Movie Review – The Mummy (2017)

TL;DR – This is a good start for the Dark Universe and I really enjoyed it, but there were just a couple of things that needed to be worked on that held it back a bit

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is NO end credit scene

The Mummy banner

Review

Now from the start, I have to say I do have a lot of love for the 1999 Brendan Fraser Mummy film, I mean I even like its only follow up The Mummy Returns because they were wonderful camp fun with a horror veneer. Indeed I will always remember the first time I saw The Mummy as a kid, it was at a friend’s place and there was a whole lot of people crowded around the TV and VCR and someone was passing around cups of tea when the mummy awoke and it scared them so much tea went everywhere. So whether I like it or not, I’m going to bring those memories and that nostalgic feeling with me when I go see The Mummy because it has to hold up to the ones that came before and for the most part I think that it does. So today we will breaking down how well The Mummy does as a standalone film, how well it does as the starting point for the Dark Universe, and also look at some areas where the film needed improvement.

So let’s begin by setting the scene, well setting the scene twice actually. To begin it is the New Kingdom of Egypt, well they say it was, but then they also say the sarcophagus is 5000 years old which would put it more in the Old Kingdom but I digress. Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) was the only child of the King Menehptre (Selva Rasalingam), and all her life she knew she would be Queen and ruler over all the land. She trained every day and night to be a good ruler but then her father had another child, a boy, and in one moment everything she worked for was ripped out from underneath her. So what do you do when your world has fallen apart, well you form a secret deal with the god Set and go about killing your family as a sacrifice. But before Ahmanet could bring Set into the real world she was stopped, mummified alive, and buried in a tomb far, far away from Egypt, which of course is a plan that never goes wrong. Flash forward to today and two very important things have happened, first a crew digging a new railway tunnel find a hidden Knights Templar crypt, and in Iraq two US Army scouts Nick (Tom Cruise) and Chris (Jake Johnson) have stumbled across Haram where something once buried and forgotten now lays in wait and an archaeologist Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) might dig too far. Now, this set-up has a lot of working pieces that have to get into place, but when all three of these plot lines come crashing together it propels everything forward.

Sofia Boutella shows the power of acting with your eyes

Sofia Boutella shows the power of acting with your eyes

One area that I think they did very well was in casting because you have to build a franchise off this and you only have one chance to have your Robert Downey Jr. moment. Now I’m going to start with the big bad because if you have read my Kingman or Star Trek reviews you would know that I am a big fan of Sofia Boutella and her work. Her dancing experience gives her a remarkable physicality but more than that, she has one of the most expressive eyes in the business. Here even under the CGI and prosthetics, she had an amazing performance and honestly, I would have liked to see more of her in the film. As well as this, I did like Jake Johnson, he was perfectly cast as the witty sidekick to Tom Cruise’s Nick, and their banter together was one of the highlights of the film. This might be the perfect character for Russel Crowe because it lets him show his range, from that prim and proper gentleman we’ve seen in movies like Master and Commander, a side note, we need another Master and Commander film, and then also the brawler. Annabelle Wallis is an interesting addition and she holds her own in scenes with Tom which is not easy to do. One possible exception to this is Tom Cruise who it does fell at times that they had him playing a stock standard Tom Cruise action character, which does limit his character arc a bit. However, what you do get with Tom is an actor that throws himself into the action like very few people working in Hollywood do, and you see that here.

Now one of the highlights of the film has to be its action sequences that are peppered throughout. You have car chases, you have escaped from insurgents in the desert, you have monsters in the dark, and of course, you have one of the most spectacular sequences I have seen in quite a while. Now with this, I am talking about the sequence on the plane which I assume they filmed it on a reduced-gravity aircraft, I’m not sure you could film it on a rig but if they did wow that must have been some rig set-up. It is a great scene because first, it has a slow build as we see Chris get sicker and Nick starts to hallucinate, we know something bad is about to happen, but what. This is followed by something to distract you, then bang the first bird hits, and everything goes to hell. Now not every action sequence is as good as this, but it shows you how you can engage the audience and not resort to hundreds of cuts when trying to convey what is happening. Now I’m not generally a big fan of the horror genre because I tend not to find these movies scary, so this time I brought along my mother, and if her reactions were anything to go by there was some scary stuff. Ok even I jumped at that ambulance scene, are you happy, you wrought it out of me.

One of the highlights are the well constructed action sequences

One of the highlights are the well constructed action sequences

One area where The Mummy excelled is in the technical side of the film, the editing, music and effects. It might be a small thing but I am really fascinated in how you cut within a sequence and also how you transition between sequences, and so often no thought or more likely no money is put into making them visually interesting. However, here we have some really interesting transitions, especially between the hallucinations and the real world. I do want to give a special mention to Brian Tyler and his musical score, I’ve been enjoying his work ever since the score of the Dune miniseries and here he is so on point. The music is just as creepy as the movie, he uses discordant strings at infrequent intervals to really put you in the state of unease. Music is such a powerful medium to convey the story and it is really great to see when people use it creatively to effect the mood of the viewer. Of course, I have to mention the fascinating effects from Industrial Light and Magic. From sandstorms, to a murder of crows, to ghouls of all kinds, it is an impressive array of effects. I think the standout, which was a mix of practical and visual effects, was the first steps of the mummy which had almost stop-motion feel to it, a wonderful call back to the films of the past. But more than visual effects I have to give a shout out to the set designers, some of those sets felt expansive, and real and there is just something tangible about them that you don’t often see in this day and age. This was all helped by some great framing and good use of light and dark to create interest as well as contrast on the screen.

When it comes to the issues I had with the film they are not big but smaller little things which persist after you have left the film. The end of the second act and the start of the third did seem to drag a bit because it did kind of feel the movie was put on pause while they start introducing the universe. This meant that the slow build the movie was going for did not quite work as well as it could have. Also what was actually happening in that third act, a bit of explanation was needed. Finally, I just kind of feel that the last scene in the film was missing something, I can’t go into any more details or else I hit spoilers, but it felt like it could have ended on a stronger note.

It will be interesting to see where they go with this Dark Universe

It will be interesting to see where they go with this Dark Universe

So one thing we need to do is talk about how well The Mummy was as a launch platform for Universal’s Dark Universe. Now because this means we have to look at the story more in depth there will be [SPOILERS] in this paragraph. So this is a risky move for Universal, even though the Monsters might have been the first shared universe in cinema back in the day. This is because a lot of their classic monsters are actually in the public domain so there is a chance of them being undercut, also with the dominance of Marvel, and DC only just getting their act together with Wonder Woman, there is a possibility that we may be seeing a saturation in the market. Indeed with Wonder Woman outperforming expectations, there is a very real chance that The Mummy might get overshadowed, which is not where you want to be with your opening salvo. So with The Mummy they take less of an Iron Man ‘spoiler in an end credit scene’ approach to franchise building, and a bit more of a hands-on approach. Now as I said in the last paragraph this does lead to the movie taking a pause but it does give us an insight into the structures behind this universe. Monsters exist, and there have been people hunting them for a while to keep evil at bay, and at some point there is a distinction between monsters that are good and those who are bad, setting up the dichotomy for the future. I’m sure as they swept through Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory you would have picked up more than a few references to those classical monsters of cinema’s past, indeed it will be interesting to see just how many Easter eggs there are. I will say the one interesting thing I noticed is that one of the Books  in the library was the Book of the Dead from the 1999 Mummy film, which raises some interesting questions was this just a reference like the head appearing out of the sandstorm, or is it implying that they are part of these movies canonically. Look more so than in say Batman v Superman I am actually interested to see where they go in this universe from here. Though next time, don’t give away things like Russel Crow’s character before hand, if would have worked so much better if the Dr. Jekyll was a big reveal, instead you leaked it as part of a promotional trailer. [End of SPOILERS]

In the end, I have to say I did enjoy this first entry into the Dark Universe, sure my heart will always be with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz gallivanting around 1920s Egypt. Well we can’t go back in the past, we can only look to the future and I’m interested to see where we go from here.

 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Alex Kurtzman
Screenplay by – David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie & Dylan Kussman
Story By – Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet
Music by – Brian Tyler
Cinematography by – Ben Seresin
Edited by – Paul Hirsch, Gina Hirsch & Andrew Mondshein
Starring
– Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Selva Rasalingam & Russell Crowe
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13

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Movie Review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

TL;DR – King Arthur is a fascinating film as long as you don’t care that much about the source material, though it does have more than a few lulls and awkward story moments

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

King Arthur Legend of the Sword

Review

So this was a surprise, from all accounts, and my own expectations going in I was expecting a dumpster fire in movie form. Instead what I got was sure a flawed film in many respects but also a really interesting one as well. So today we are going to look out how this film approaches the legend, how the cast works, then the parts of the film that excel and the parts that really fall short. So let’s begin with how they approach the myth of King Arthur, and well it’s interesting.

Because it is in the public domain, the King Arthur story is one of those narratives that gets remade over and over again. We’ve had miniseries do a classical remake, we’ve had it reinterpreted into a teen angst drama, a side event on a fairy tale TV show, we found out that Camelot was a bit silly, and we even got it reimagined as a real world event as the Roman’s retreated. So you needed to do something new, make an interesting idea, approach it from a different angle, or else you risk the question of why should I watch this when there are already versions of this out there. So King Arthur: Legend of the Sword approaches this conundrum by just having the Arthurian legend as a window dressing for the story. So we have Arthur witnessing his parent’s death before being raised in a brothel and becoming a black market leader in an occupied town. You have some nods to people in the legend but some core members get barely a cameo, and some are missing altogether. On the one hand, this gives the filmmakers a lot of latitudes to tell a story that is not confined to a certain progression, on the other hand, if you are a fan of the original legend you are going to find the inconsistencies jarring. As well as this, they take bits of reference from everywhere and smash it together, we have the very magical Camelot existing at the same time as the real world Londinium after the Roman exodus, with a little Old Testament thrown in there for good reference. So this leads to a movie with giant elephants existing at the same time as negotiations with Norse traders, a martial arts master teaching students in an abandoned Roman bathhouse, and people of legend working within the social structures that existed at the time.

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Charlie Hunnam is a really good Arthur

Part of what worked for me is that it’s clear that the cast was on board for whatever Guy Ritchie threw at them. We have Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, who I’ve not see much of before but he really brings a command performance here, a sort of suave cockiness but also being a bit down to Earth, I wouldn’t be surprised if his name is on a Bond shortlist somewhere.   Jude Law as Vortigern, is just eating up the stage stealing almost every scene he is in. The rest of the cast is given good performances, hell even the David Beckham cameo was incredibly watchable. Also, it’s just great to see Eric Bana back on the big screen, Hollywood needs to cast him in more movies.

Something that I really found interesting with King Arthur is how Guy Richie took a film set in the Middle Ages, or a weird alternate reality where after the Romans left mages traipsed around England in giant elephants, but also embodied it in what is a very modern style. The outfits, the hairstyles, all feel a bit out of time, but it is more than that. In many ways, there is also this undercurrent of a modern gangster film beating just under the surface. I mean at one point Uther (Eric Bana) literally goes ‘hold my crown’ before jumping straight off a collapsed bridge into the previously mention giant elephants. This is also reinforced with editing style of the film, uses a combination to frantic montage scenes, this might have some of the best montage scenes I have seen in a very long time. As well as this, King Arthur has some really interesting sequence editing, which for the audience has a way of keeping you always on your toes. A good example of this is where Arthur plays out what would happen if he is introduced to the great families of England.

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays 'The Mage' or 'I am an important character from the myth whose identity won't be revealed until the sequel'

Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey plays ‘The Mage’ or ‘I am an important character from the myth whose identity won’t be revealed until the sequel’

One big standout for me was the musical score by Daniel Pemberton. I’m a big fan of bending musical styles, or taking something familiar and putting a new spin on it, or using music as a juxtaposition and it is here where King Arthur shines. Most high fantasy films or medieval period pieces use a classic orchestral score, which I’m not knocking at all, I mean just listen to the power of Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings or Ramin Djawadi’s score for the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But it is nice to see someone put a spin on the familiar, which is what we get here. The standout has to be what I think was an electric violin or a real violin that has been modified in post-production. Using an instrument that couldn’t exist at the time creates this interesting dichotomy and helps create that modern veneer that the movie sits in. As well as this, King Arthur also has a fantastic driving drum beat during some of the action and montage scenes, which really jells with the slight frenetic pace of the editing. All of this is combined to create a really interesting soundscape in the film.

Now while there are some interesting parts in King Arthur there are a couple of things that do really hold it back, though how big of a problem these are might change for you. While I did like the story overall there were some issues, for example, it did start to feel that this was a film with some great action scenes and other sequences, but in-between them there was a lot of treading water waiting for the next moment of action. [Spoilers] As well as this, it does feel like a lot of character motivations ended up on the cutting room floor so we are left with some weird scenarios. You can see this with Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen) who is shown throughout the film to be incredibly smart and knowledgeable, who forgets all of that when he risks everyone’s lives to kill Earl of Mercia for no reason. Also, at one point Arthur is betrayed by one of his own, but we see no reason for why this person turned it’s just like they’re good, oh wait, nope not anymore. Another big issue was that some of the fight scenes it became very clear that it was a CGI model fighting and not an actor. This is disappointing because other than this, the rest of the CGI and visual effects are really good. [End of Spoilers]

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

Jude Law revels at being the big bad

In the end, even with its problems, I did really enjoy this weird ride called King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword. When you have actor throwing themselves into the roles, a story that is bonkers but people care how portrayed, beautiful sets, and a rocking score, well you have the components of an interesting film. Of course, that being said, if you really like the Arthur legend and you are not a fan of big diversions well this might not be the film for you.

 

 Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Guy Ritchie
Screenplay by – Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram & Joby Harold
Story By – David Dobkin & Joby Harold
‘Based on’King Arthur Legend
Music by – Daniel Pemberton
Cinematography by – John Mathieson
Edited by – James Herbert
Starring
– Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Neil Maskell, Freddie Fox, Annabelle Wallis, Bleu Landau, Mikael Persbrandt, David Beckham, Michael McElhatton, Peter Ferdinando, Poppy Delevingne & Eric Bana
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13