Movie reviews: Formulaic 'Mummy' reboot too safe to be called horror film
Published Friday, June 9, 2017 6:00AM EDT
THE MUMMY: 1 STAR
It is no longer enough for Hollywood to offer up a constant diet of remakes, reboots and reimaginings. These days the studios are franchise building, creating interconnected universes for their characters to live in. Joining Marvel, DC, Star Wars and X-Men is Universal Pictures’ Dark Universe, a new series aiming to bring classic monsters like Frankenstein and The Invisible Man back to big screen life.
The universe’s foundation is “The Mummy,” a self described "action-adventure tentpole with horror elements." The plan is to revive the eighty-five-year-old “Mummy” franchise, insert another classic character, Dr. Henry Jekyll, thus creating a cross-pollinated world were brand name monsters are mixed and matched to infinity.
The title may signify a character unearthed from the annals of antiquity but the star of the show is ageless action man Tom Cruise. He is Nick Morton a mercenary who specializes in plundering conflict areas for priceless artefacts. Under attack in the Iraq, he uncovers his greatest find yet, the five-thousand-year-old resting place of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an Egyptian princess in line to be queen. When her insatiable lust for power led her down a dark and dangerous path she was deposed, buried alive far from home in Mesopotamia now Iraq, in an ornate sarcophagus.
“That’s not a tomb,” says Egyptologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), of the unearthed find, “it’s a prison.” Awake and angry Ahmanet, a.k.a. the big screen’s first female Mummy, brings Nick under her spell as she tries to regain her lost power and, of course, enslave all of humanity.
It's not hard to sense the cynicism in “The Mummy.” Bundling cruise and legendary monsters in the movie with a few laughs, some typical blockbuster action and a CGI climax it wouldn't be out of place in an Avengers movie, it feels like a carefully constructed exercise in marketing first and a movie second.
There is plenty of atmosphere—the screen is often so dark it’s hard to see exactly what is going on. I see why it is called the Dark Universe—and the odd spooky scene—Ahmanet’s stretching out the kinks after her 5000 year nap is suitably weird—but it never dials up the horror too high.
Unlike the 1930s when The Mummy, Dracula and Frankenstein scared moviegoers, the major studios don’t make the best horror movies anymore. Nowadays true scares her delivered by indies who don't have to worry about making back a Cruise-sized budget. “The Mummy” plays it too safe to be called a horror film, although those with the fear of rats or spiders may feel the hairs on the back of their necks rise. There are some jump scares and loud sounds but it is essentially a race-against-time movie—Gotta to stop that ancient evil somehow!—with supernatural elements as Tom does his patented CruiseRun© away from an ancient terror.
As a horror film, it’s a meh action film. As an action film, it’s little more than a formulaic excuse to trot out some brand names in the kind of film Hollywood mistakenly thinks is a crowd-pleaser.
MEGAN LEAVEY: 3 ½ STARS
"You don't really connect with people very well." That’s what people tell Megan Leavey (Kate Mara), the title character of a new film from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Luckily she does bond with dogs and that gift saves not only her life but also the lives of many others.
When we first meet Leavey she is a withdrawn young woman, aimless, grieving the loss of her best friend. Living in Valley Cottage, New York with her divorced mother (Edie Falco) and the man who broke up her parent’s marriage, she looks to extricate herself from the drudgery of dead end jobs by enlisting in the Marines. When asked why she signed up she replies, bluntly, “To get the BLEEP away from my life.”
She finds her calling after an embarrassing incident. Caught urinating in public after a night of drinking she is assigned the worst job on base, cleaning out the dog kennels of the K9 bomb-sniffing unit. There she meets Rex (Varco), a violent and aggressive military working dog so powerful he shattered the hand of his former handler with one bite.
With the guidance of the gruff Gunnery Sergeant Massey (Common) and dog trainer Andrew Dean (Tom Felton), Leavey and Rex become devoted to one another and the job. “People count on us and if we do it wrong people die,” she says, “so we gotta do it right.” Spread out over more than 100 missions their teamwork saves thousands of lives but on the second of two deployments in Iraq an Improvised Explosive Device wounds both. Leavey finds the return to civilian life difficult, doubly so when Rex is declared unadoptable. “I’m just trying to give a war hero a home for the last few years of his life,” she says.
Based-on-a-real-life story “Megan Leavey” is a by-the-book but effective bit of storytelling. Guaranteed to tug at animal lover’s heartstrings it’s a love story between woman and dog. “I’d thank him for trying to teach me what love is.” It’s also a tribute to the largely ignored but long, honourable role of dogs in the military.
Cowperthwaite stages several tense bomb sniffing scenes and the troubled family sequences work well but the film is at its best when it explores the loving connection Leavey has with Rex. It’s “Benji” with bombs or “Lieutenant Lassie,” a movie that hinges on the audience buying into the camaraderie between dog and trainer.
Mara is a mix of vulnerability and steel will, a woman who finds meaning in the military and her relationship with Rex, only to see it all jeopardized following her injury.
“Megan Leavey” is a compassionate film that may be a bit too straightforward in its telling but nonetheless is a powerful example of the power of companionship—whether between people or people and animals—to heal the human heart.
CHURCHILL: 2 STARS
Winston Churchill, two time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and, according to a 2002 poll, the Greatest Briton of all time, has been played on screens big and small by everyone from Orson Welles and John Houseman to John Cleese and Richard Burton. Recently John Lithgow was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance of the British Bulldog on “The Crown,” and now along comes Brian Cox as the great man in a not-so-great movie.
Set in the four day lead up to the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy, France in June, 1944 “Churchill” presents a different take on the prime minister than we’ve seen before. Cox plays him as a sixty-nine-year-old man exhausted by the weight of power, terrified of repeating the mistakes made at the bloody World War I Battle of Gallipoli. A personal and professional downward spiral following discord with Generals Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Montgomery (Julian Wadham), is slowed by intervention from the PM’s wife, the strong willed Clementine Churchill (Miranda Richardson)
Feature films are not documentaries nor are they history lessons, but “Churchill’s” fast-and-loose relationship with the truth does not play well. While it is true that Churchill did have misgivings about the D-Day invasion the timeframe has been twisted for dramatic effect. Writer Godfrey Cheshire reports that writer and historian Alex von Tunzelmann “’telescoped’ the events of Churchill’s opposition, bringing them from months earlier to the days just before the invasion.” In an effort to link Churchill’s documented depression with one of the key events of WWII she goes nonlinear with history but fails to draw any real drama from her contrived version of events.
Cox grandstands throughout, perhaps in an effort to overcompensate for the cliché dialogue. “Sometimes you can’t lead everything from the front,” he bellows as though saying it louder amplifies its meaning. The gruff portrayal falls into caricature early on and has a hard time transcending into something compelling, let alone the psychological examination director Jonathan Teplitzky had in mind.
James Purefoy as King George VI and Richardson fare better but are bowled over by a script that suffers form a lack of subtlety.
“Churchill” is a beautiful looking movie, but it isn’t history or a portrait of a real person. Instead it is misleading look at one of the most important eras in modern history.
IT COMES AT NIGHT: 3 ½ STARS
There are so many dystopian stories out there it sometimes feels like the movies just might produce dark visions of our planet until the end of the world comes for real. The latest film to portray the end of times is “It Comes At Night,” a psychological horror film starring Joel Edgerton and Riley Keough.
Set in the aftermath of some sort of cataclysmic plague that wiped out much of the population, the story follows a family of gas mask wearing survivors. Paranoid “You can’t trust anyone but family” father Paul (Edgerton), steely mother Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and 17-year-old Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) live in a secluded cabin fortified with boarded windows. Barricaded in, with only two double-locked doors and an airlock separating them from the dangers of the outside, infected world.
Their quiet home life is turned inside out when an intruder named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaches their security. The young man tells Paul that his wife and son (Keough and Griffin Robert Faulkner) are just fifteen miles away, dying. “You’re a good person,” says Will, “just trying to protect your family but don’t let mine die because of it.” Moved, Paul agrees to help. The two men brave the uncertain and dangerous journey to Will’s home, rescuing Will’s wife and son. When the two families move in under one roof small cracks soon become chasms that lead to paranoia and suspicion.
“It Comes at Night” is a study in angst, claustrophobia and fear. It’s an up-close-and-personal look at the way society reacts in times of crisis, a lantern-lit look at survival. An existential horror film in shading and feel, the real terror here comes from the characters and not the unnamed virus that decimated mankind. Like “Night of the Living Dead” it is a look at the paranoia and fear that comes along with a societal collapse.
Instead of going for jump scares or outright horror director Trey Edward Shults uses an anxiety-inducing soundtrack to slowly build an atmosphere of dread. Concentrating on the hopelessness of the situation he supplies an emotional punch that plays like a kick to the stomach. It’s disturbing—there hardly a moment of uplift to be found anywhere here—but at a brisk ninety minutes its harrowing story never outstays its welcome. Whatever state your life is in, you’ll be glad to return to it after the end credits.