If one is going to do a new version of The Mummy, then it might as well be like this. It is Saturday matinee material, reminiscent of the old-style serials with their cliffhangers and rapidly moving on to the next episode, a series of adventures.
It has not been designed for older audiences who may remember previous versions, especially with Boris Karloff way back when, and have put the 30s film on a kind of pedestal, forgetting how creaky it is, and was. This is a film for younger audiences or for those who are getting a bit older but still have fond memories of Indiana Jones.
There are quite some variations on the old Mummy stories, initially setting the action in present-day Iraq with the consciousness of American military presence, of strategies, of some of the exploitation of ancient history by some reckless soldiers, despite all the efforts of serious historical excavations.
And, this time, the Mummy is female, Ahmanet, a sinister figure from the past who wanted to be Pharaoh, killed her father whom she loved, killed his wife and their child so that she can ascend to power – with some, locations about Seth, the god of death, and the execution of Ahmanet as well as her imprisonment and entombment.
So, very 21st-century, with Tom Cruise as Nick, perhaps a little over-buoyant, still active despite his 54 years of age, lots of derring-do, escape from Iraq, a plane with flocks crashing into it and disabling the engines, saving the leader of the diggings, Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) with the only parachute before it crashes outside London. In the meantime, there are excavations under buildings in London and the finding of a crusader cemetery from the Middle Ages which, as we have seen, contains the precious stone which is needed to be placed in the deadly knife of Ahmanet to make it an all-powerful weapon.
And, while it is 21st-century, who should be in charge of excavations and research but Henry Jekyll (and, in case, the Robert Louis Stevenson connection is missed, he later metamorphoses into Mr Hyde, but in the 21st century, Eddie Hyde!). He is played in the British grandee manner and accent by Russell Crowe, sounding for all the world like Jack Thompson in his enunciation and declarative tones – and resembling Jack Thompson in his more portly present incarnation! He does get the chance to go to London East End when speaking as Eddie Hyde.
Not only does Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) rise from the dead but so do some of the Egyptian guards as well as some of the crusaders, all in the aggressive spirit of the living dead.
One of the troubles for Nick is that Ahmanet has taken more than a shine to him, preserving him from injuries, setting him up to be an incarnation of Seth. Which is all the more complicated because he has a romantic bond with Jenny.
The film is full of CGI, stunts and action, rapidly paced, not requiring the audience to give it too much deeper thought, although it relies on audience response to good versus evil and the defeat of evil whether it be from diabolical outside influence or from inner malice.
This is the first of Universal’s new series, Dark Universe, where there will be remakes of all those old Universal horror films from the 1930s and 1940s. Look out for the Bride Frankenstein and The Invisible Man.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting