The Mummy

Cast: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Russell Crowe

Director: Alex Kurtzman

Writers: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman


You have to give it to Hollywood, they know how to take a neat idea and keep screwing around with it until everyone hates it. This time it’s the ‘cinematic shared universe’ idea, the concept of producing several movies that inhabit the same reality and tie into each other. The MCU showed it could be done with only a few hiccups here and there, and now everyone wants to do it. The problem is that the studios are so focused on building these universes that they keep forgetting to make movies. The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel suffered because they spent far too much time on plot points, characters and tie-ins that had no bearing on their respective stories. Batman v. Superman was similarly overblown as part of DC’s effort to sprint ahead to The Justice League in as few steps as possible. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the MCU, and yet still these studios persist in their exorbitant franchise building. Thus we get the proposed Dark Universe which, after just one movie, I’ve already had enough of.

The movie kicks off with a flashback to Ancient Egypt where Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) falls to second in the line of succession when her father’s second wife gives birth to a son. She summons Set, god of violence, to help her claim the throne and kills her family but is caught before she can complete the ritual to transfer the deity’s spirit to corporeal form and is mummified. In present-day Iraq the American soldiers Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) discover Ahmanet’s tomb after calling in an airstrike. Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), a renowned archaeologist, investigates the tomb and finds Ahmanet’s sarcophagus within. As the sarcophagus is being transported to England however, Ahmanet’s spirit attacks the crew. Jenny escapes with her life when Nick parachutes her off the plane but everyone else is killed. Or so they think. Nick wakes up in an Oxford morgue and learns that he has been cursed by Ahmanet, who has decided that he shall be Set’s vessel.

I’m not sure how many different projects had to be merged in order to bring Tom Cruise and the Dark Universe together, but it plays out like a shambolic mixture of several different clashing ideas that has no idea what kind of movie it wants to be. On one side we get the supernatural monster movie that plays out more like a superhero thriller than a horror akin to those of the classic Universal monster films or the Hammer Horrors. On another side we get a Tom Cruise movie that, despite having him get killed and resurrected by an ancient Egyptian curse, is somehow as generically Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise gets. Then there’s the franchise building whereby we are introduced to the Prodigium, a secret society led by Russell Crowe dedicated towards combating supernatural threats, there to distract us from the story and to assure us that sequels are on the way. The movie also incorporates the English crusaders (because one historical backdrop wasn’t enough), a romance with less life than a 3500-year-old embalmed corpse, and the Iraq War (because that isn’t at all problematic for a silly horror/thriller blockbuster).

Naturally when an audience goes to see a monster movie, the thing they look forward to the most is the monster itself. People are so drawn to great monsters that iconic actors such as Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and Christopher Lee were able to build their careers playing them. The Mummy in this film is not one of the greats. It might not be fair to criticise this creature for not being scary because I’m not convinced that that was what the movie was going for, but she is not in any way an interesting or entertaining creature. Her design follows the example set by the Enchantress in Suicide Squad by being scanty and erotic to the point that it is impossible to find her at all threatening or intimidating. Her personality as well is a complete blank slate and, if she had a motivation, it escaped me. Tom Cruise meanwhile tries to do his usual thing the best he can, but the character he is given is a cosmic nonentity and there is only so much he can bring through star power alone.

This movie isn’t terrible or painful; it’s just depressingly dull. The story is tired and incoherent, the characters are bland and redundant and the moments between the action scenes are so relentlessly tedious and overstuffed with filler and exposition. Even when the action gets going, its mostly just a collection of moments lifted from better movies that I would rather have watched like An American Werewolf in London and Bride of Frankenstein. There were maybe one or two moments when the film went completely off the wall and delivered a moment that was crazy enough to hold my attention for a couple of minutes, as with Russell Crowe’s performance as a surprise character. Those moments were never good, but at least they were interesting. At the end of the day though, what really killed this movie for me was how blatantly transparent it was in its attempt to kickstart a franchise that has got nothing going for it and nowhere to go. I could not be less excited for the Dark Universe’s future.

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Inferno

Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: David Koepp


He’s at it again. For the third time Robert Langdon is drawn into a crisis with global ramifications and only by solving a trail of riddles can he save the day. SSDD. That the Dan Brown thrillers have an allure to them is beyond doubt. I was so drawn in by the historical mysteries and artistic secrets featured in his stories as a teenager that I didn’t really notice that he wasn’t a particularly good writer. There is just something so utterly fascinating about discovering that an ancient, secretive organisation like the Opus Dei or the Illuminati could have these great secrets hidden in all of these iconic buildings and works of art. Even when I began to catch on to the absurd and convoluted nature of these stories, the Ron Howard films still did a pretty decent job of making those absurdities and convolutions entertaining. With Inferno though (based on the novel that I didn’t bother to read) it got tiring. I wasn’t thrilled or mystified this time; I was bored and confused.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the Harvard professor of Symbology, wakes up in a hospital room with apocalyptic visions and no memory of the last few days. He discovers that the hospital is in Florence and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) reveals that he is suffering from amnesia due to a bullet wound in the head. When the assassin Vayentha (Ana Ularu) enters guns blazing, the pair make their escape and try to work out what is happening. Among Langdon’s belongings is a small pointer that projects the image of Botticelli’s ‘Map of Hell’, based on Dante’s Inferno. This, they discover, is a clue left by Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a billionaire geneticist who believes the Earth’s growing population spells humanity’s doom. Before committing suicide, Zobrist created a lethal virus called Inferno that could decimate the world’s population. Langon and Brooks decide that they must follow Zobrist’s trail and prevent the virus from being released. On their trail is Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy), an agent of the World Health Organisation, Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), the head of an organisation that is helping Zobrist with his mission, and Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the head of WHO and an old flame of Langdon’s.

That was a convoluted summary to write. The film is just so relentless with the amount of information it dumps and the number of overlapping stories involved. Recounting the plot is a little like listening to a History professor as he drones on and on through an inexorable sequence of “and then… and then… and then…” No “but…” or “therefore…”, just “and then…” There is seldom a moment where a character isn’t running or explaining something or explaining something while running. This is true of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons as well, but those movies at least had a sense of pacing and suspense about them. Also the second movie had a skydiving Pope, so there’s that. Here everything happens at such dizzying speed that nothing is allowed time to sink in. Before your mind has the time to work out what the Horses of Saint Mark have to do with anything, a big plot twist is revealed and then the characters are on their way to Istanbul. Who knew that a confused, anxious, amnesiac Langdon with a great big pain in his head could be such an appropriate surrogate for the audience?

Hanks (minus the mullet this time) does what he does with the usual amount of wit and charm. As Langdon he is simultaneously the smartest man in the room and the approachable everyman, a balance he pulls off like no one else can. Jones is the movie’s highlight though as she plays a plucky foil to Hanks while also matching him on an intellectual level. Her character follows a wholly ridiculous arc in this film but boy does she sell it. Foster, an actor who is usually excellent at disappearing into his roles, isn’t given enough screen-time or character to put his talents to use. All he does is spout ominous lines about the disease of humanity and the end times, the sort of lines that sound great in a trailer. Irrfan Khan however might be the only member of the cast who actually understands what a ridiculous movie he’s in. Playing the prim and proper leader of a secretive organisation who may or may not be the bad guy, he’s having the time of his life.

The film is dense and insane, but then so are the two previous films. This time however it’s just too much. The complicated puzzles, the leaps in logic, the haphazard twists and turns along the way; to quote a clueless emperor in his appraisal of a genius’ masterpiece, “there are simply too many notes”. Worst of all is the climax, an entirely incoherent mess both intellectually and visually. In the struggle that ensued I resigned myself to indifference, as I had no discernable way of telling who was who or who was winning. The production is pretty great, allowing us to see some neat sights including Il Duomo, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Hagia Sophia, so audiences looking to see more of Langdon’s trademark explorations of artworks and buildings will get their fill. What they won’t get is the gripping suspense of The Da Vinci Code or the enjoyable outlandishness of Angels & Demons. What they’ll get instead is two hours of excessive running and explanation, and they will exit the film knowing less than when they entered.

★★