The Mummy 2017 and Sexism

One of the many changes made to Mummy lore in the Tom Cruise movie The Mummy is that it focused on a female mummy rather than the traditional male ones. Despite Twitter’s beliefs that all gender/race flips are greeted with sexist racist fanboy hatred, the viewing public did not have a problem with gender-flipping the mummy, especially since she was played by the wonderful Sofia Boutella, who gives the character a real sense of wiry, acrobatic physicality.

Unfortunately, the movie sucked for myriad reasons. Among the reasons: the crushing lack of research, the lack of Egypt, Tom Cruise’s midlife crisis, the need to shoehorn a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like organization into the story, the script full of holes, the blatant ripping off of An American Werewolf In London, and so forth. It’s not a good movie, and I didn’t enjoy it.

But the thing that really stuck out to me is that despite deciding to make the mummy female… the movie is actually rather sexist towards her. This is best highlighted when you compare the 2017 mummy, Ahmanet, to her male counterpart in the 1999 movie, Imhotep. And two things really stuck out at me.

One, Ahmanet is weak. I don’t mean she’s weakly characterized – although she is – but that she’s not very powerful for an undead mummy powered by divine sponsorship. About midway through the movie, she’s captured by the troops of Prodigium (the monster-hunting equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Do they use magical tools and amulets? Do they somehow neutralize the power of Set, rendering her helpless? Do they use centuries of research and knowledge and technology and the supernatural to overwhelm this godlike figure’s godlike powers?

Nope. They use ropes and hooks to catch her, then chain her up with a mercury drip. It isn’t even hard for them.

If that doesn’t sound weak, stop for a moment and remember Imhotep from the 1999 movie. Imhotep was powerful. Ridiculously so. He had his weaknesses (like kitties), but it’s hard to imagine him being completely incapacitated by some guys with ropes. Yet the female mummy is weak and gets taken down almost effortlessly.

And you may be thinking, “Well, it’s to show how amazing Prodigium is! They’re so capable and strong that they can stop a god-powered mummy!”

But no, that isn’t the case. Because that is the second time that Ahmanet is taken down by mere mortal schlubs – the first time was in ancient Egypt right after she murdered her family, and she was newly juiced-up with Set’s power. Not only were the people who caught her ordinary people, but they didn’t have technology, centuries of organized study and gathered magical power. They were just people. Not only did they catch her, but they successfully mummified her alive (which is not possible, incidentally) and transported her to another country before properly imprisoning her in a neutralizing element. That is, for a mummy, quite weak.

For the record, Imhotep also was caught and buried alive by ordinary humans… but that was before he had most of his powers. So it made sense that the Medjai could catch him!

The other part of Ahmanet that struck me as sexist is her ultimate goal. Her initial goal seems to be to rule Egypt, because she apparently was raised with the belief that she would be the queen regnant when her father died, but then his wife had a baby boy so she was knocked out of the succession. For the record, pharoahs had many wives, so the chances of a pharoah having only two children in twenty years is… very unlikely. That’s a more medieval-European trope.

Anyway, she was so upset about not becoming queen that she summoned the god Set, and he gave her… skin text and four pupils, and a knife. So she wandered off and killed her entire family, baby included, and then decides to bring Set into a mortal man’s body because she’s in love with him. When she revives in the present, her motive does not change – she wants Set to incarnate in Tom Cruise’s body.

Now, let’s again compare her to Imhotep.

Imhotep also had romantic love as the centerpiece of his quest. He was the secret lover of the pharoah’s mistress (why not a lesser wife or concubine? Again, very medieval-European!), until she committed suicide so that the Medjai wouldn’t capture Imhotep. So his goal was to bring her back to life. He was captured and sealed away under a magic spell, and when he is revived as a mummy, his ultimate goal is also unchanged – once he has his body restored, he wants to bring his lover’s soul back in Rachel Weisz’s body.

Similar motives, similar goals, similar story progression, yes?

Well, no. Like I mentioned before, Ahmanet’s goal is to revive an evil god, so he can rule the world. She wants to be his queen, not a queen regnant. She even explicitly says this, and she acts like a lovesick fangirl for most of the story.

Imhotep, on the other hand, never gives the impression that he’s going to be subservient to any person, and at no point do you imagine that his lover is going to be the one sitting up on the throne while he’s just the arm candy.

I don’t know much about the production of this movie, but I will say that this motivation feels a little like it was shoved in there. It may be bad writing giving the character inconsistent or poorly-explained motives… or it may be the obviously-insecure-about-his-age Tom Cruise insisting that all women in the movie must be dazzled by his toothy charm. I don’t know.

But either way, the handling of the female mummy was not good, and they should have simply followed this rule: if it isn’t something you can see Imhotep doing, leave it out.

Tony Stark and Asshole Heroes

I was watching a review of Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and it really reminded me of what a contemptible piece of crap Cade Yeager was. Sam Witwicky was arrogant and annoying, but Cade is both those things, plus… just horrible and selfish to everyone he comes across, especially the employee he leeches money from and the neighbors he steals from. Plus, he violently attacks some innocent people with a baseball bat, just because he’s failed to pay his mortgage because he’s a terrible inventor who refuses to get a real job. And somehow, we are supposed to be rooting for this selfish maniac.

And I kind of wonder… if that is because of Tony Stark.

Because I can think of another movie with a similar protagonist from a few years later, in 2017: Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton from The Mummy. This guy is also a character with zero redeeming characteristics; by the end of the movie, he has done ONE good thing, grand total. The rest of the time, he’s a selfish ass who hits-and-quits women he’s stealing stuff from, sells artifacts on the black market, and… really doesn’t do anything to make us like him. Like, at all. The movie acts as though we care whether he lives or dies, but I for one couldn’t have cared less, because he never said or did anything to make me care.

Back to Cade Yeager for a second, the way he’s shot and his “inventor” persona makes it pretty clear that they wanted us to get a Tony Stark vibe from the movie. As for Nick Morton, the entire Mummy movie was a blatant attempt to copy the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s formula…

So, were these characters DELIBERATELY made into assholes because Tony Stark is an asshole? And Hollywood, being Hollywood, missed the point and thought that the public was just dying to see more assholes?

Because yes, Tony Stark is kind of an asshole. He is arrogant, and a pretty awful person at the beginning of the MCU. Just remember that: at the beginning. Now, Tony is a good asshole protagonist for four reasons:

  1. He changes. His character evolves even over the course of the first movie…
  2. … but even then, he was never an asshole as much as these guys were. Tony has good qualities and a good heart underneath it all, so he’s not just an asshole.
  3. He’s an entertaining asshole. He’s witty and clever and wildly intelligent, and this causes us to like him despite his bad behavior.
  4. Robert Downey Jr. A lot of the character’s charm is due to Downey, and it can’t just be copy-pasted with any actor.

So let’s examine these other two protagonist assholes.

First, neither of these characters change. The closest we have is that Nick does a sorta-unselfish thing at the movie’s end, but it’s for a woman he wants to bang, so it isn’t very impressive. Oh, and Cade decides it’s okay for a creepy guy to bang his underage daughter. That was apparently his arc. Very impressive.

Do either of them grow and develop from their hardships? Do we see them becoming less selfish, more caring, moving away from the bad behavior we saw at the movies’ beginnings, recognizing that they were assholes? Nope. Never.

Second, Tony is depicted as a selfish womanizer who sells weapons at the movie’s beginning. But he’s not shown being actively cruel to anyone, violent towards the innocent, and he sells weapons to the US military because he incorrectly believes that they’re the only recipients, and that he’s doing a good thing by selling those weapons. When he discovers otherwise, he immediately shuts down the weapon development, and works to help others.

Despite his external assholery, Tony Stark is shown from the very beginning to be someone who does want to help others and do the right thing. He doesn’t always succeed in knowing what that is, but a consistent behavior through all his MCU movies is that he wants to help and protect others.

Cade Yeager… doesn’t show any signs of that; he’s a violent thug who leeches off everyone around him. Nick Morton is just a literal soldier of fortune who wants to steal stuff for purely selfish reasons.

Third, neither of these characters are as impressively witty as Tony Stark. Not witty at all, really. Therefore, they do not entertain us.

Neither one is very smart, either — we’re told constantly that Cade Yeager is an inventor, but he’s not a very good one. He just makes wobbly robots that don’t do anything very well, as evidenced by the hilariously bad “painting” robot. There’s nothing to dazzle us and make us go “wow, he’s so smart.”

Nick Morton? Not smart at all, really.

Finally, Robert Downey Jr. Downey is a genuinely great actor with immense charisma and personal charm, and the Tony Stark character — as a lovable asshole — really only works because he is so charming.

Mark Wahlberg? Not a great actor, not charming. Tom Cruise? Well, people tell me he has charisma, but his giant toothy grin and staring eyes creep me out. And he certainly doesn’t have the talent or charisma to make anybody like Nick, since absolutely nobody was impressed by his performance.

So, just my rambly thoughts about how these asshole protagonists absolutely failed at trying desperately to be Tony Stark. All I can assume is that some Hollywood nitwit saw Iron Man and concluded, “Audiences love Tony Stark! He’s an asshole! That means people love assholes! And the bigger an asshole a hero is, the more people love him!”

Thanks, Hollywood. How about you un-learn that little lesson?

Review: The Mummy (2017)

Since every movie franchise now has to be a cinematic universe, Universal decided to dig up up all their old movie monsters and fling them into new, flashier films.

And their most recent dead-on-arrival attempt to revive their shared universe was “The Mummy,” a remake/reboot-but-not-really of previous films about an undead horror rising from the tomb… except they pretty much abandoned any actual material from those movies except “there’s a mummy, and a giant screamy face.” Instead, they present a mass of action cliches without a hint of irony, dressing it up with a “sexy” mummy and a crammed-in starting point for the Dark Universe.

During an airstrike, soldier-of-fortune/looter Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) accidentally uncovers an Egyptian tomb buried under a town… in Iraq. Even the movie is aware of how strange that is. They just happen to have an archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis) on hand, who discovers this was the tomb of Ahmonet, an Egyptian princess whose lust for power caused her to sell her soul to Set, murder her family, and be mummified alive for her crimes. Never mind that the process of mummification would kill you.

But things immediately start going wrong — the plane carrying her sarcophagus crashes, Nick temporarily dies, and then he is haunted by visions of a bandaged woman stalking him through the mist. He’s been cursed by her, and she wants to use him as the vessel for Set. And even when Ahmonet is captured by a Super-Sekrit Organization (like S.H.I.E.L.D., but less competent), Nick finds that he may have no hope of escaping her grasp.

“The Mummy” is very much a MOAR action movie. Moar mummies. Moar crashes. Moar fistfights. Moar ‘splosions. Moar attractive women. Moar boogity-boo scares. Moar moar moar. This movie feels almost like a parody of a Hollywood action-horror movie, ticking off all the cliches and never bothering to do anything that we haven’t seen before… but without a sense of humor or self-awareness that everything in its story has been done before.

Instead, we’re pelted with so many cliches that it feels like the studio raided TV Tropes. And as a result, its massive, bombastic nature seems like a storm conjured up to try to hide the fact that the plot is as thin as papyrus — and it’s definitely not scary, or as funny as it thinks it is (haha, Nick is naked!). There are a few spooky moments here and there, mostly when we see Ahmanet scuttling around in her undead state, looking like an arthritic Gollum. But more often we just careen from place to place, following Nick and Boring Blonde as they lurch from one crisis to another, building up zero momentum as they go.

And as if to show the lack of care that went into it, there are also blatant fails at Egyptian mythology (Set as the god of death), ancient Egyptian culture, etymology (Jekyll claims “Satan” is an alternate name for Set) and history (what would the Crusaders have been doing in what is now Iraq? Being horribly lost?).

Tom Cruise is… Tom Cruise. Despite playing a looter, liar and thief, we’re clearly meant to be charmed by his roguish one-liners and occasional moments of not-totally-self-centered-ness. But when you boil him down, there isn’t really anything about the character to like or be interested in, which makes Wallis’ Boring Blonde’s transition from contempt to love seem even more ridiculously artificial. And Russell Crowe plays a woefully unimposing Dr. Jekyll, who predictably transitions into a ludicrously unscary, scenery-chewing Mr. Hyde.

Sofia Boutella does an excellent job with what little material she has; she seems to have been hired mostly because she can scuttle, scamper and bend a lot. Unfortunately, she’s simply not frightening here — her version of a mummy is too wriggly, weak and ALIVE to ever be a properly undead fright. She looks and acts more like a gymnast in a mummy-themed unitard.

“The Mummy” has a few good spots that haven’t been totally dried out, but the withered hulk is just a standard Hollywood blockbuster — lots of sound and fury, signifying that the Dark Universe was dead on arrival.