The Mummy

I have not paid to see a Tom Cruise film in ages for several reasons. He owns a Hawaiian island so he does not need my money, and there are plenty of other actors who fall into this category that I have assiduously avoided paying for their movies. I usually don’t care about other people’s religious views, but after his sister became his publicist, rumors arose that he was a high level official in a certain religious community known in some circles as a cult that resulted in cutting families off from each other, including allegedly one of the mothers of his children. He started speaking out on issues such as the use of prescription drugs to treat mental illness and psychiatry. He allegedly has powers. My money does not need to confirm his worldview. The last film of his that I saw and paid to see in theaters was The Last Samurai in 2003, and let’s say that Matt Damon ended up on a the same list for similar movie crimes against humanity.

I still faithfully watch Tom Cruise movies because he still makes solid films. His public persona rarely disappears (prosthetics shouldn’t count, as they did in Tropic Thunder) in favor of his character, but he is a serviceable actor if he stays in his lane and does not try to be too serious. Some of his films are like McDonalds: not nutritional, but I really like the fries and for some reason I’m craving Chicken McNuggets or cardboard cheeseburgers even though I know what the real thing tastes like and only keep organic meat in my freezer. Consider Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible (I only saw the first two). Some of his films are shockingly good and with a more transformative actor, probably could have gotten critical acclaim: Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow. Guess which category The Mummy falls into? Yes, I would like fries with that order.

So why did I end my personal boycott after 14 years? Sofia Boutella, who plays the titular character, is one of the more interesting action actors in films today. Trust me, you know her. She was the henchwoman with prosthetic legs that doubled as blades in Kingsman: The Secret Service, which I’m not necessarily recommending. She was the best part of Star Trek Beyond as Jaylah, the white-haired alien who helps the iconic crew escape a bunch of deep space vampires, which I am definitely not recommending. She is generally a scene-stealer, kicks ass and is unique in an industry that forces actors into bland categories. No one ever recognizes her or knows her name, but she is unforgettable.

The Mummy’s commercials used Russell Crowe’s voice, and while I do not have a crush on him, he is captivating and was the best part of Man of Steel. He has not made a critically acclaimed film in ages, but he can. We all have bills to pay, but he generally does not phone in his performances so I respect him.

I like action movies with horror elements. I dug The Mummy franchise with Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah (I only saw the first two of three films), and even though I knew that this incarnation was a complete departure and probably of lesser quality, I kind of don’t care. I know that Universal Studios is using The Mummy as a naked attempt to create a new cash cow with the launch of the Dark Universe film series, which will include classic horror icons such as Frankenstein’s monster, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Invisible Man, Dracula, etc. Curiosity kills the cat, and all I can say is meow. We all know that they are not in it for the love of the classics, but want to treat their icons like an ATM machine. I know that I’m being used, and for now, I’ll allow it.

Did I enjoy The Mummy?  The Mummy is what you would expect: a highly formulaic, eminently forgettable summer blockbuster helmed by Tom Cruise. No one should be rushing to see it, but if you are desperate to get out of the house and eat popcorn in an air-conditioned room, you could do worse. I was initially excited at the reveal about Crowe’s character, but the actual development was anticlimactic and disappointing. I think that the Dark Universe franchise may be going in a League of Extraordinary Gentleman direction except less interesting, but I still may check it out as long as it does not descend into dreckitude. I thought the mashup of zombie with Dracula elements (power over insects, invading London, sandstorms as fog) was pretty neat, but sadly the film has no soul to propel its CGI veneer. Even in its commercial stagnancy, The Mummy still reveals a lot about Hollywood’s problematic standards and views of society.

The Mummy subconsciously teaches us that women who want power are monsters. The reboot features the first female mummy. Unlike her predecessors, what makes her monstrous is not her desire to disobey the laws of nature and resurrect a lost love. She is a monster because she wants power and is ruthless. She will destroy all family bonds and make a deal with the devil to do it. Kids, just accept your stepmom. Don’t you want your dad to be happy. Jokes aside, she is the most interesting character in the entire movie. The movie has zero sympathy that she is simply brushed aside because she is a chick, and her father loves her little brother more for simply existing. It is just power.

The Mummy affirms that bad behavior from white guys is amusing, fun and somehow positive and aspirational when the right white guy does it. We are constantly told by his human love interest that Cruise’s character is a good guy despite all evidence to the contrary. He is a looter, a cultural appropriator, insubordinate, bad friend, impulsive, puts empty bottles back in the fridge, eats all your cereal, etc., but because Cruise plays him, his behavior is just written off as an adventurous spirit.

The Mummy suggests that what ultimately makes a white guy a good guy is choosing the love of the right/white woman and doing anything to save her. It reinforces the white supremacy and sexist stereotype that white womanhood needs to be protected and is the highest calling for men. Let’s be clear. This film did not create an interesting character like the one played by Rachel Weisz in the Brendan Fraser franchise. She exists solely to make Cruise’s character seem like a good guy and to provide the thinnest premise of finding the titular character’s tomb. This is an imagined white woman who unlike her real-life living counterpart has no actual identity outside of her relationships. This film failed the Bechdel test.

The Mummy by default (hopefully inadvertently) implies that the brown woman is the wrong choice. The film is set up as the monstrous season finale of The Bachelor. Who will get the rose? The white chick, who has zero chemistry with anyone and played by an actor best known for such hits as…..well, I guess this is her big break, and I wish her the best of luck, or the brown chick, who is trying to unleash the undead on the Earth. Obviously the choice is a no brainer, but such dramatic dichotomies play on our subconscious racist views. The bar is so low: she is alive and not trying to destroy the world. The brown woman is her polar opposite and must be rejected.

The Mummy subconsciously communicates a truth in our culture that was also communicated visually in Queen of the Damned. It is not enough to reject the monstrous brown woman. White people must consume and possess brown power and life to render it safe and good even if that act makes the white person a monster because see the aforementioned third point. In the opening scene of Queen of the Damned and in the final battle, Lestat, played by Stuart Townsend, not Tom Cruise, consumes black bodies in order to survive. These images are echoed in the denouement of this film. Indeed, The Mummy felt like an awkward mash up of Queen of the Damned and Cockneys vs. Zombies.

The Mummy knows that it is actually quite feasible that Cruise’s character is a cursed immortal because Cruise himself has entered the uncanny valley and appears to have stopped aging without the obvious benefits and paralysis of botox. Cruise is two years older than Crowe yet Crowe calls him son in the movie, and indeed Cruise is better preserved than Crowe. His best friend, Vail (GET IT, veil of DEATH), played by Jake Johnson who is best known as Nick from New Girl (Cruise’s character in this film is Nick), is decades younger, but we are supposed to believe that they are contemporaries. On an even more disturbing note, Cruise now appears to have the upper body physique of a younger Arnold Schwarzenegger from The Terminator (please be a body double). We talk a lot about women aging in Hollywood, but Cruise’s appearance is subconsciously something that while rewarded, is not normal and viewed with suspicion. It felt like the unofficial subtext of the movie.

Through these surreal depictions of age and youth, The Mummy reinforces the rationalization that when white men (not boys) behave badly, their behavior is characterized as a youthful indiscretion, or they are called boys, whether they are 23 (Dylan Roof), 41 (Henry Hyde) or 59 (Trump’s age during Access Hollywood leak). They get to exploit sympathy and claim innocence, which is not equally accessible to women and people of color. Is The Mummy to blame for all the ills of society? No, but movies can either unconsciously or consciously reveal the world inhabited by the filmmakers or show the world that the filmmakers wish would exist.

Sarah G. Vincent is an infovore who is originally from NYC and has lived in Massachusetts since 1993. She received an A.B., cum laude, in History and Film Studies from Harvard University in 1997 and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where she was also an editor and arts reporter at the Crimson/FM and worked at the Harvard Film Archives. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she published “The Cultural Context of the Shopping Mall: Tension Between The Patron’s Right of Access and the Owner’s Right to Exclude.” She is in a committed, exclusive spiritual relationship with the Triune God and for more information, directs readers to look at the Apostle’s Creed.

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