since Cruise’s character is the person who unleashed her, she kind of imprints on him and makes him the target of her nefarious purposes. She also smacks him around a lot, and it is admittedly fun to watch Cruise’s douchey character get his ass kicked.

Image: Universal

There are some fun sequences in this movie. I liked the plane crash sequence, and there’s a fun chase scene through the woods in England. The movie as a whole looks good, and there are good zombie effects. (A mummy is an Egyptian zombie, after all. It was dead, then it came back to life. That makes it a zombie.) But a couple of fun scenes do not add up to a good movie overall, and the ending in particular is just terrible, the kind of thing where the only appropriate reaction is “Wait, what?”
This movie was a big disappointment. I love movies that are full of monsters and creatures, and while the 2017 Mummy does have good creature designs, the movie itself doesn’t add up to much, and it’s hard to see the whole “Dark Universe” thing getting very far. Skip this movie and go rewatch the Brendan Fraser ones, they’re a hell of a lot more fun.

Advertisements

Popcorn Perfection

I am on the record as saying that I like many of Tom Cruise’s movies. He may be a weirdo in real life, but he’s a fantastic entertainer. He’s very good at what he does, and his latest film, “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”, is probably my second-favorite summer movie this year.

I’m a big fan of the Mission: Impossible series. Last week, I re-watched all four of the previous films in anticipation of the new one, which I then saw on Friday. I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, with only one possible exception.

The first film in the series was released all the way back in 1996. Cruise was in his mid-thirties then, but man, the whole time I was watching the first movie I kept thinking he looked like he was about 17. I didn’t use to like the first movie all that much, but I have a newfound appreciation for it. It’s fairly light on action but is more concerned with intrigue and the many twists and turns of the plot.

MI1 psotre

The plot is complicated and there are still some things about it that are slightly baffling to me, but I can see how the various pieces of the puzzle fit together, even if some of the details continue to elude me. It’s a tense, well-made spy thriller that contains one truly iconic sequence: the famous vault heist, where Cruise’s superspy Ethan Hunt is lowered from the ceiling into the CIA’s most secure vault. It’s a wonderfully tense scene that still holds up as one of the best, most suspenseful sequences in the series.

Unfortunately, its sequel, Mission: Impossible 2, is by far the worst film in the series. The first entry was directed by Brian de Palma, who crafted a tense, complex spy thriller. MI2 was directed by John Woo, well known for his particular brand of super-stylized, slow-mo, firing-two-guns-whilst-flying-through-the-air action filmmaking. Now don’t get me wrong, Woo’s films can be great fun (if you haven’t seen Hardboiled you really should, it’s amazing), but his style is not suited to a Mission: Impossible movie.

In stark contrast to the first film, MI2 is a much more straightforward action movie, lacking the twists and turns of the plot, which is of the fairly dull “Stop the bad guy from selling the incredibly lethal supervirus to the highest bidder” variety. The first half of the movie is mostly buildup for the second half, which is full of ludicrous shootouts and slow-mo flip kicks. Seriously, this is the kind of movie where, instead of simply punching a henchman, the hero performs a ridiculous-looking slow-motion backflip kick.

MI2 doesn’t even feel like a Mission: Impossible movie, it’s title could have been “Generic Action Movie” and that would have been entirely appropriate. At one point near the end of the film, I noticed that the villain has these big containers in his lair, which are clearly labeled HAZARDOUS WASTE. Geez, dude, you probably shouldn’t just leave that kind of stuff lying around in your hideout, you just know a grenade is eventually going to find its way over there.

MI2 psotre

The movie’s final showdown is a mess of over-the-top kung fu and those ridiculous slow-mo flip kicks that John Woo couldn’t seem to get enough of. Tom Cruise has an awful hairdo in this movie, and his stupid emo hair flops around all over the place during the final fight, which is just silly. Oh, and this is preceded by a truly absurd scene where Ethan and the villain do this kind of motorcycle joust, where they drive at each other on motorcycles and then throw themselves off the motorcycles and collide in midair, and the motorcycles fly through the air and explode for absolutely no reason.

To top it all off, the end credits feature tracks from Metallica and, uh, Limp Bizkit. Wikipedia informs me that the soundtrack also featured such “artists” as Rob Zombie, Godsmack, and a band called (I kid you not) Butthole Surfers. Good luck getting that image out of your head.

Let’s move on, shall we? The third Mission: Impossible movie is one of my favorites, not just in the M:I series, but, well, generally. It’s a top-notch action thriller that also features the series’ best villain: Owen Davian, a ruthless arms dealer played brilliantly by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. The third film was the film directorial debut of J.J. Abrams, who gets a lot of flack from various corners of the internet, but I’ve always been a fan.

He fills the movie full of action, but gives it a much more grounded feel than the second entry. It’s less stylized and much more engaging. The plot is full of twists and turns, but crucially, they are twists and turns that still make sense. The movie also gives Ethan a personal life, and gives solid character development to him and his wife Julia. It’s nice that the movie acknowledges that Ethan the superspy can still have a personal life (although this is largely abandoned in the subsequent films) and it humanizes Ethan quite a bit.

MI3 psotre

The movie is so full of action that it might be a bit overwhelming for some viewers, but I loved every second of it. It’s a tremendously exciting film that is one of my favorite summer action blockbusters. The bridge sequence, where Ethan and his team are attacked by bad guys with a predator drone, is one of my favorite action sequences of recent years. The movie also features one of the most satisfying villain deaths I’ve ever seen in a movie, where Philip Seymour Hoffman’s villain gets run over by a truck. That sounds a bit anticlimactic, but it’s actually incredibly satisfying. The movie’s ending is great and its opening is also great: the first line of the movie is “We’ve put an explosive charge in your head.” Oh, SNAP. You know shit just got real when there’s an explosive charge in your freaking HEAD. Now THAT is how you start a movie.

The fourth movie, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, is similarly excellent. Ghost Protocol was the live-action directorial debut of Brad Bird, who previously directed several acclaimed animated films (such as The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles). Bird proves to be a sure-handed director of live-action, and orchestrates several impressive action sequences. This is the movie with the famous Burj Khalifa sequence, in which Tom Cruise scales the tallest building in the world (yes, Cruise actually did that).

The plot sounds simple, with Ethan and his team trying to stop a rogue nuclear extremist from inciting nuclear war between the US and Russia. In contrast to the second and third films, in which the villains had small armies of henchmen, Ghost Protocol is notable in that its villain has a grand total of one henchman. And yet, these two guys almost cause nuclear war. I really like this movie’s more stripped-down approach. The stakes in the film are very high, since Ethan and his team have no backup and have to rely mostly on each other because their equipment keeps malfunctioning.

MI4 psotre

One of the things I like most about these movies is the way that they emphasize teamwork. Sure, Ethan Hunt is a badass, but he wouldn’t get very far without his teammates. Every member of the team is important, and every one of them contributes. I really like that.

This trend continues in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the triumphant fifth entry in the series. In it, Ethan and his team must track down the Syndicate, a rogue terrorist organization responsible for all sorts of dastardly deeds. They must once again do this with no backup, since the Impossible Mission Force, or IMF, has once again been disbanded, this time by a pompous bureaucrat played by Alec Baldwin, who is admittedly pretty great at playing pompous bureaucrats.

MI5 psotre

If I have one complaint about this series of films, it’s that they tend to fall back on the same plot elements a bit too often. Ethan and his team have gone rogue or the IMF has been disavowed in four of the five films. That aspect of the plot is a bit repetitive, but the movies are so consistently entertaining that I can forgive a little plot rehashing.

Rogue Nation was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who worked with Cruise on Jack Reacher and also co-wrote Edge of Tomorrow, which was one of my favorite movies last year. His film strikes a perfect balance between thrilling action and international intrigue.

One of the film’s strongest assets is the character of Ilsa Faust, a slinky, sexy secret agent played by a Swedish actress named Rebecca Ferguson. Ferguson is a relative newcomer, but I certainly hope this is a star-making role for her, because she’s awesome. She plays a character whose loyalties are in question for pretty much the entire movie, and Ferguson really nails the conflicting aspects of her character. She’s also great as a foil for Ethan, since she proves herself capable of doing anything he can do on multiple occasions. She’s also not overly sexualized and exists as more than just a potential love interest for the hero, and it’s really refreshing to see such a strong female character portrayed in this way. Ferguson gets my vote for breakout star of the year, she tackles a tricky role and absolutely kills it. She niftily steals the movie right out from under Tom Cruise’s nose.

MI5 best thing evar

The film’s action sequences are also excellent. McQuarrie proves himself to be a more than capable action director, deftly avoiding the extreme close-ups, shaky camerawork, and rapid-fire editing that can make action sequences hard to follow. The action scenes in the film benefit from a strong sense of spatial relationships, in that you always understand where things are in relation to each other. This is especially important in the riveting Vienna opera house sequence, in which a complex cat-and-mouse game plays out. It would have been easy to get lost in such a complex sequence, but McQuarrie’s confident direction ensures that the viewer is always able to follow the action.

Other highlights include a thrilling motorcycle chase, an underwater heist that is as nail-bitingly tense as the vault heist in the original film or the Burj Khalifa sequence in Ghost Protocol, and the much-hyped plane stunt, in which Ethan desperately clings to the side of a cargo plane as it takes off. All of these sequences look great and are riveting to watch. Cruise proves once again that he’s game for all manner of insanely dangerous stunts, and his commitment enhances the film’s realism and makes it all the more exciting to watch as a result.

Other than Cruise and Ferguson, the supporting characters are also great, with solid work from Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames and the always-great Simon Pegg. All of these actors have great chemistry and there’s a sense that they’ve all been through this kind of thing before, they understand the stakes but they know what they’re doing and they know that they can rely on each other.

MI5 other psotre

The film’s villain, the head of the Syndicate, is a bespectacled baddie by the name of Solomon Lane. Lane is played by an English actor named Sean Harris, whose raspy voice practically oozes menace. There’s also a terrifying henchman nicknamed the Bone Doctor, who you just know is seriously bad news.

I really love the Mission: Impossible movies. They are perfect popcorn movies, and Rogue Nation continues the series in fine fashion, offering tense and thrilling action, a plot that keeps you guessing, great acting, and a fine performance from one of the breakout stars of the year. What more could you ask for?

Edge of Tomorrow Today!

I like Tom Cruise as an actor. I mentioned this when I wrote about Oblivion last year: the dude is a really good actor. It can be hard sometimes to separate one’s mental image of Cruise from the characters he plays. He’s one of the most famous people in the world, just say the name “Tom Cruise” and probably every single person within earshot will automatically know who you’re talking about. His reputation precedes him, which sometimes works to the disadvantage of the movies he’s in.

But with his latest movie, Edge of Tomorrow, I didn’t have much trouble separating Cruise’s public persona from the character he plays.

Tom Cruise edge1

Cruise plays Major William Cage, a military PR guy who has never seen a day of combat. Mankind is at war with a race of shape-shifting aliens called Mimics, and, as is so often the case in movies, we are losing. On the eve of a massive invasion of Mimic-controlled continental Europe (ominously called Operation Downfall), Cage is told by General Brigham (played by Brendan Gleeson, aka Mad Eye Moody), the commander of the invasion force, that he will be dispatched to the front lines on the beaches of France the next day. In his reluctance to comply with this order, Cage attempts to blackmail the general, which results in his getting busted down to Private and sent to the army base at Heathrow Airport, where he will deploy with the rest of the grunts the following day.

The next day, he is deployed on the front lines, where the invasion fails spectacularly. The mimics have somehow anticipated the attack, and annihilate the invasion force. Cage manages to kill a particularly large mimic by blowing it up with an explosive, but is doused with the creature’s blood and dies in the process.

He then wakes up the previous morning at Heathrow Airport, and meets many of the same people and hears many of the same things all over again. He becomes stuck in a time loop, repeatedly dying in the invasion and reawakening the previous day.

He tries during several of these time loops to convince people that the invasion will fail, but of course no one believes him. It isn’t until he meets Sergeant Rita Vrataski (played by Emily Blunt) on the battlefield that he gains an ally. It turns out that she too once had the time-resetting ability, and she trains him to fight the Mimics. Cage becomes more proficient in combat with each repetition and he and Rita develop a plan to destroy the Mimics. He also begins to develop feelings for the hardboiled Sergeant Vrataski, which are somewhat stymied by the fact that every time he meets her, for her it’s the first time.

The most obvious way to describe this movie is as a sci-fi version of the Bill Murray/Harold Ramis classic Groundhog Day, only with more explosions, aliens, and badass metal exosuits.

edge-of-tomorrow-cci-poster

But I think that simply dismissing Edge of Tomorrow as “Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers” is, while admittedly somewhat accurate, not really fair to the movie, since it manages to have a life and an identity of its own. Sure, there are similarities. Major William Cage is self-centered and smooth-talking at the beginning of the movie, and gradually learns to be a better person, much like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. The biggest difference is that Cage is also trying to, you know, save the world from vicious shape-shifting aliens.

The aliens themselves look really cool and original. They made me think of a number of different things, ranging from spiders and squids to the robotic Sentinels from the Matrix.

Edge-of-Tomorrow-Alpha-Mimic

You can’t really make out too many details here, but this is the best picture I could find. Suffice to say that they are some seriously mean customers. I wouldn’t want to fight them once, let alone over and over and over, as Cage does.

The exosuits, called Jackets in the movie, are also very cool. They’re kind of reminiscent of Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley’s exosuits in Elysium, but on steroids.

edge of tomorrow poster

Man, I really liked this movie. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much I liked it. The movie was directed by Doug Liman, who had a pair of hits in the early 2000’s with The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but has been in something of a rut since then. This movie should help him reestablish himself, though. He gives the movie an elegant balance of action, plot, character development, hints of romance, and a healthy amount of dark comedy.

And it is a darkly funny movie, which mines quite a bit of humor from the various ways in which Cruise’s character repeatedly meets his end. He gets shot, drowned, blown up, run over, and crushed by falling dropships. There are a couple of very funny moments in particular where he is about to succeed gloriously, only to get plastered by a truck or something and have to start over.

The film also benefits from strong performances from both of its lead actors. Cruise is a natural as a PR guy, and we all know from countless other movies that he is more than capable of kicking ass when he needs to.

Emily Blunt is also really great. She was awesome in Looper, which is one of my favorite movies, and she’s equally good here. It’s a tricky role, and Blunt really sells it. She’s completely believable as an alien-killing badass, but there’s also a strong sense that there’s a lot going on with her beneath her steely demeanor and impressive biceps that make for a continually interesting character. I read that she trained for three months for the role, and it shows.

edge-of-tomorrow-emily

She and Cruise have really great chemistry, and the movie wouldn’t work nearly as well without them.

The action scenes and special effects look great, too. I know I’ve been saying that a lot in my recent movie reviews, but it’s true. This is a really good-looking movie, and not just because of Emily Blunt.

edge-of-tomorrow-emily-blunt2

Doug Liman likes this particular shot so much that he reuses it several times throughout the movie, and I have a hard time finding fault with him for that.

The movie is about as gritty and realistic as a high-concept sci-fi movie is capable of being. The main invasion scene(s) has a sort of sci-fi Saving Private Ryan vibe (minus the gore), which contributes to the movie’s gritty feel. This is light-years away from the candy-colored visuals of Michael Bay’s Transformers films.

Edge-of-Tomorrow battle

Overall, this is a really good movie. Sure, it may be easy to find the DNA of several other films imprinted on it. But it still manages to be its own movie, and is one of the most pleasant surprises of the summer movie season for me so far.