The Mummy


Directed by Stephen Sommers

Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz

Loosely based on the 1932 film of the same name, The Mummy is an action/adventure fantasy set in Egypt in the early-20th century.


Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is a high priest in ancient Egypt when he has an affair with the Pharaoh's wife. Upon being discovered, the two of them murder the Pharaoh but are then trapped by his guards. Imhotep is cursed and buried alive with flesh-eating beatles. Some 700 years later, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) is an ambitious archaeologist who's gifted a special map to the City of the Dead by her brother Jonathan (John Hannah). Together with Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), an ex-soldier from whom Jonathan stole the map, they travel to Egypt in search of treasure and accidentally awaken Imhotep, unleashing his wrath on the modern world.

So, yes, this is an older film. It came out in 1999, and most of us probably haven't watched it in at least 10 years. But it also feels relevant for the first time in years given that it's being rebooted for 2017, and with a pretty serious cast. We saw set photos a little while back of Tom Cruise taking up the lead role in what's expected to be a different but recognizable twist on the tale, and we've since learned that Russell Crowe will be on board as well. The Mummy is never going to be a serious film, but it's fair to say those two have a tad wee bit more clout than Brendan Fraser and John Hannah. But back to the point, the 2017 project makes a look back at the 1999 version worthwhile.

It's difficult to put yourself back in 1999 when The Mummy first came out, but at the time we weren't anywhere near peak exhaustion with overblown historical fantasy films. This was five years before 300, 11 years before Clash Of The Titans, 12 years before Immortals, and 17 years before this summer's abominable Ben-Hur. It was also pre-superhero blockbuster, and even preceded National Treasure by five years. I'm not suggesting that The Mummy was any kind of innovative or important film, but it was at least fresher than it might seem in retrospect.

Watching it again all these years later, it strikes me that the cast was actually selected rather perfectly. Brendan Fraser's wide-eyed, resting look of idiocy is ideal for an adventurous explorer caught up in earth-shattering fantasy happenings. Rachel Weisz, if you ask me, was better before she developed the deep sense of self-importance she seems to use in selecting roles nowadays. And John Hannah is more fun to watch after you've checked out the STARZ series Spartacus (guilty). The three of them bring pure fun to this film without any illusions that what they're doing is any more than entertaining people who want a two-hour escape.

And entertainment, ultimately, is the point. I'm not sure it can be put any better than it was than with critical consensus that "it's difficult to make a persuasive argument for The Mummy as any kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but it's undeniably fun to watch." That's what this one is all about. If you can just let go for a couple of hours, perhaps lower your standards a little bit, and forget your fatigue for semi-historical fantasies, you might have a blast. After all, that's why The Mummy has been a surprisingly enduring piece of popular fiction in the 17 years since its release.

To begin with, the film inspired a slew of video games over the years, which may not be a measure of a film's quality, but tends to be an indication that people at least had fun with it. After all, no one's spending money to develop a game based on a film no one enjoyed. Most of the projects were PlayStation 2 and GameCube titles that are more or less obsolete now, but one hopes the 2017 reboot might inspire another effort. And in the meantime, among the games you can find listed at a rundown of casino platform details is a slot arcade based on the 1999 film. It's one of many titles developed by Playtech to infuse slot machines with cinematic elements, but the one based on The Mummy is more effective than most, simply because the film's setting comes to life so vibrantly. That's one game, at least, that you can still access easily.

But even a lot of the video games that sprouted from The Mummy wouldn't have happened if the film hadn't also led to a bunch of sequels and spinoffs. This actually became a pretty sprawling series, even if a lot of the subsequent releases were effectively insignificant B-movies. The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor (2008) were legitimate efforts, as was 2002's The Scorpion King. But a fourth Mummy film was cancelled, and the three sequels to The Scorpion King were straight-to-DVD material. Still, the sequels and spinoffs followed the general path of the 1999 feature: they were utter nonsense, but kind of fun anyway.

All in all, it's clear where The Mummy lands. It's a guilty pleasure, and it always was. The best thing I can say for the film is that it was self-aware across the board. The cast, as mentioned, handled things with an appropriate degree of levity, and director Stephen Sommers seems to have been aware that he had to keep the thrills coming to make it worthwhile (without getting into Michael Bay levels of action absurdity). I'd actually say this is worth a re-watch in advance of the 2017 film, so long as you know what you're getting into.