The Mummy – “Welcome to a new World of Gods and Monsters” (Film Review)

(Sigh)…… You know, I don’t like being negative about movies? It doesn’t always come across but I would rather rave about the great films I’ve been checking out recently than meander on about how two hours of my life has been snatched away by another soulless money-sucking blockbuster. Sadly I find it pertinent to write about the biggest releases of any given week, as others are more likely to be invested in an opinion, and as we are in the middle of the summer release schedule when every film release is a sequel, spin off or looking to start a franchise there is a general air of cynicism to the movies being made, which in turn creates a cynicism in my brain, which in turn makes my fingers type words like “The Mummy is a boring turd” or “Russell Crowe’s English accent sounds like Ray Winstone performing panto”. It’s not healthy for anyone really.

Anyway, the movie. Universal is looking to relaunch the O.G of film universes (The Universal Monster series). They tried this a few years ago with Dracula Untold which made some money, but not enough money, so they’ve waited a few years, assumed everyone forgot, and are now trying again with The Mummy. I’m not against a new Universal Monsters Universe (Or Dark Universe as they have branded it). I like the classic movies from the 30’s and 40’s and enjoy the Brendon Fraser and Rachel Weisz starring mummy movies from the late 90’s and early 2000s. But what I didn’t want was a two-hour step-by-step guide in how to build a film universe occasionally featuring a mummy. That’s what we got though.

The original Mummy film from 1933 is one of the weaker of the Universal series. It’s hasn’t aged as kindly as Frankenstein or The Invisible Man have. In fact, the definitive Mummy film remains the 1999 version which melded solid action, a few scares, a great comic sensibility and, at the time, state of the art visual effects to become one of the most memorable blockbusters of the late 90s. This newest incarnation is closer to the 1999 version, looking to balance horror, action and comedy. The balance, however, is not right. It’s basically the equivalent of eating three singular cornflakes with a gallon of milk, but without the sustenance. Tom Cruise’s character (Whose name I can’t be bothered googling due to my apathy) is similar to the charming rogue Rick O’Connell (played by Brendan Fraser in 1999) however they’ve taken the charming part out and left him as simply a rogue (A rogue Antiques Dealer no less), who isn’t funny, or interesting and spends the entire movie standing in rooms with a derpy face having the plot explained to him by other people. It’s an interesting plot twist to have a lead character who is as captivating as a particularly mellow shade of beige. I like Tom Cruise, he’s a really good actor, with lots of experience at injecting charisma and energy into pretty much every film he’s in. It takes quite a shit storm to drag him down, but drag him down it does. Everyone else is in the same boat, the boat in this case being a really heavy rock that sinks to the depths so quickly it’s kind of impressive in a moronically inept kind of way. There are a couple of decent laughs to be had, whilst the CG is also very capably integrated with the action. There is even a nice little riff stolen from American Werewolf in London that is kind of chuckle worthy, but it’s not enough to hold a film together. This is Alex Kurtzman’s first directorial feature, having worked predominantly as a writer for the last couple of decades. I’ve never been a fan but his direction isn’t an issue, he appears quite capable, perhaps serviceable is the right word. With a better script he could possibly have made this work, and perhaps in the future he will move into direction full time.

The Mummy is an intro to a new film universe that forgot that the key feature of getting people to come and see the next instalment is actually making a good movie. Instead this is compromised by adding so much set up to future films that the mummy itself becomes something of a background character in its own feature. Boutella seems game for the role but isn’t given enough screen time to make more of an impact and frankly the idea of listening to Russell Crowe speaking in a cockney accent again makes me want to pour glue in my ears. It’s a mediocre action movie, only check it out if you’re a big Tom Cruise fan, or you have a limitless card.

2/5

“Is that a Monkey?” – Kong: Skull Island (Film Review)

In 2014 Godzilla made his reappearance to a western cinematic audience in Gareth Edwards eponymous film. It was a commercial success and prompted Legendary Pictures to greenlight a reboot of one of cinemas oldest and most beloved characters, who debuted over eighty years ago, King Kong. Godzilla and Kong previously clashed in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, but with the surge in technology over the last fifty years it is not surprising that there are plans to bring the gargantuan duo together once again meaning Kong himself needs to be reintroduced with Kong: Skull Island.

Set in 1973, just after the U.S announces it will be leaving Vietnam, Bill Randa (John Goodman), a senior official at MONARCH, convinces the US government to fund his expedition to the uncharted Skull Island. He is given a military escort led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and hires former SAS Captain and renowned tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to assist them, also along for the ride is Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a renowned photo-journalist and peace activist. Upon reaching the Island the group drop seismic charges to, allegedly, map the terrain, but by doing so they provoke the wrath of Kong (Terry Notary) who brings down their helicopters leaving them stranded on Skull Island.

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Kong: Skull Island opens with a strong first act, introducing a parade of characters who are swatted down by the almighty Kong. The opening brawl between Kong and the military is enthralling, and showcases the presence of the gigantic beast. It’s easy to make something look large on screen but it’s a challenge to communicate such scale to the audience and to make Kong feel like a living, breathing animal. The motion capture work is fantastic and Kong is beautifully transposed into the world of the movie, in part due to the performance of Notary as the creature. Less compelling are the people surrounding Kong, despite being well introduced few of the characters develop beyond the periphery of two dimensions. Hiddleston is supposedly the male lead, but you could remove him from the film and it would make little difference. Hiddleston’s performance isn’t the problem, his natural charisma stops him from becoming unwatchable, but his lack of personality or insight makes him an issue, especially as the lead character. Larson suffers the same issue, Mason Weaver is never fully realised beyond having the obligatory sequence in which Kong shares a semi-intimate moment with a woman because, well, he does in all Kong movies. The ensemble flare between promising and underutilised. Jackson and Goodman bring the heft of their experience to the movie and manage to make even the most expositional dialogue scenes interesting through their fine work. Jackson is the most fully realised of any of the characters, a man whose lost so much that to surrender would be an insult to those who sacrificed their lives. The scene stealer though is John C Reilly as Hank Marlow, a WWII pilot who has been stranded on the Island for twenty-eight years leaving him a peculiarly eccentric figure.

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This film feels like a battleground. Between the director’s vision of making Apocalypse Now but with a massive ape, and the studios hopes of starting a franchise. The actors battle for screen time, with each other and Kong. It has some astonishing effects and clever visual motifs, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts clearly has an eye for spectacle, but the screenplay can’t match his ambitions leaving most of the characters adrift of interest. Solid, but not quite worthy of the King.

3/5

Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Scr: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Terry Notary, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, John C. Reilly

Prd: Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Alex Garcia

DOP: Larry Fong

Music: Henry Jackman

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Runtime: 118 Minutes

Kong: Skull Island is out now in UK cinemas.