Universal Studios had a success with their 1999 remake of The Mummy. The movie had two sequels, an animated spin-off series, and a prequel series. There was interest in the classic monster. Why not go back to that well?
In 2017, Universal released a new remake of The Mummy, this time with Tom Cruise. The remake brought the setting from the 1930s to today. Things have changed greatly over time, especially in the Middle East. Will the change affect the movie?
The film begins in England of 1127 as Crusaders bury one of their own with a red gem. Jump to now, and an excavation for a subway tunnel breaks into the tomb, showing yet again that England buries important people in odd spots. The construction team is told to go elsewhere as Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, and his team take over the site. Jekyll begins a narration, flashing back to Ancient Egypt and Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), heir to the Pharoah’s throne, learns that she’s been bumped when her baby brother is born. Scorned, she performs a rite in the name of Set and is reborn a monster, killing her father and brother. All she needs is a mortal man to become the living vessel of Set, but before she can complete the ritual, she’s discovered, mummified alive, and taken to be buried as far away from Egypt as possible, in Mesopotamia.
Modern day Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq, is not the best place to be. Thanks to the American invasion in 2003, insurgents abound. Two American soldiers allegedly on long-range recon but, really, searching for antiquities, i.e., looting, observe a village. Sergeant Nick Morton (Cruise) and Corporal Chris Vail sneak in to see if there are any antiquities. However, they’re spotted and get pinned down. Vail calls in an airstrike; the appearance of an armed drone firing missiles scatters the insurgents. The missile strike also collapses the building Morton and Vail are trapped on and opens a long-lost tomb, one Morton expected to find.
The owner of the map Morton stole, er, hunted as an antiquity, arrives with the rest of Morton’s unit. Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance) orders Morton and Vail to accompany Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) down into the tomb. She makes not of the burial arrangements, how they differ from what has been found in Egypt. Morton and Vail are looking more at the antiquities. During the investigation of the tomb, mercury drips on to Morton. In Ahmanet’s time, mercury was used in a ritual to reduce the will of men.
Word filters down of the return of the insurgents. Halsey wants to bring up the tomb, despite it being deep underwater. Greenway wants everyone to leave ASAP. Morton shoots the Gordian knot and the chain keeping the tomb in place. It comes up, as do thousands of spiders. They shouldn’t be aggressive, but Vail is bitten. Ahmanet worms her way into Morton’s mind, cursing him to be the new vessel of Set.
With the tomb hauled up and flown out by helicopter under the eyes of a murder of crows that just arrived, the next obstacle is a massive sandstorm. The tomb is loaded in to the airplane fast, and the craft takes off as the sandstorm hits. The flight gives Halsey time to read the inscription on the tomb, showing that she has never watched a horror movie in her life. Morton gets drawn back into the dreamscape with Ahmanet; when he returns, Vail, who has been showing signs of illness during the flight, is at the tomb, trying to open it. Greenway tries to stop him only to be stabbed for the effort. Morton winds up shooting Vail. Which is when the bird strike happens.
Over England, the aircraft is hammered by a murder of crows, killing the flight crew, damaging the plane’s engines and weakening the structure. Morton helps Helsey into a parachute and gets her away safely. She is the only survivor. As such, Halsey is called in to identify the remains found in the wreckage. Ahmanet’s tomb is missing, though the crash happened near a bog. In the morgue, Morton wakes up in a body bag. Vail appears and gives a spectral, cryptic warning before disappearing as Halsey enters.
At the crash, Ahmanet’s tomb is found. The crash site investigators open it up and become her forst victims in millennia. She drains their life force, gaining strength from them, then animates their remains to begin her undead army.of minions, the first of many. Ahmanet knows what she wants, and what she wants is to make Set a living god.
Morton understandably tries to get drunk after all the weirdness that has happened. Helse finds him and brings him up to speed on what’s going on, with Ahmanet and with him. Vail reappears, only to Morton, and tries to get him to follow. In the women’s washroom, Vail provides more details, how Ahmanet is the source of the curse. While Morton is missing, Helsey calls in Dr. Jekyll.
Morton manages to get out of the bar and into a back alley. Rats under Ahmanet’s control swarm him but somehow escapes and gets to the main road with Halsey. Ahmanet uses her influence to summon Morton to the bog, where she attacks him. She raises her dagger to plunge it into his chest and sees that the gem stone is missing. Halsey catches up and tries to get Ahmanet off Morton. He grabs the dagger and stabs her. Helsey grabs the dagger out of Ahmanet and runs off with Morton. They try to escape in an ambulance, but with Morton driving and Ahmanet in his head, he drives in a circle. Her minions try to break into the ambulance, and don’t stop moving when they lose limbs.
Dr. Jekyll has a sense of timing. As things look dim for Morton and Halsey, he and a team arrive to stop Ahmanet. He takes everyone back to to his headquarters, where it is shown that Dr. Henry Jekyll is, indeed, that Dr. Jekyll. He his the head of the Prodigium, from the Latin phrase, monstrum vel prodigium, or “a warning of monsters” (maybe; a check with an instructor at the University of Alberta, Dr. Kelly A. MacFarlane, shows a something along the lines of “monster or ports”, which could be massaged into what the movie uses). The organization exists to contain evil, something the good doctor is all too personally familiar with. The Prodigium is keeping Ahmanet neutralized by injecting her with mercury and freezing it so she can be dissected for examination. Ahmanet isn’t dissuaded. She continues to seduce Morton, promising him an eternal reward, one he doesn’t understand.
At the Crusaders’ tomb, a Prodigium technician finds the missing gem stone. Ahmanet feels it and sends a spider to take over one of the techs to break her free. Loose, she wreaks havoc. During the chaos, Dr. Jekyll needs to take his injection, but Morton interrupts that in a bid to negotiate. Jekyll becomes Hyde and throws Morton around. Morton manages to inject Hyde with his serum, but it’s too late.
There’s now a race to get the gem stone. Dr. Jekyll wants the stone to stop Ahmanet and study her. Morton wants the stone to try to break his curse. Ahmanet wants the stone to bring Set to Earth. The princess has an advantage; she can call upon the dead to do her bidding, including the Crusaders. She gets the gem first and puts it back on the dagger. Finding Morton, she tries to complete the ritual again. Morton steals the dagger and stabs himself, opening him up to being possessed by Set but not under Ahmanet’s control. Using Set’s power, Morton fights Ahmanet, then disappears. He’s last seen in the movie in the desert, a restored Vail by his side, searching for a cure for his curse.
The orignal 1932 film was gothic horror with a doomed romance. Boris Karloff had top billing as The Mummy. The 1999 remake was a pulp action/horror starring Brandon Fraser as Rick O’Connell and Arnold Vosloo as the title monster. The movie focused more on O’Connell, but Imhotep had a presence through out the film. The 2017 version was action-adventure. Tom Cruise got top billing as Nick Morton. The title monster was the threat but didn’t maintain a presence throughout the film. And that may be the movie`s biggest issue.
The tone of monster movies have changed over the history of cinema. Once just creatures in a horror film, over time, monsters became less creatures of the night to fear and more something that could be defeated. The Fifties and the advent of nuclear power and weapons meant that humanity could be far more destructive than just one monster. Radiation because both the cause and the cure. Slasher movies replaced the monster with a monstrous human. Films like The Terminator and Tremors hearkened back to classic monsters, unrelentless and alien, and the sequels to both started to go back to action over horror. With the 2017 The Mummy, the tone fit in with those sequels.
The remake also tended to bounce around, unsure of what it wanted to be. There was action, but not enough to be a true action-adventure. It flirted with horror, but shied away before getting too serious, leaving jump scares behind. It hinted at a gothic romance, but the heavy-handed narration hammed home that Ahmanet didn’t want a lover, she wanted a vessel for Set. Cruise’s character had no agency; Morton was dragged from plot point to plot point. In the 1999 remake, Rick O’Connell made decisions, sometimes bad ones, and chose to fight to stop Imhotep. Morton was cursed and couldn’t escape it. He was a damsel in distress. Ahmanet was the mover and shaker of the film, but she was relegated to the background.
Nick Morton was not the character to focus the film on. Several characters could have carried the remake far better, including Ahmanet, with her quest to bring Set in to walk the Earth, and Dr. Jekyll and the Prodigium, including Halsey. Yet both were pushed to the side. The studio was counting on the star power of Tom Cruise, which meant putting Nick Morton front and centre instead of someone who moved the plot instead of being dragged along by it.
Setting the film in the now may have also hurt it. The original was made just ten years after the discovery of Tutenkhamun and could take advantage of the alleged curse opening Tut’s tomb placed the on archaeologists. The 1999 remake went with the same era, allowing for an easier suspension of disbelief. Films like Raiders of the Lost Ark were in the public’s consciousness, so similar films could lean a bit on what it had done for modern pulp. Placing the film into the now meant touching on urban fantasy, but there’s no evidence of the tropes in that genre. Tropes are not bad; they act as shorthand for the genre. Blindly using them causes problems. Ignoring them outright also causes problems. Urban fantasy deals with what lurks behind the shadows of cities. Ahmanet, though, didn’t lurk.
Ultimately, the 2017 remake took its cues from the action parts of the 1999 remake. Like a photocopy of a photocopy, the fine details of the original version of The Mummy got blurred and lost.