Thursday, June 8, 2017

Monster Team-up Reflection #34: I saw the Mummy...

I was pleased to see Karl Freund/Boris Karloff’s “The Mummy” referenced in a theatrical, promotional featurette for the '17 reboot. However, that “The Mummy ‘32” was highlighted doesn’t mean that the new entry, directed by Alex ("Star Trek"/"Spider-man") Kurtzman, is faithful to the cinematic foundation, whether in content or pace, but it at least confirms that Universal Studios acknowledges its classic past. In so doing, it additionally establishes that its new entry is but another in a long string.

“Mummy ‘17”, in this respect, is also an offshoot of Hammer Studios' bandaged antagonists; the Aztec Mummy imports; Steven Sommer’s movie-serial styled samplings; and all those among and in-between. 

The new film, however, is characterized by a beautiful, disinterred lady, not that such re-animated lovelies haven't graced such stories before. (Consider Bram Stoker's "Jewel of Seven Stars" and its various adaptations; plus the Universal inclusions of Imhotep's Princess Ank-es-en-Amon and Kharis' Princess Anaka.) Per screenwriters David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Dussman, the main difference this time (besides the addition of another classic, horror character within the structure) is that the revived female becomes the film's all-consuming catalyst. She is--no ifs, ands or buts--the Mummy, even if others of her more-or-less kind remain at her disposal. 

Sofia Boutella, who made a stellar splash as Jaylah in last year's “Star Trek Beyond”, plays Princess Ahmanet, a power-hungry Egyptian monarch who’s sprung from her Iraqi tomb inadvertently by mercenary Sergeant Nick Morton, portrayed with a devil-may-care edge by Tom Cruise. Abetted by his pal, Corporal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), Morton has no qualms about transporting the princess and her artifacts for monetary gain.

It's on the jet trip home that the initial phases of Ahmanet's curse really unwrap, seemingly killing Morton, but not before he manages to dispatch his archaeologist lady friend, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle "King Arthur" Wallis) by parachute. Morton awakes in a London morgue, bursting through his body bag, his head full of questions and fears. How the hell did he survive and (of all extraordinary things) without an apparent scratch? 

It appears that the now emancipated princess has the hots for Morton, keeping him on a short leash (and as a handy, God of Death vessel), as she attempts to turn our world into a "dark universe", which leads to...

Russell Crowe's Dr. Henry Jekyll and of course, his alter-ego, Mr. Edward Hyde...  Jekyll is a cryptozootologist of sorts, an expert of "gods and monsters", if one will (and at various times, the movie's host/narrator). His dark side can be summoned easily enough, or so Morton comes to learn, but for the most part, the good doctor acts as the solider of fortune's congenial mentor, inspiring him to snuff the mummy's curse.

The Jeykll/Hyde/Mummy configuration is the film's most enjoyable element, but nothing new in the realm of storytelling. The combo appeared in Warren Magazine's Eerie #78, though the characters' overlap was more concise than in Kurtzman's film. 

As presented in the latter, the iconic personas appear with gradual nonchalance, as such characters would in a Jess Franco or Paul Naschy picture (but with only Jekyll, not ever Hyde, interacting with Ahmanet). This seeming off-the-cuff approach might likely be used for Universal's planned "House of Frankenstein"/"House of Dracula/"Van Helsing" quasi reboots. ("Dracula Untold" is no longer part of the equation.) Incidentally, Crowe would make a superb overseer for any monster rally, considering the suave credibility he grants his dual embodiment. 

Kurtzman's film presents an open ending, in obvious anticipation of a sequel, but what movie doesn't these days? In the meantime, the existing adventure offers lots of weird turmoil, dusty explosions, a harrowing underwater sequence and a spectral smidgen of "An American Werewolf in London", "Lifeforce" and "The Blind Dead". Through all this, Morton fervidly jaunts and for appearance sake, saves the day, along with the alluring Halsey, who acts as Ahmanet's fleeting competition. Ahmanet, however, is as hounded in her own right to regain her glorious past. Though there's every reason not to feel sorry for her, somehow or other, we do.

As far as Boutella goes, she's made history by simply being part of an extensive sub-genre. She's also an exotic gem to savor, though purists of classic Universal may find her story's roller-coaster intersections too reminiscent of Sommer's films. On the other hand, fans of the latter (i.e., later Universal) might find her movie's moody ambiance ponderous. Nevertheless, for those open-minded enough to taste from both ends, the new "Mummy" will entertain. To expand Ahmanet's story, therefore (as well as Morton and Jekyll/Hyde's), seems sensible, but only the film's box-office gross will determine whether another resurrection is bestowed.

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