The Mummy (1999)

I don’t understand the villain in this iteration of The Mummy. We’re shown in a flashback that he, a priest named Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), decided to have an affair with a woman named Ahnk-sun-Amun (Patricia Velásquez), all the way back in 1290 BC. She was considered untouchable, as she was a mistress of the Pharaoh. She kills herself, he’s sentenced to death, and has a curse placed upon him. If he’s ever brought back from the dead, he vows to try resurrecting his lover.

At least, that’s how I understand it. Before he gets captured, he tries to resurrect her via magical methods. After being buried alive, we learn that the curse gives him powers and he could enslave all of humanity if he isn’t stopped. But why would he want to do that? He didn’t seem like a terrible person before he is killed, so why would he have such a change of heart? And it’s not like he’s a mindless creature once he inevitably gets reborn; he’s sentient and can reason.

The reason for this is because our film needs a villain. After seeing this flashback, we begin our main story, which takes place in the 1920s, and follows a man named Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) who knows a thing or two about digging for treasure. After being enlisted by a librarian, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), the duo embarks on a quest to find Hamunaptra, where treasure is probably buried. Oh, and Imohtep is there as well, but you probably already figured that out. They are joined by Evelyn’s brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), while they have opposition coming in the form of American treasure hunters who play their rivals for most of the film.

As you’d expect, Imhotep eventually gets resurrected, and the film is forever changed. Instead of watching characters wander around in ancient Egyptian tombs, The Mummy turns out to be an action film dealing with stopping a seemingly immortal enemy. Is it stupid? Sure. There isn’t much thought in the screenplay, there’s little hidden beneath the surface, and I don’t think the film wants to do anything apart from entertaining you. Is it entertaining, though? Yeah, it’s fairly enjoyable.

If all you’re looking for in a film is seeing a monster fight against some humans, and the monster also happens to look like a human for most of its screen time, then The Mummy might satisfy. There’s enough action to keep an audience’s attention, and most of it is crafted with skill. Where it falls short is in its characters, plot, special effects, and pretty much all of the areas that you turn to during the dull moments.

When you look at the characters, you don’t get much. O’Connell is a weaker Indiana Jones — a wisecracking adventurer — Evelyn is the typical love interest whose purpose is to move the plot along and fall into danger, Jonathan serves absolutely no purpose, the villain is just that, and all of them aren’t written all that well. This is especially noticeable when it comes to O’Connell, who tries too hard to be brash, bold, and funny that it comes across as forced and annoying.

That’s not to say that the actors are poor, because they’re all adequate. I liked Fraser and Weisz, and I thought they had good chemistry together. If I had a better understanding of the villain, I would have been able to appreciate the screen presence brought to the picture by Arnold Vosloo. I kept wondering why he was evil throughout, which undermines the effort brought to the role, even during the action scenes.

There is a lot of obvious CGI in The Mummy, most of which has to do with the creatures that have been rendered. Before Vosloo portrays the titular creature, it starts off being rendered fully with special effects, and noticeably stands out. There are lesser mummies as well, and most of them are at least partly CGI. The actors sometimes didn’t seem sure what to be doing when interacting with something that wasn’t there, and it led to some clunky battle sequences.

I was also disappointed after watching this film, as most of the deaths occur off-screen. The Mummy was given an $80 million budget and a PG-13 rating, but we don’t actually get to see most of the final blows. When Vosloo’s character first emerges, he has been tasked with sucking the life out of the characters who opened a chest (don’t ask why). I don’t remember seeing that ever happen. We’d see the creature walk up to them, cut to something else, and then see the drained corpse. There’s no catharsis in that!

The only real deaths we get to see come from creatures who disintegrate when hit. Gee, that’s a lot of fun. We get these large set-pieces filled with creative stunts, and then they just end without a real resolution for the audience. It’s not like this material had to be censored for us; it is a PG-13 film, after all. I was almost angry after the third time it happened, and I would have sworn that writer/director Stephen Sommers was playing a joke on the audience. It’s more comical watching the camera move away from the deaths than it is to listen to Rick O’Connell talk.

I won’t deny that The Mummy is fun. It is. I guess I just wanted more, or at least a release after these long set-pieces. If you watch this movie hoping for a brainless action movie, you won’t be disappointed. If you want something more, or even a tight remake of the 1932 film, you’ll be disappointed. You might feel that way anyway just because of the way that the endings of the action scenes are handled, but you’ll probably enjoy the ride for the most part.

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