The Mummy is a classic story of good versus evil. Our heroine is Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), Egyptian Princess and heir to the throne. Ahmanet’s life is turned upside down when her father sires a son who, being male, will now inherit the kingdom. Betrayed by her gender, Ahmanet takes up the cause for feminism and fights for her birthright. But Ancient Egypt isn’t a very progressive place, and Ahmanet is punished by the patriarchy for daring to stand up for gender equality. She is entombed alive in a sarcophagus and buried far from Egypt, so that her revolutionary spirit will not infect the kingdom.

Fast forward to the present, and we meet our villain: Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise is an aging manchild who runs, rolls, jumps, and does all the other things Tom Cruise likes to do. After accidentally awakening Ahmanet from her millennia-long slumber, Tom Cruise will stop at nothing to prevent her from spreading her feminist agenda. Even if it means dooming the world to another five thousand years of male oppression.

OK, enough of that. I wanted to stretch that satirical reading of The Mummy across the whole review, but I think that’s as far as it’ll go. Fitting, really, since The Mummy’s most interesting facet – a perhaps unintentional play on the stereotypical male fear of women and commitment – barely lasts past the first act.

Ahmanet’s real intention was to perform a ritual with a magic dagger to turn her lover into the earthly embodiment of Set, Egyptian god of the dead. The ritual, with Ahmanet sat astride her man ready to plunge to dagger into him, could be read as playing on the male fear of fatherhood and the changes it brings. When Ahmanet is awakened, she chooses Tom Cruise as her new lover and invades his mind, influencing his behaviour and subtly forcing him to obey her. Much like the proverbial needy girlfriend, then. To restore her youth and beauty, she literally sucks the life out of men (and only men, it seems); a metaphor for how men see long term relationships?

But, like I said, these wryly feminist undertones don’t go much farther than the first act. After that, all we get is an hour’s worth of set up for Universal’s proposed Dark Universe, a shared cinematic continuity populated by the old Universal monsters. Whatever fun might have been had plays second fiddle to the introductions and allusions that Universal felt needed to be frontloaded here. The world building could have happened naturally over the course of the first few Dark Universe films, but I suppose Universal has some catching up to do if they wish to compete with Marvel and DC.

Russell Crowe (who seems to have had a few too many biscuits) turns up as a certain literary figure who is inexplicably in charge of the anti-monster league, and seems to enjoy himself immensely. The first time we see Ahmanet reanimate a bunch of corpses is creepily fun, their movements satisfyingly jerky. But the laborious franchise establishing never allows The Mummy’s more inventive ideas room to breathe. An entire catacomb’s worth of dead crusader knights is reanimated, and yet the film seems unable to do anything with them.

Given the huge opportunity for rampant misogyny and blockbuster emptiness, The Mummy is slightly better than expected. Damning with faint praise, I know, but that’s all that can really be said. If this were a standalone piece, or had the taskmasters at Universal allowed their burgeoning franchise room to breathe, then perhaps it could have been more. As it stands, if The Mummy is the Dark Universe’s statement of intent, I don’t think Marvel has anything to worry about.

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