09 June 2017

Get Mummy'd

In our weekly preview this Friday we have a lot to dissect. Reaching theaters is the coldly anticipated The Mummy (2017) starring Tom Cruise, which is a bizarre sentence. There's a lot to unpack with Universal's idiotic Dark Universe, the Brendan Fraser movies obviously, and how this is basically a mystical Mission: Impossible VI. On the other end o the spectrum we've got Joel Edgerton in It Comes At Night (2017) which looks sweet and creepy. Let's start with that one.
You know, he's not even really the focus of this movie.

Joel Edgerton's stock has risen in the last couple years. He could have easily become another Jai Courtney or Garrett Hedlund, some anonymous bro doing random charmless features, but he's instead picked a series of continually funky roles that has proven he is actually capable as an actor and director. He was kind of in the background of a lot of crappy movies like King Arthur (2004) and Smokin' Aces (2006) before inching up with the underrated Warrior (2011), the underrated The Thing (2011) prequel, and bit but memorable roles in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and The Great Gatsby (2013). Then of course comes the obviously terrible casting in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) (I bet you forgot that film even existed, right). Since then though, he's done really competent work in Black Mass (2015), Midnight Special (2016), and probably his peak with Loving (2016).

That's a lot to keep track of, but important to realize just how many movies this dude has been in that have ranged form shitty to spectacular, with a bunch in between, not often due to his role. Unmentioned above is his writer / director / producer / actor role in The Gift (2015), which was a stunning debut for anyone, much less the random not-Tom Hardy dude from Warrior. That film's tone appears to most closely resemble It Comes At Night, even if Edgerton's creepster Gordie role is drastically shifted. He does well with eerie thrillers like this, which are rare these days, although it appears at least also aesthetically similar to Get Out (2017). That might be a stretch, because nothing can really be tonally, thematically, or even a similar genre to Get Out, which seemed to blend so much to craft its insane narrative. But it's got that vibe sort of, right? At least in the sense that it's a mid-budget creepy thriller I suppose.

Edgerton is of course not the director of It Comes At Night, that'd be Trey Edward Shults, who I don't know too much about besides the fact that he directed Krisha (2015), which I remember appearing on a lot of critics indie best of lists two years ago. He's supposedly a competent director, which is rad. I'd be excited to see what he does with some money and this could become a great sophomore effort that we call back to.

As for the film itself, it appears like a standard home invasion flick with something more sinister going on - more paranoia, creepiness, and mystery. This isn't really a slash 'em up like The Purge (2013) or a weird reversal like Don't Breathe (2016), or You're Next (2013). We've had a lot of these lately. I don't even know if It Comes At Night is actually a home invasion movie, it's definitely at least not in the traditional sense. It's an exciting prospect to keep spinning this genre, which actually hasn't had nearly as much crap in the last few years as I thought it did.

Critically it's been solid, and culturally if it strikes the right vein it can certainly catch on and be a memorable movie, at least in the growing and solid oeurves of Edgerton and Shults. The cast also includes Carmen Ejogo, who is also tending to be in everything these days (having just shown up in Alien: Covenant [2017] as well), and Riley Keough, who is soon to become our new it girl, appearing in every film coming out in 2017 (only six films, but who's counting). It ought to be a great notch on the belt for both of them as well. This flick could push past just being a career move for everyone involved, but the commercial tracking isn't great (well, good enough for the kind of film this is, but not Get Out numbers) enough to really push it in the stratosphere.

So let's move on to The Mummy, and I should ask - what do you honestly think about this movie? I was totally wrong the other week about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), which won, even if its total gross was far under its predecessors. But The Mummy is a lot different, right? Well, my anticipation level is pretty similar. I just really don't care about this stupid shit. Let's start with Universal's whole Dark Universe push.

You may not know this, but back in 2012, The Avengers made a ton of money. Amazingly, other studios attempted to copy this shared universe idea, and crazily, no one else has been able to pull it off. Sure, DC comes close, but let's get real - all their non-Wonder Woman (2017) movies are like dragging your dick through gravel. Lacking a coherent property like a pre-built comic universe, studios have gotten more and more desperate searching for possible shared universes. Warner Bros, in addition to the DCEU is trying their hand at Godzilla and King Kong in a shared monster universe. They also were at one point trying their hand at King Arthur, and that didn't work out to well. There's a bunch more ranging from Hasbro to LEGO to 21 Jump Street and Ghostbusters (also whoops). It's so obviously that a lot of these fail by biting off much more than they can chew right away, or as is more often the case, being terrible terrible fucking movies.

Universal apparently saw all this and figured it owned the rights to the original shared universe, its classic Monsters library from the 1930s and 40s and figured "Why not?" even though most of its properties are now in the public domain. Other studios really should just start cranking out Frankenstein and Dracula films to spite the studio. And sure, on paper this makes a lot of sense. There's name recognition there and a previous shared universe to base their works around. That's basically what Marvel did, right?

The big difference is that there are Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy, and Werewolf films every five years or so. What people don't seem to understand about The Avengers is that the team-up concept had existed in comic books for seventy years (going back to the Justice Society of America), and in Marvel, fifty years before getting that singular big screen adaptation. All these characters had never been on screen before while we had had a long history of superheros on film, dating back to a bunch of Superman, Batman, and Blade solo adventures. Why did Blade get a movie before Iron Man? Dammit, the 90s were nuts. This is also where we intersect with Universal Monsters again - Blade: Trinity (2004), obviously. Marvel needs to reboot that and re-cast Luke Evans as Dracula.

Anyway, the point is that The Avengers was really novel, and it granted a desire to see an amazing team-up on screen that fans had been waiting for decades. We've seen a lot of monsters on screen, and there's not much of a reason to believe that The Mummy is going to give us anything really at this level of novelty. It's attempting this through basic Tom Cruise-ism, which is an insane stunt that Cruise performs himself, which I'm sure drastically drives up the film's insurance premiums. This time he's in a plane without gravity. Wowee! I'm sure it'll be a great sequence, but that's all that the Mission: Impossible films have become, it's sort of insane to just translate that to a different franchise and genre.

On that note, let's talk about the basis for their films - casting big name actors and that's it. Marvel did work to seek out great actors to match their roles, letting the films and roles make stars out of its lesser known leading actors like Chris Hemsworth. You've also got to remember burnt out 2008 Robert Downey Jr. who no one liked compared to the 2017 cinematic golden boy he has become. The one thing they do universally well is their casting, which is all about finding the character first. Their director choices can be flashy (or at least in the sense of giving renegades like James Gunn and Taika Waititi a fun sandbox to go nuts in), but their casting is always practical.
The real heroes.

Universal went out and grabbed the most obvious crop of actors possible and handed them each an iconic role. Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, and Javier Bardem teaming up sounds like the greatest 2004 movie ever, and that's only because Javier Bardem's prime is a few years past the rest of these 90s legends. What kind of investment is this? Downey Jr. is certainly aging out of Tony Stark, hell, at this point Chris Evans is pushing it. Is this franchise built to last ten more years? It all reeks of a cash grab rather than careful construction.

The one great bit of casting is Sofia Boutella as the titular Mummy, who is a young star on the rise and looks great in the role (or at least as great as a weird four-pupil screaming sand witch can look) and can be booked for the next ten years. I'd be curious to see how the rest of the films develop their secondary casts - Tom Cruise's random white dude character seems far more expendable than the Mummy. Will they bait and switch? He died in Oblivion (2013) - it can happen! Well, I guess he kind of didn't. That's not even totally a spoiler.

To direct, Universal also chose an obvious and safe choice - Alex Kurtzman, who has never actually directed anything before, so we're a little in the dark, but he ought to be famous for writing with his 9/11 truther partner Robert Orci the first two Transformers films, the first two modern Star Trek films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and a slew of other crap. It's certainly populist and he's made a ton of money, but it's hard to pick a singular good movie from this credits list. The best is probably Star Trek (2009), so maybe that's okay. Likely not.

Anyway, my whole point is that there are some pretty serious cracks so far in this Dark Universe the studio is going after. The Mummy has had a lot of hype, although none from any serious corner of the Internet, but I imagine it'd have to tank pretty hard for Universal to drop the idea completely. I'm still trying to figure out how and why Dracula: Untold (2014) dropped the ball, but whatever. It'll all be shit anyway.

One big reason we're strained is because there's a lot of weird love out there for the Brendan Fraser series that came out almost twenty years ago. The Mummy (1999) was a pretty popular film that was filled with groundbreaking special effects that look super shitty today, and also made stars out of Rachel Weisz, while its sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001) which was the first cinematic appearance of The Rock! We're only here today because of The Mummy Returns. Think about that. These are egregiously stupid films, but pretty fun films lead by a charismatic cast that you could see really cared about each other. Even Arnold Vosloo eventually does some subtle work with his eternal love, Anck-Su-Namun in the sequel. See, I even remember all their stupid damn Egyptian names. There's hardly a better Sunday afternoon movie you can tune in to, not really pay attention, and enjoy a few minutes at a time.

Thus, our current Mummy feels more like a remake than it should, even if the period, style, cast, shared universe implication, and titular mummy are all different. It doesn't help that we got The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) more recently along with more Scorpion King movies than you'd think was possible. This is all to say this film doesn't feel wanted or needed and I can't imagine its cultural aftershocks being that high. It'll probably make money because in totality it's created to do so. Reviews are trickling in slowly, but it's already pretty clear how rough this is.

And on another note - I love mummies. They're so stupid. Why would you ever be scared of a mummy? They're in fucking Egypt and shit. I'll draw your attention to my series of short stories, "Lowcountry" over at our creative writing blog that is never updated. I mean, you got Boris Karloff, Yummy Mummy, that Simpsons joke about Soccer Mummy getting a boner - this is all golden Mummy lore. Can Tom Cruise match up?

We've also got Megan Leavey (2017) this weekend, which I've never heard of and looks like some sappy crap about an army chick and her dog or something, I don't care.

So what are you watching this weekend? Wonder Woman? Yeah, Wonder Woman. I hate to keep defaulting to superhero movies, but they're really no worse than any other stupid franchise at this point, and as long as they're as good as Wonder Woman that's fine with me. What say you?

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