erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2017 posts

Monday July 31, 2017

Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

War. What is it good for?

This is another summer 2017 movie that got gangbuster reviews and made me go, “Eh.” (Cf., “Wonder Woman,” “Baby Driver.”) I understand the accolades. “War for the Planet” is an unconventional action-adventure movie—meaning there’s not much adventure and little action. There’s mystery, which is a positive. It’s artistic. There are homages to great movies in the past—particularly “Apocalypse Now.” It prefigures, or anticipates, the previous “Apes” series by naming a mute girl Nova and a baby ape Cornelius, and giving us those creepy, x-like crosses Charlton Heston sees at the edge of the Forbidden Zone in the original ’68 movie.

Wait, does that mean we’re just a few years away from those events? That the little blonde Amiah Miller will grow up to be the smoking hot brunette Linda Harrison? That Cornelius will become Roddy McDowell, and our current wandering, idyllic ape society will build a small adobe village while its various species quickly stratify into scientists (chimps), lawyers (orangutans), and soldiers (gorillas)?

War for the Planet of the Apes reviewSeems a tad early. The original “Apes” was set hundreds of years in the future (3978 to be precise), and we caused it with our nukes (“You blew it up! Damn you all to hell!” etc.). But I guess we should allow writer-director Matt Reeves a little artistic license. Each “Apes” planet, after all, should be caused by whatever we currently fear: in the 1960s, nuclear war; in the 2010s, James Franco.

Fear of an ape planet
Speaking of fear: Should I get into the potential covert racism of the series? How the novella was written in France during the Algerian situation, and how the first series was popular during the Black Power movement, and how this series came about during the Obama years? The difference between this series and the original, of course, is who we’re rooting for. Charlton Heston, he dead. Indeed, it’s tough to find a starker casting difference between NRA president Heston playing the hero in ’68 and legal marijuana advocate Woody Harrelson playing the villain today. Woody does it with a touch of Col. Kurtz (shaving his bald head), while his face-to-face with Caesar (Andy Serkis) contains a coda like a Trumpian tweet: 

You are impressive. Smart as hell. You’re stronger than we are. But you’re taking this all much too personally. So emotional!

But it’s the first part of that dialogue—the “smart as hell” part—that sadly proves incorrect.

The movie opens with an army sneak attack on apes in the jungle, which, despite many casualties, the apes win. Caesar arrives, grayer than ever, eyes the captives imperiously, but shows mercy. He lets the captured go.

Bad move. Shortly after, Caesar is betrayed by the white ape, Winter, who leads the enemy to the apes’ caves, where Caesar’s wife and kids are killed by The Colonel (Harrelson), wearing war paint similar to Brando in “Apocalypse.” From that moment on, the movie becomes a revenge flick; Caesar even leaves his people in pursuit of it.

Smart move—by the filmmakers. Governing is not only hard, it’s boring. In the last movie, the ape village scenes did nothing but bore me. Here, Caesar winds up traveling along the coast on horseback with the orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), the gorilla Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), and the chimpanzee Rocket (Terry Notary). Along the way they pick up a mute “Les Miz”-looking blonde girl, Nova (Miller), and a nearly bald, comic relief chimp named “Bad Ape” (Steve Zahn), who reminded me of some combo of Golem and Jar Jar Binks. They also come across a mystery. The human soldiers are killing and burying their own. Why?

Caesar’s not particularly smart in any of this. He’s following an army but isn’t stealthy. In the human military compound near (I believe) the California-Oregon border, he creeps close, is captured fairly easily, and has no plan of escape for either himself or his village—all of whom were captured after he left them. They’re forced into slave labor, building a wall of crude stone to the north. To stop what? To hold back what?

We also get the inevitable confrontation between a hero and villain who want to kill each other, and neither takes the opportunity. The Colonel lets Caesar live in chains while a chained Caesar doesn’t rip the Colonel’s face off with his teeth. Instead, it’s words words words. It's Trumpian tweets. 

Caesar surmises that another human army isn’t coming to join the Colonel but attack him and his men. Thus the wall. (Except ... don't they have helicopters?) And the reason for the attack? It’s about the dead soldiers. The simian virus that killed off much of humanity has a variant strain that makes humans mute and simple-minded like Nova. So the Colonel, intent on protecting the species, orders infected humans killed and buried. Caesar, and the army to the north (Portland?), not to mention the movie itself, look upon the Colonel’s order with horror, but it's actually the smartest thing anyone does. When Nova brings her tiny, faceless doll into the compound, and the Colonel unknowingly picks it up, he gets the disease like that. That’s how deadly it is.

By that time, the Portlandia Army is in the process of attacking, the apes are in the process of escaping, yet Caesar remains behind to get revenge. Except he finds the Colonel mute, drunk, suicidal. So after much ponderous decision-making, Caesar lets the Colonel kill himself. Then he escapes fire (stuff blowing up) and ice (an avalanche), and leads his people to the promised land. It’s kinda Biblical. Or will be.

Stinkin’ pause
Here’s a question: After that avalanche kills off most of the two human armies, and the apes trek to that promised land, next to a nice lake, why do they assume they’ll be safe there? Because they’re away from the coast? Because we've reached the end of the movie? What about the humans in the hinterland? Aren’t they assholes, too?

I admit I like the cleverness of some of “War for...” Military men have “Monkey Killer” scrawled on their helmets and have scrawled “Donkey” (as in “Donkey Kong”) on the backs of the quisling apes. But there are too many problems, too many dead spots, too much stupidity. These days in particular, I want smarter leaders. 

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Posted at 07:57 AM on Jul 31, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Monday July 17, 2017

Movie Review: Ming Yue Ji Shi You (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

A few years back I complained that more than a few European and Chinese filmmakers were taking the natural horror and drama of the Holocaust and the Rape of Nanjing and making them melodramatic.

This doesn’t do that. Here, director Ann Hui takes the natural horror and drama of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and makes it undramatic.

Hui is a celebrated and critically acclaimed member of the Hong Kong New Wave. She received a lifetime achievement award at the 2012 Asian Film Awards, while her last two films—“Tou ze” (“A Simple Life”) in 2011 and “Huang jin shi dai” (“The Golden Era”) in 2014—won best director honors at both the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Film Festival. I assume “Ming yue ji shi you” (“Our Time Will Come”), which was released a month ago in China, will be up for same.

But it makes me realize why some of our better, quieter films don’t travel well. A lot of cultural nuance must get lost in the journey, and we’re left with ... this.

Paperwork
Ming Yue Ji Shi You (2017) review“Ming” focuses on WWII-era guerilla activity in Hong Kong, particularly the Dongjiang (East River) guerilla unit, which, as the movie opens, is tasked with spiriting artists and intellectuals off the islands and into unoccupied Chinese territory. The Japanese are the least of it. You also have to navigate Hong Kong gangs and watch out for collaborators and quislings.

The main focus of our concern—if we’re concerned, and I wasn’t particularly—is Mao Dun (Tao Guo), an acclaimed left-wring writer who is boarding with Mrs. Fong (Deannie Yip) and her schoolteacher daughter Lan (Zhou Xun, ridiculously gorgeous). We see some of the machinations involved in getting him to safety. He trades in his western suit for traditional Chinese wear. Call-and-response passwords are exchanged. But he’s being watched and/or traduced, and the day of, we know the man claiming to be his contact is a collaborator. Dun suspects as much, too, but doesn’t know what to do. Then Blackie Lau (Eddie Peng), a cocksure rebel, shows up and kills the spy, and convinces Lan to chaperone Mao and his wife to the embarkation point. She agrees, and returns with a soft glow of satisfaction. She becomes a guerilla herself.

I suppose this contrasts with one of her first scenes. In a meadow on a sunny afternoon, she releases her pet rabbit into the wilderness rather than allow him to wind up on the family dinner table. In the same scene, she rejects the marriage proposal of her boyfriend Kam-Wing (Wallace Huo), since it comes on the heels of his announcement that he's going to ... another island? To Japan? Either the movie was too subtle, was translated poorly, or I wasn’t watching closely enough. Maybe all three. Kam-wing winds up working for a Japanese official, but he’s no collaborator. He’s part of the rebellion, ferreting out maps and other important documents to the Allies.

Much of the guerilla activity is, in fact, paperwork: bringing pamphlets from Point A to Point B; passing notes and eating them to prevent detection. Lan’s mother, initially dismissive of her daughter’s activities, gets involved, too, but she’s caught, imprisoned, tortured. Blackie comes up with a plan to rescue her, but Lan, seeing how hopeless it is, how many lives will be lost, tearfully abandons it, leaving her mother to her fate (digging her own grave with a bowl before being shot in the head).

Much of the movie is like this. It’s about the heroism that still happens within the thing that doesn’t.

Framing
Zhou is lovely to look at, and Eddie Peng provides a welcome jolt every time he’s onscreen; but the pace of the movie is soporific, its loose ends puzzling. Kam-wing’s Japanese superior figures out he’s a spy, and cuts him with a Samurai sword but allows him to live; but we never see Kam with Lan again. Indeed, he’s the one rebel we never see interact with the others. How is his story connected? Is it just one of the many? And if the point of the movie is verisimilitude, life lived, then why are so many of the Japanese soldiers fat and stupid? Sgt. Schultz comes to mind. 

Meanwhile, the framing device, a la “Saving Private Ryan,” is a present-day interview with one of the guerillas, now an aged taxi driver (Tony Leung), who was 10 back then. Except he was a peripheral figure, barely involved in the events described. If he’s telling the story, how does he know the rest? If he’s not telling it, what’s with the framing device?

There’s a good movie in here but this isn’t it. Most of the characters, Chinese and Japanese, just seem to be waiting out the misery. I felt the same. 

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Posted at 06:22 AM on Jul 17, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Friday July 14, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

WARNING: SPOILER 

When the announcement dropped a few years back that they were rebooting Spider-Man again—just 15 years after the original and only five years after the first reboot—I mostly shook my head. Yeah, congrats guys, Spidey’s part of the MCU* now. But another one? So soon? I mean, I don’t know if I can watch Uncle Ben die a third time.

(*Marvel Cinematic Universe. – Acronym-lovin’ Erik.)

Just how many ways can you differentiate yourself from canon? The 2012 reboot tried by:

  • making Peter a skateboarding hipster dude, played by an older-looking actor
  • focusing on a romance with Gwen rather than M.J.
  • focusing on the father-daughter Tracy tragedies (Spider-Man #s 90 and 121) rather than the iconic Uncle Ben one (Amazing Fantasy #15)
  • introducing a backstory about Pete’s dad, who was ... what again? A chemist? A spy? Wasn’t there a secret lab hidden in a subway station or did I just dream that?

Did Pete even catch the Burglar in the first reboot? And now another one? Good luck.

It’s not exactly news that they hit it out of the park.

Avenger No More!
“Homecoming” works because it goes younger, nerdier, funnier and more diverse. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is young and hot, while Pete (Tom Holland) can’t drive a car and can barely talk to girls. He’s 15. Spider-Man: Homecoming reviewWe get such Ditko-era stalwarts as Liz (Laura Harrier), Flash (Tony Revolori), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and M.J. (Zendaya), but reimagined in different ways. Flash, for example, is a verbal rather than a physical bully, while Ned is Pete’s Legos-playing best friend who discovers his secret identity. All of these supporting parts, by the way, are played by people of color. It doesn’t matter (in their world), and shouldn’t matter (in ours), but it does. It’s Marvel living up to James Baldwin’s line: “The world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”

“Homecoming” also works because it does two things most superhero movies don’t do.

First, you also get a real sense of how tough it is to put the “super” in “superhero.” Not emotionally, as in “Oh no, I’m a giant rock creature and no one will ever love me again,” but in just getting from place to place. Sure, Pete’s spider-powers allow him to scale the Washington Monument, but it’s not effortless—any more than you or I doing wind-sprints up a hill would be effortless. He runs out of breath; he all but clutches his side. In Queens, where he lives, there are no tall buildings to web-sling on to, and, at one point, he winds up running through backyards like Ferris Bueller. Plus crimes don’t just happen, wah-lah, in front of you. He nabs a bike thief but can’t find the bike’s owner. At one point, with nothing to do, he helps an old lady with directions. It’s all rather pedestrian. He’s a super kid trying to make his way in a world of super adults, and frequently coming up short.

The movie also answers the question David Mamet says every playwright/screenwriter needs to ask: What does the guy want? This is a rarity in superhero movies. Generally, once the hero becomes super, they have no motivation other than a grand one (stopping crime). Supervillains are the ones with schemes. Heroes are just trying to stem the tide. They’re reactive.

Not here. Pete wants something: He’s desperate to join the Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) brought him on board for “Civil War” but in the first minutes of this one he just plunks him back into his regular world with barely a how-do-you-do. Pete goes from stealing Captain America’s shield to watching dull Captain America PSAs with his classmates (a great, recurring gag). So of course he’s chafing; of course he wants to be in the center of things again. But Tony is a distant, dismissive father. He tells him to buckle down, do his schoolwork, and be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Basically he feels Pete is too young for the Avengers.

And he’s kinda right. In trying to prove he’s ready for the Avengers, Pete proves he’s not ready for the Avengers. He causes near disasters at the Washington Monument and on the Staten Island Ferry. He rushes in to save the day and ruins the day and rues the day.

But it’s not all on him. Tony Stark is not only distant father but distant oligarch. He’s above it all (literally) and too busy to clean up his own messes. He’s kind of an ass. At one point he says to Pete, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Um, dude? Aren’t you all suit? Stark’s mere presence creates envy but his sloppiness creates opportunities for destruction.

Hell, he’s the reason we get our supervillain.

The Vulture’s Prey!
Adrian Toomes, a.k.a., The Vulture (Michael Keaton), is one of Spidey’s oldest nemeses** but previously ignored onscreen. I can imagine the meetings with Hollywood suits: “Wait, this bald guy with the buck teeth and feathers? Pass.”

(** Vulchie first appeared way back in Amazing Spider-Man #2. – Anal Erik)

Well, the feathers have been replaced by metal and powered by alien tech, and Keaton makes him truly terrifying: a working-class hero with a giant (and not unjustified) chip on his shoulder. Eight years earlier, Toomes’ salvage company was hired to clean up in the wake of the alien attack in “The Avengers”; but then the feds swooped in, roped things off, and dismissed him. He was left with debts and doomed to bankruptcy ... except for the truck full of debris and alien tech at his warehouse.

That cache leads to the creation of three Spidey supervillains: Vulture,  Shocker (Logan Marshall-Green; Bookem Woodbine), and the not-so-terrible Tinkerer (Michael Chernus)***. Initially, Toomes just wants to get his and provide for his family. They rob ATMs and sell dangerous weaponry on the black market. But increasingly he wants revenge—on Tony Stark and the Avengers. He’s the opposite side of the same coin as Pete. Both are fixated on Stark. Pete, fatherless and uncleless, wants his love, while Toomes plots his destruction.

(*** The Tinkerer also debuted in Spidey #2 – Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Erik)

Is that third-act reveal too much? After Pete loses his Stark-manufactured Spidey suit, he focuses on high school and friends and asks his crush, Liz, to the dance. Life is on the upswing. Then Homecoming night he opens her front door and is greeted by her father: Adrian Toomes. It’s a jolt. It’s also one fantastic coincidence: My sworn enemy is the father of the girl I love! It recalls that first Green Goblin reveal****: My sworn enemy is the father of my best friend! And is it me or does that marriage seem ... off? No offense, Mike, but Garcelle Beauvais is a bit above your paygrade. That said, kudos to Keaton’s acting. At one point, he has to pivot from chaperoning dad to malicious super-killer, and he does so naturally and seamlessly.

(**** Spidey #39, natch. – Aren’t-You-Sick-of-Me-Yet Erik)

O, Bitter Victory!
Kudos all around, really. Holland makes an amazing Pete/Spider-Man, Batalon is pitch-perfect comic relief, Michelle/M.J. is great sarcastic sidebar. We get a Spider-Man #33 homage: Spidey, exhausted and trapped by an enormous weight, overcoming it to save the day. (I always loved that issue.) “Homecoming” has a 133-minute runtime but it zips. I was never bored. And I’m frequently bored at these things.

The final battle involves a planeload of Stark Industries tech, which Vulture hijacks because he’s trying to get Iron Man’s attention. He has to settle for Spider-Man’s. It’s almost poignant. Both of our leads are wallflowers at the dance, unable to get the homecoming queen's attention. It’s They Might Be Giants: No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.

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Posted at 06:04 AM on Jul 14, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Thursday July 06, 2017

Movie Review: Baby Driver (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I heard nothing but compliments from critics and friends before I went to see “Baby Driver” and I heard nothing but complaints from my wife on the way out. She hated the movie. Hated hated. She likes a good, stupid time at the theater as much as anyone but couldn’t get past the lead, Ansel Elgort, whom she found insipid, annoying, and with zero sex appeal. “Why would any woman over 12 even like him?” she said. “He’s a 12-year-old’s idea of sexy.”

Me, I’ve got mixed feelings. I found the character of Baby, particularly in the beginning, too insular and impressed with himself. He thought he was cooler than he was and the movie let him get away with it. He couldn’t just make a sandwich, he had to make a production out of making a sandwich. To me he was just another white kid lip-syncing to black artists, which, c’mon, what year is this? 1985?

Then shit went south for him and the movie improved a bit. But enough to justify a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes? Critics? Vinny? Sure, there’s tons of adrenaline, but is anyone smart driving this thing?

I hit the road and I’m gone
Written and directed by Edgar Wright, the man behind the Cornetto trilogy, “Baby Driver” is about an expert getaway driver named Baby (Elgort), who works exclusively for Doc (Kevin Spacey), an Atlanta gangster. Baby Driver reviewWell, “works.” When he was young he stole one of Doc’s cars and he’s been paying off the debt ever since. After the cold open, he’s the proverbial one job away from getting out.

Baby got backstory: He was orphaned at six when his mom crashed their car into a truck. Baby was in the backseat listening to his new iPod, and he’s had tinnitus ever since. He relieves it by ... listening to an iPod while driving really fast. I think Wright posits a connection between his listening and his driving. The music gets him into a zone. He pumps himself up with his own soundtrack.

The heists, for all their planning, seem ill-planned. Basically three gunmen run into a bank wearing masks and carrying high-powered weaponry, then leave with money and the cops right on their tail. It’s up to Baby to shake them. He does. (Can I just applaud the Atlanta police in this movie? Baby performs sick, only-in-a-movie maneuvers, and a second later they’re on him again. Kudos.) Afterwards, money is divvied, Baby loses most of his share to Doc, but puts the remainder under the floorboards in a three-story walkup he shares with his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones, who is deaf), for whom he makes the aforementioned sandwiches.

The movie improved greatly for me when Baby begins to romance Debora, since she’s played by Lily James, who is both adorable and can act. They’re good together: flirty and sweet. The give good dialogue. I was surprised during their “Debora song” conversation that she wasn’t aware of T-Rex’s “Debora,” since, if you’re interested in songs with your name, well, there’s a little thing called Google. I did it on iTunes 10 years ago for my wife and found “Darling Patricia” by Owen Gray. And I’m old.

Debora, of course, is young, and her dream is the dream of the young: to get out. Specifically, to get on interstate 20 with a friend and some tunes, and head west and never stop. Her wish soon becomes their goal because that “last job” isn’t the last. It only meant the debt was paid, it didn’t mean Baby doesn’t work for Doc anymore. In this next job, a Post Office of all places, everyone makes stupid decisions that lead to third-act disaster:

  • Doc has Baby case the Post Office. Seems an unnecessary risk to take with your reluctant getaway driver.
  • Doc has the heist team, including  the well-named “Bats” (Jamie Foxx), pick up the fenced weapons without telling them they’re dealing with corrupt cops. So when Bats sees APD (Atlanta Police Dept.), bullets start flying. 
  • Baby tries to get away from the others at 2 a.m., but is caught by Buddy (Jon Hamm) in the parking garage. Except ... Baby’s in a car at this point, and all he has on his side is a lame excuse. (“Going to get coffee.”) Why doesn’t he just spin out and away? Like every other time in the movie?
  • Instead, Bats reveals Baby’s predilection for taping conversations, including myriad ones with Doc, to sample later for his own sad amusement. And Doc doesn’t kill him right there? And he lets him drive the next day? Simply because Baby says he will?
  • When everything goes wrong, and Bats and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez, hot) are killed, and Baby is pursued by both a crazed Buddy and half the APD, he grabs Debora and goes for help to ... Doc? And gets it? And Doc gives his life helping him?

Throughout, the movie makes it seem like Baby has a plan, but he has no plan. He’s a stupid kid that has a lot of luck. That scene in the diner? Where Buddy, who lost his love because of Baby, asks Baby if he loves Debora, and Baby says yes? And Debora is only saved because a cop suddenly shows up looking for a restroom? How much serendipity does Baby (and Wright) get away with here?

What’s my number
But I wasn’t bored. I’ll give it that. I thought Jon Hamm was miscast and Kevin Spacey typecast, although I liked his “Monsters Inc.” line, as did everyone. I really liked Foxx, who was note perfect. I liked that there was comeuppance—that Baby and Debora seem to be getting away, heading west like in the dream, but then the blockade, the arrest, the trial, the prison term. I loved Lily James. Can’t say this enough. My new movie crush. Slightly awkward since I’m twice her age.

But 97 percent? I liked Edgar Wright better when he was satirizing movie genres rather than making them go vroom

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Posted at 06:09 AM on Jul 06, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Monday July 03, 2017

Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“The Mummy” is the second feature Alex Kurtzman has directed—after “People Like Us,” a small drama from 2012 starring Chris Pine and Michelle Pfeiffer—but it’s not far off from what he normally does. For most of this century, he’s taken existing intellectual property and turned it into zipped-up but dumbed-down action-movie franchises.

He gave us the screenplay for the first two “Transformers,” for example, then wrote and produced the first two rebooted “Star Trek” movies (the ones its fans didn’t like). He wrote the second Antonio Banderas/Zorro movie (the one that killed the franchise), the third “Mission: Impossible” movie (the one its fans didn’t like), and the second “Amazing Spider-Man” (the one that killed the franchise). He also wrote “The Island,” wrote and produced “Cowboys & Aliens,” and produced the “Now You See Me” movies. Almost all of his movies get rotten ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.

Now he’s the man behind the Dark Universe. Maybe he always was.

Fates worse than death
The Mummy with Tom Cruise: reviewAccording to Kurtzman, Universal approached him in 2012 with the idea of producing a reboot of The Mummy. But in tossing it around, he began to connect it with other monster movies, and envisioned a whole universe of gods and monsters—similar to Marvel’s continuing universe (MCU), DC’s extended universe (DCEU), and Warners upcoming MonsterVerse (Godzilla, King Kong, et al.).

He talks about it all in this interview with denofgeek.com. Read the whole thing. It’s sad. He mentions the great horror movies he and Tom Cruise watched before or during the making of this one, including Kurtzman’s favorite, “The Exorcist”:

In the first 10 minutes of the movie, which is essentially a silent film, you are immersed in a world and filled with a deep sense of dread, without any real understanding of why. Friedkin builds this extraordinarily scary tone, and a sense that something really, really bad is coming...

We get that in “The Mummy,” too, but with a different sense of dread, a different kind of bad.

“The Mummy” starts in England, 12th century A.D., where a ritual among knights is underway; then, boom, it’s same place, modern day, and excavation for a new London subway system reveals their tombs. A voiceover by the unidentified Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) goes into a backstory, but not about the knights. Instead, we’re suddenly in ancient Egypt, hearing about a princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and how, to maintain power, she sold her soul to the Egyptian God of Death, Set, then killed her father, step-mother and baby brother, and was in the midst of a ritual to transfer Set’s spirit into the body of her lover, making him a living god, when she was captured by Egyptian priests and mummified alive.

Only then do we cut to modern-day Iraq and our hero.

That’s a lot of throat clearing. Worse, most of it is unnecessary (12th-century England) or detrimental to the story. Seriously, shouldn’t Ahmanet’s story have been kept in the movie’s backpocket for a bit? Instead, we know it from the get-go. As a result, when devil-may-care soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Cruise), and his hapless partner Vail (Jake Johnson), ride down on a shattered Iraqi town, are shot at by (essentially) ISIS, and call in a surgical strike whose subsequent hole in the earth reveals an ancient Egyptian tomb, there’s no mystery for us. There’s no suspense or dread. We’re just waiting for our hero to get up-to-speed.

And man is the tone ever wrong. The movie not only stresses action-adventure over horror, it adds comedic banter. In Iraq. I can’t stress this enough. Our hero is an American who is trying to steal ancient artifacts from a country we already destroyed. And the tone is light comedy.

Hell, ignore geopolitics and focus on what happens in the movie. In the movie, Vail objects to riding down into this enemy-held village but Nick forces his hand by slitting open his bota bag of water. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” Nick says jauntily. Then they’re shot at, the airstrike, the tomb is revealed, and Nick causes the sarcophagus of Ahmanet to be released from a pool of mercury along with a shitload of spiders. One spider bites Vail and ... well, it kills him. Or it turns him into a zombie or something. He pops up, jaundiced skin, scabs, and one eyes turned white. He talks about “fates worse than death.” Guess what? He’s comic relief. The tone is jokey. As in: “Isn’t it funny what happened to Vail? Ha! Oh, Vail. You and your eye.” Then at the end, after all the horrors and battles, after Nick is fused with Set, the God of Death and resurrects Vail, they’re in the desert again, and Nick says the exact same line in the same jaunty tone: “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“Uh, maybe I lost it after you made me suffer a fate worse than death.”

It’s all inflated self-regard and lack of accountability. You couldn’t make a movie more infused with the reckless, idiot sprit of America if you’d tried.

Dracula, Frankenstein, and Nick
Anyway, to the rest of this crapfest.

As soon as the sarcophagus is removed, all sorts of bad shit happens. A sandstorm nearly overwhelms them, then the transport plane is destroyed by kamikaze crows and goes down over England. But Nick, finally a hero, gives the last parachute to archeologist/love interest/superblonde Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) before dying himself. Except, oops, he can’t die. Or he keeps dying—like Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow”—but because Ahmanet chose him to be the vessel for Set, there he is again, without a scratch. (Question: Couldn’t she have just chosen another lover for Set? And if she wanted the plane to go down in England, why the sandstorm in Iraq to try to stop the plane?)

In London, Nick is introduced to Dr. Jekyll (Crowe), who runs Prodigium, a secret society designed to combat supernatural threats. It’s this universe’s SHIELD and Jekyll is its Nick Fury. Except, being Hyde, he’s also a customer.

I liked Crowe, to be honest. I liked his Etonish Jekyll and Cockney Hyde. I liked Boutella as Ahmanet, and the way she hissed “Thief!” at Nick—although between this, “Kingsman” and “Star Trek,” will the girl ever get to play someone with an office job? Wallis wasn’t bad, either, despite her super-blondeness. I liked the scene of the plane going down—that was actually thrilling.

And that’s it.

I mean, does anyone get the limits of Ahmanet’s powers? Even from the sarcophagus she can summon spiders, crows, sand. She can control Vail. She can also literally suck the life out of men, leaving them shriveled corpses while she regains her bodacious form; then she commands these corpses, these zombies, to do her bidding. She does this with the knights/crusaders, too, so apparently it’s anything that’s ever died. Churchill. Shakespeare. Jesus. That seems like a lot of power. How did Egyptian priests ever mummify her in the first place?

And does anyone get the ritual that’s at the center of everything? By stabbing her chosen lover with an ancient dagger embedded with a giant ruby, she transfers Set’s soul—which, I guess, is in the ruby—into human form, and the lover/Set becomes “a living God.” In underground London, after many millennia, Ahmanet finally has everything to make the ritual work: the ruby is back in the dagger, and Nick, her chosen, is there, and nobody is around to stop her. But then Nick steals the dagger and—against her cries—destroys the ruby. Ha! He wins!

So ... what does he win?

Well, Set’s spirit is fused with Nick’s and he becomes superpowerful.

But ... wouldn’t that have happened anyway? If she had stabbed him with the dagger? Wasn’t that the whole point of the ritual? So why should two different paths lead to the same result?

Uh ... Maybe this way Nick is stronger? Maybe he would’ve disappeared otherwise and only Set would’ve ruled his body?

Yeah. Either way, Nick/Set is now superpowerful, so he sucks the life out of Ahmanet, returning her to shriveled, mummified form. Serious question: Since she is the mummy of the title, what exactly is Nick in all of this? How does he belong in the Dark Universe? The characters/stars involved include Frankenstein (Javier Bardem), Invisible Man (Johnny Depp), Dr. Jekyll (Crowe), Dracula and Wolfman (TBA), and ... Nick Morton? Not exactly canon.

Anyway, after all that, Nick says “Where’s your sense of adventure?” like a moron, and he and Vail ride in the desert with a sandstorm in their wake, while, via voiceover, Jenny and Jekyll debate whether Nick is now more monster than man. We could ask of Hollywood the same.

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Posted at 08:40 AM on Jul 03, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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