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 – Star Trek Beyond

TL;DR – They finally found the right formula for the reboot series and it is glorious, the cast is amazing, the action is good, and every joke hits its mark.

Score – 5 out of 5 stars

Review

I think I need to start with some context before jumping into this review, on the whole, I do really like the Star Trek franchise, however, I have not been a fan of this rebooted Star Trek movie series. The first movie had great casting, but the story was full of logical problems and lazy short-cuts, that it removed any real emotional weight to killing off Vulcan, and I just really did not like it (2/5 stars). The second film Into Darkness did a little better with me, as it had some reasonably good character moments, and some interesting set pieces, but the need to recreate one of the most iconic conflicts in Star Trek, and then the ability to not quite pull it off left the movie feeling quite flat (2.5/5 stars). I want to say this upfront so you understand this 5 out of 5 I am giving the film (only the second one of 2016) is not because I am enamoured completely with everything Star Trek, I am giving this film a 5 out of 5 because it has bloomin’ well earned it.

For those of you who might not know, Star Trek follows the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), Chief Medical Doctor Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), Helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) as they fly around in the USS Enterprise, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. It’s Sci-fi at its best (TOS: The Tholian Web, TNG: The Best of Both Worlds & The Inner Light, DS9: The Dominion War, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek First Contact etc.) and indeed it can be Sci-fi at its worse (yes I am talking to you Voy: Threshold, Ent: These Are the Voyages… & Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) but it is always interesting. Indeed, even though it sits well within that Hard Sci-Fi side of the spectrum, it always deals with the philosophical notions in a way other Hard Sci-Fi’s tend to ignore (with some other exceptions like Red Mars). For me this is where the first two films in the reboot movie series fell flat, they are all action and no substance, and for better or worse Star Trek is all about the substance and this is where I really do feel the third time is the charm with Star Trek Beyond.

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The Action gets a boost in Star Trek Beyond

Beyond picks up at least a couple of years after Into Darkness, when the Enterprise is about half-way through it five-year exploration tour of the galaxy, and when you are trapped together for so long things start to fray. Thankfully, the Enterprise is able to refuel at the new frontier Starbase called Yorktown, however, whilst there an urgent distress call sends the Enterprise into an uncharted nebula and all hell breaks loose. For the first time in the series, I think we finally see Chris Pine really shine in the role of Kirk, he has complexity missing in past performances that tended to be more wooden, and he has a great range throughout the movie. To the person who thought it was a good idea to have Spock and Bones buddy up throughout the film, well done because they killed it, Karl Urban has always nailed the presentation of Bones and here he nails it. Idris Elba works really well as the big bad Krall, however, his performance is a little constrained by the prosthetics, but not so much that it inhibits his ability to command every scene. Sofia Boutella brings a really strong physicality to the role of Jaylah, something we saw in Kingsman: The Secret Service and she helps ground the 2nd act. More so everyone works really well together as an ensemble cast, playing off each other’s strengths, and really showing a united team.

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Sofia Boutella owns the action scenes as Jaylah

When it comes to the story, it really is hard to talk about it without instantly hit spoiler territory, but generally, it deals with notions of loss, what does it mean to command, betrayal, love and a lot more. As well as this, it is simply a really funny movie, the audience was in raptures at the screening I went to, I don’t think a single joke fell flat, which is quite an achievement. More so as well as being a pretty solid action flick, it has a deep undercurrent of Star Trek-ness which was simply missing from the last two films. We also see that in the way that film is written by people that don’t just give the previous cannon lip service, they understand it, and it shows, with a number of key references, to the use of props, and in the understanding of the characters and what motivates them. This means that when we get to the final act it feels like the film has earned its big final moment, more so that other recent films. If I had to nit-pick I would ask why Starfleet built a Starbase right next to an uncharted nebula, but that is only a small issue, and nowhere near as puzzling as to why they would give someone fresh out of the academy command of a Starship.

The Yorktown is bonkers

The Yorktown is bonkers

The special effects are all really quite good, this complements some really good set design, which means we aren’t running through a brewery when we are meant to be on a Starship. The new Yorktown Starbase looks amazing, if not completely impractical, but for some reason, I just love it, though I doubt I could live there … too much vertigo. All the action sequences work really well, the ship battles feel energetic, I’m still not sold on the Enterprise redesign, but it is realised really well in this film, the fight choreography feels a bit more kinetic than the other entries, and the explosions are quite spectacular. I will say there is one sequence with a bike that does look quite fake, but it is once the moment of oddness in an otherwise strong film. The music, both the use of Classical songs and Michael Giacchino’s score, really suits the movie, indeed Giacchino’s score was the best thing about the last two films, so you know it will work here. Mostly I feel this film nailed it because of the strong writing and directing team of Justin Lin, Simon Pegg & Doug Jung, who are all new to the series, but they bring an energy and understanding to the movie. I’m really glad JJ is killing it over in the Star Wars universe and that these guys have found a formula that works here for Star Trek.

All in all, I really loved this film, it is a major improvement for the series as a whole, and I really hope we see the team return for the next film. I highly recommend going to see Star Trek Beyond, I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I and everyone at my screening did.

Directed by – Justin Lin
Written by – Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Based onStar Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Starring – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Deep Roy & Shohreh Aghdashloo
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12a; USA: PG-13

Movie Review – Kingsman: The Secret Service

TL;DR– A really great action film, with a good story and great action set pieces, let down a bit by a ‘joke’ right at the end that fails.

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

Review

This is a really interesting film, but one should say straight off the bat, it is nothing like what the trailers portrayed it as. This isn’t some kind of young Bond film that you can take the family to, it is extremely violent and contains a lot of course language etc.

It has been a while since a film has had casting as good as this

It has been a while since a film has had casting as good as this

However, I must say I did kind of like it, mainly because every actor gave wonderful performances. Samuel L Jackson could not be further from his Nick Fury (or any recent) role  with his performance of Richmond Valentine, yet he owns every scene he is in and his henchmen Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) kicks ass, in fact, I would go as far to say she is the best female villain I have seen in a very long time. As well as this relative newcomer Taron Egerton really holds his own in the title role of Eggsy and you really do tend to empathise with him given the situation he has ended up in. Also, move over Liam Neilson because Colin Firth has taken your crown as king of the older gentlemen action star. Also Mark Strong (Merlin) and Micheal Caine (Arthur) round out a really strong lineup.

In the end, I didn’t have a problem with most of the violence, language etc. as I felt that most of the time it fit the context of the scene but I could see very easily how someone could as there are some very confronting scenes in this film.  I did like the exploration of the notions of what it means to be a ‘gentlemen’ in this age. Also while I don’t think it worked as well as it had hoped the interplay with the class differences in the modern UK was quite on the money at times (I mean you still don;t have an elected Upper House … I am also looking at you Canada). And I would be lying if I didn’t find some of the truly subversive swipes at the political elites of the planet very funny.

Yes this scene is as amazing as you have heard

Yes this scene is as amazing as you have heard

That being said it is not a movie without its flaws, the character of Roxy (Sophie Cookson) just feels like it is there because they needed it and not because it worked. Some of the plot points felt a bit contrived, ‘oh look they are all given dogs, hmmm I wonder what is going to happen there?’ Also, there is a “gag” right at the end of the film that really does not fit and simply feels like it was in to bump up the rating and since it is right at the end, you end up leaving the cinema with an annoyed feeling. In the end, I really enjoyed the film but I can clearly see how other wouldn’t especially if you live outside the UK

 

Directed By – Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay – Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn
Starring – Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson & Sofia Boutella
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Ireland: 16; NZ: R16; UK: 15; USA: R