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.