Rearview Mirror: “The Mummy”

Revisiting the 1999 himbo adventure classic about white people fucking around with ancient artifacts, which rocks.

Welcome to Rearview Mirror, a monthly movie column in which I re-view and then re-review a movie I have already seen under the new (and improved?) critical lens of 2021. I’m so happy you’re here.

If ever there were a movie to be taken at face value, with its cards on the table and its story right there on the screen where you can see it, it’s The Mummy. That’s not to call it shallow, though maybe it is. It’s just that it’s a straightforward crowd-pleaser, demanding little of its audience but offering plenty. It’s got heart, humor, action, romance, and effects. It works. Case in point: the hook for this month was that Brendan Fraser’s legacy is being (rightly) re-evaluated (just, read this, please), and this movie has become a kitsch classic. I watched it a few years ago and was bored by it and wanted to dig into why it didn’t hook me the way it seemed to hook all my friends—but when I re-watched it, it hooked me! Problem solved. I was wrong before. The Mummy rocks.

Specifically, The Mummy rocks the way REO Speedwagon rocks: obviously and undeniably; appropriate for everyone, but catering to a mainstream sensibility in every sense of the word. It does seem like a movie built to make money, which is hardly a crime. It’s got an easy hook for audiences, and you can imagine how easy it was to cut it into a trailer. It’s not surprising it became a ride at Universal Studios, or launched a sequel which in turn launched the box office juggernaut known as The Rock’s Acting Career. It’s old-fashioned: we meet Evelyn when she’s Buster Keaton-ing around a library, and then she heads straight into an exposition-a-thon with her brother (do siblings actually mention that they’re siblings in conversation, or is this just a thing people do in dialogue? I’m an only child and it’s always confused me).

It doesn’t really give a thought toward representation (Arnold Vosloo, who played the titular mummy, and an Arab terrorist on 24, is from South Africa, and is white, by the by), but steers clear of common cultural pitfalls by adhering to that old treasure-hunter’s adage: white people should not be fucking around with artifacts! Everyone’s really hot. Our current penchant for himbos has elevated Brendan Fraser’s performance to a kind of cult status (there was a capsule collection dedicated to him over at Super Yaki), but for me, it’s like, Ohed Fehr can get it every which way. And Rachel Weisz, duh. People like to call this movie the “bisexual Olympics”—which is cute even if it could apply to, you know, most movies starring professional actors. I think the distinction here is that these two actors have actual chemistry with each other.

It doesn’t really give a thought toward representation, but steers clear of common cultural pitfalls by adhering to that old treasure-hunter’s adage: white people should not be fucking around with artifacts!

As far as characters and storytelling, I did find the whole thing a bit Diet Indiana Jones, but in terms of trying to capture Harrison Ford’s charm, Fraser still comes closer than any actor since (sorry, Shia LaBeouf and Alden Ehrenreich, but lip syncing isn’t singing).

I was, for a bit, on the mummy’s side. I think if you die for love (for love!) in the most gruesome way known to humankind, you should be allowed to curse anyone who disturbs your tomb out of greed. And if you also want to take over the world, maybe that’s your right. But I draw the line at disliking cats. Cats are our friends and keep us safe from disease-ridden rodents. Also, little paws. Cute.

The Mummy came out two years before the Angelina Jolie–starring Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Both movies have been recently remade, to little success (I am bracing myself for the inevitable Mask of Zorro reboot). Why? In a Marvel-dominated movie landscape, maybe even well-known IP isn’t enough to launch a non-superhero action franchise. But there have been other movies with similar, let’s say, vibes, that have worked. The Da Vinci Code is a race through history to save the day. John Wick is an action series. And I will defend National Treasure until the colonial cows come home to the freemasons’ secret lair. It’s theoretically possible to recapture the spirit of The Mummy. Maybe these remakes should spend less time trying to make up for the sins of the originals, or set up the multiverse. Maybe they should just stick to basics: Rescue the damsel in distress, kill the bad guy, and save the world. It’s a cliche because it works, even after it’s been sitting in a tomb for a thousand—or 22—years. FL


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