Could the Gods and Monsters in The Mummy Want Their Humanity Back? An Analysis

12 Jun

mummyposterBy Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

* Spoiler Alert

Whoever wanted to revitalize Universal Studio’s vast catalogue of monsters into a new Dark Universe needs a lesson in understanding what made their golden era great. In the 40’s, the studio executives simply wanted to combine terror and comedy to reinvigorate box office sales, especially in-between or following a World War. The scares are delightful in Dracula (1931) and the laughs were genuine in Abbott and Costello meets Frankenstein (1948). I feel these two are milestones of an impressive and unintended plan to unite properties.

The whole notion to have a host of these beasts meeting or allying was never considered during these early days. What happened back then was more like a happy accident. Also, the latter film was assembled due to this studio suddenly owning the contracts of these comedians after they merged with International Pictures and producer Robert Arthur suggested pairing the boys with Frankenstein’s monster.

Fast forward to now, the intention to craft a shared world to compete with other studios (namely Marvel Entertainment’s) than to find effective pairings of star power with a property is questionable. Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise are neither exactly huge draws in every world-wide market. When considering the types of roles that earned them their best reputation, Depp can play a terrific smarmy pirate and Cruise that action-hero super-spy.

Interest in mummy lore have always stayed consistent throughout the decades. The reason is often because of the rich and vivid iconography suggesting gods, monsters and humanity lived side-by-side. There was a time when Osiris and Isis ruled much of the country. When their brother Set killed and dismembered the king, the world was almost in ruin until Osiris was brought back to life (he was the first mummy) and decided it’s best for the gods to retreat from the mortal realm. He became the new ruler of the Underworld (Anubis held the role before), and Set was tossed out, to rule the harsh desert.

The idea of a world populated with gods and monsters (an important tag-line for this new universe) is a good one, suggesting these deities still lurk in our imagination and the beasts are hiding in the shadows. But after seeing how the new Mummy movie is suggesting where they have gone, I’m not sure if the writers have the best intentions in mind. I think the series is better off being similar to White Wolf Publishing’s Role Playing Game Worlds of Darkness universe. In this realm, may beasts are trying to regain their humanity than remaining undead and vengeful.

Aside from an intro setting up Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) to become the new wicked witch only to get sealed away in a coffin, the rest feels very throwaway. The ever mysterious Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe, relishing in hamming up his role) commands a mysterious organization called the Prodigum. His importance in this movie is more fascinating than Cruise. Tom plays Nick Morton, a soldier of fortune interested in tomb robbing than earning a proper paycheck. When he stumbles into a tomb, trouble will no doubt be coming for those who are not wise to the curses said to plague those who enter it first. And he gets one doozy of a spell cast on him by freeing a living corpse.

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Who is Set(h)?

In pop culture, this ancient Egyptian deity has varied reputation. During the time of the Old Kingdom, he is often at odds with Horus (son of Osiris and Isis). Just as Horus is a solar deity, Seth is the polar opposite, not a lunar god, but a lord of the night, the face of darkness and terror.

This figure rules Upper Egypt. He is considered to be an embodiment of the harsh desert terrain and what can come from it, like wind and rain or storm and thunder. To the Egyptians, the realm located east of the Nile is known to be inhospitable, arid and dangerous, a place where gods, wild animals and the dead held sway. It’s called the Red Land, and synonymously, he’s named the Red god.

I found Ahmanet’s backstory the best part of this film. I am curious if the Phoenician style glyphs all over her body spells out a binding contract set upon her when she sold her soul to Set. As for why he’s repeatedly said to be the god of death, no explanation is offered.

When Set gave Ahmanet a dagger with a huge red crystal, I really wanted it to be the Philosopher’s Stone. The thought of monsters coming out of the woodwork wanting to regain their humanity by looking for this crystal can easily help bridge the other films and why certain characters are running around with blood lust. Dr. Jekyll can easily use it to help stabilize his condition.

Tonally, the story behind The Mummy felt like it was hitting all the wrong beats. The producers wanted an action film in the style of a comic book over a horror product ala their classics. I think they also did not want to appease any fanatics who devotedly knows occult lore. The movie monster easter eggs offered were fun nods, but they were unneeded.

To say this film is set in a “Dark Universe” is only fitting if audiences are led to believe the protagonists have no sense of freedom from the curses placed upon him (or her). While Ahmanet willingly gave herself to evil, her progeny wants nothing from it. In this sense, The Mummy succeeds in conveying a small sense of dread. Morton will have a difficult time freeing himself from the Mummy’s Curse, if a proper sequel gets made.

The closing shot of him riding towards the Pyramids of Giza is perfect because if the Lost Knowledge of the Pharaohs in the Hall of Records (rumoured to exist beneath the Sphinx) exists, he can have someone cast a counter-spell if he’s to have any sense of a regular life.

 

 

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