The Mummy (Kurtzman; 2017)

Everyone wants to get on that train to big money which Disney/Marvel Studios and DC/Warner Brothers are on by starting up their own cinematic universe.  The Mummy is Universal Studios attempt in which they bring out their classic era horror movie monsters such as Frankenstein’s Monster and The Invisible Man and, of course, The Mummy,  into the modern day with a series of films known as “The Dark Universe”.  Right out of the gate they are making the same mistake Warner Brothers made with their DC Comic Universe by starting in the middle of a story already well underway and expecting their audience to just run with it.  However, unlike DC the characters they are using are not so iconic and ingrained in our culture that they can get away with stumbling out of the gate based on the draw of the characters alone, and with The Mummy the Dark Universe may be doomed before it even begins.

The Mummy starts out in Iraq with Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson playing Nick Morton and Chris Vail respectively, both soldiers in the U.S. military who use the fact that ISIS is destroying monuments in the area as an excuse and a cover up for their own activities of stealing precious artifacts from sites in the area and selling these artifacts on the black market.  This unfortunately is everything there is to these two characters, they have no families we know of, no ambitions beyond selling artifacts, we don’t even know the branch of the military they are in nor their jobs within that branch.  This is true of every character in the film, they are merely a reason to be in the film attached to a good looking countenance and absolutely nothing more.  Russel Crowe’s Dr. Henry Jeckyll runs a mysterious organization and occasionally turns into a monster, we know nothing more about him nor his nor his organization’s history even though they have apparently amassed astounding numbers of trophies and pieces to study from a great many monsters over the unspecified amount of time they have been around.  Anabelle Wallis’ Jenny Halsey works for Dr. Jeckyll and likes Tom Cruise for some reason.  Sofia Boutella was an Egyptian Princess who got angry at her family and is now an evil mummy.  If you want to learn any more about any of these people, you’ll have to hope this universe continues and these characters are in future movies, because that is all you’ll learn about any of them here.

mv5bmje4mdaxnjc3n15bml5banbnxkftztgwndgznjc3mdi-_v1_sx1777_cr001777744_al_

The Mummy is billed as an action/horror, but it is definitely much, much more action than horror.  There are three major action set pieces in the movie along with quite a few minor ones, and this is where the movie excels.  While the action scenes are insanely over the top to the point that they shatter suspension of disbelief even in a film of this nature, they are still creative in their execution and reasonably well shot, though they do rely far too much on quick editing for my tastes.  The horror half of that equation is lacking, lacking to the point that I think the only reason it’s labelled as such is because there is a mummy in the film, and mummies are classic movie monsters.  Aside from that factoid the only thing even bordering on the horror genre is the mummy’s ultimate plans for Tom Cruise’s character, which I won’t go into detail on as doing so would spoil one of the few interesting parts of the story’s plot.

That plot manages to somehow be at once incredibly simplistic and confusingly convoluted at the same time.  The main story of the mummy wanting to destroy or remake the world, we’re not really sure what she’s trying to do, actually, is a really straightforward chase movie.  She threatens, the protagonists run, she follows then threatens again, repeat until end.  But, due to a lack of any motivation on the part of any of the characters and a world steeped in lore which we the audience have not been introduced to and know next to nothing about, the reason for this chase and reason for anyone beyond the three who initially find the mummy’s tomb getting involved is next to impossible to fathom.  How did Dr. Jeckyll start his shadowy monster hunting organization and how do they know all these things in the first place?  Why can this random military officer order Tom Cruise around and how do they know each other?  If the mummy has the power over life and death, why does she need to murder people with a knife and fight them hand to hand karate style?  None of this makes any sense.

mv5bmji4mdmzmta0mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwndcznjc3mdi-_v1_sx1777_cr001777744_al_

The movie does have some charms, and is even able to surprise you once in a while with its sense of humor.  While the characters make cardboard look layered, they do manage to milk them for all they are worth giving us humor which really works on a more than superficial level despite the fact that there is nothing more than superficial to them.  As I mentioned, the mummy’s plan is also interesting, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot sense, and the way they end the film makes for an intriguing enough situation that, while I won’t go so far as to say I want to see more of these films, I wish the rest of the movie could have been creative and engaging enough to live up to the premise set up in its climax.

mv5bmtuxnta3ntu5nl5bml5banbnxkftztgwnjcznjc3mdi-_v1_sx1777_cr001777742_al_

Final verdict:  The Mummy is not the worst movie of the year as its horrible Rotten Tomatoes score would suggest, but it’s certainly not good enough to recommend seeing.  It does have some quality humor and action, and it’s finale sets up interesting sequels, but everything else is so simultaneously rote and poorly thought out that these few good elements can not overcome The Mummy‘s myriad and overwhelming flaws.   This should be a lesson to other studios wanting to start a cinematic universe out there – think long and hard about whether it’s a good idea, because it probably isn’t, and even if you feel it is you can not rush the story to the “Avengers” stage within the first couple of movies.  Cinematic Universes need time to germinate and develop in the minds and hearts of their audiences, and rushing to the “fun part” is only going to end in failure.

The Nice Guys (Black; 2016)

There are a lot of big names attached to The Nice Guys.  Russel Crowe (as tough guy, Jackson Healy) and Ryan Gosling (as alcoholic P.I., Holland March) are the two most obvious, but writer and director Shane Black is also someone whose work you may recognize.  His first script as a writer was Lethal Weapon, you’ve probably heard of it, and he’s written and directed quite a number of major films including Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and Iron Man 3.  One of Russel Crowe’s co-stars from L.A. Confidential also makes an appearance here, but I won’t ruin the surprise by saying who as their involvement in the film hasn’t been widely promoted.  With so many big names, and all of those names doing a fantastic job, it’s not lightly that I say the biggest and best surprise in this movie is that everyone is shown up by a 14 year-old, Angourie Rice (as Holly March).

So far this year, we’ve seen a number of films featuring child actors, and for the most part it’s been a so-so crop with performances that have been eclipsed by the people and special effects around them.  Angourie Rice, however, gives a performance by a child actor the like we haven’t seen in years.  Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe do not just coast by on their performances in The Nice Guys.  It would be exaggerating a bit to say they are at the top of their game here, but they are very good, showing that they can deliver the funny nearly as well as they can deliver intensity and action.  Despite this, Rice steals every single scene she is in right out from under them, and she has quite a large role, appearing in nearly as many scenes as the older, male stars are.  I really hope she manages to avoid the curse of child actors, because watching this film I know I have witnessed a potential multiple Oscar winning actress.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see her get a Supporting Actress nod for this part, in fact.

nice-guys-movie-review-ryan-gosling-angourie-rice

She taught me a thing or two.  The girl’s got chops.

Rice is hardly the only actor that deserves praise for her work in The Nice Guys, however.  Every single performer here from the stars to the quickest of cameos give absolutely solid performances.  The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is of particular note here (and, of course, their chemistry with Rice) as their playful banter and surprising vulnerabilities are what makes the audience fall in love with these characters, though it’s the alcoholism, grit, and thoughtlessness that makes them three dimensional.

The Nice Guy‘s script is very slick, as Black’s scripts are wont to be, crammed with quotable lines and snappy dialogue, but unfortunately, the script is also the film’s one, but major, weakness.  Every word is chosen wisely, and the pacing is very taut, and the writing is so well done in most every way that you can almost not notice that nearly every single major plot point in the film is brought about by sheer dumb luck.  It’s possible that Black was trying to write a modern Greek play, and his giving us one deus ex machina after another was an intentional parody, but I somehow doubt it.  It seems far more likely that he had a fantastic idea for a group of characters and a situation, but had no idea how to logically have them interact so he just wrote a script relying on coincidence after coincidence, and it is more than a little disappointing to reach the end of what is in every other way a top notch film and realize that the main characters really did almost nothing and the plot would have moved along no matter who had been in those roles, so long as they had just been in the same locations.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the ’70s era setting of The Nice Guys.  It’s a detail that is essential to the plot, and they certainly had some fun with the styles and mores of the period, but the time period never really takes on the role of an essential “character” like in many period pieces.  It is something that is handled well for the most part (I do think I spotted an anachronism here or there, but nothing too glaring), but if it weren’t for one major piece to the mystery. which I will not indulge, the story really could have been set in any number of modern time periods where the porn industry could be a major player.  Though, if it was set outside the 70’s I doubt Misty Mountains would have been a character name, and that would be a shame.

niceguys2-1

Almost as much of a shame as not seeing this wallpaper.

If you’re looking for a very adult, in more ways than one, mystery, action, comedy flick, and I can’t think of why you wouldn’t, The Nice Guys admirably will fit the bill for you.  While it does have one heck of an Achilles Heel, it just has so much energy and charm that I think even the biggest of cynics can overlook its flaw and get lost in some top notch performances and unforgettable wit.

Rating:  7.6 out of 10