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The Mummy is a 1999 American fantasy action-adventure film written and directed by Stephen Sommers. It is a remake of the 1932 film of the same name, starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Arnold Vosloo in the title role as the reanimated mummy. The film follows adventurer Rick O’Connell as he travels to Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead, with a librarian and her older brother, where they accidentally awaken Imhotep, a cursed high priest with supernatural powers.
Director: Stephen Sommers
Writer: Stephen Sommers
Stars: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Kevin J. O’Connor, Arnold Vosloo
Release Date: May 7, 1999
Run time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
In Thebes, Egypt, 1290 BC, Imhotep, the high priest, has an affair with the mistress of the Pharoah, Anck-su-namun, Seti I. Imhotep and Anck-su-namun are caught in their affair and murder the Pharaoh after he discovers them. Anck-su-namun kills herself because she believes Imhotep can resurrect her. Imhotep steals her body, and with help from his followers, travel to Hamunaptra, the city of the dead, to attempt her revival. The ritual to bring her back is interrupted by Pharaoh’s bodyguards, the Medjai, who then bury Imhotep alive with scarab beetles that eat his flesh before he dies. His body is placed under the feet of a statue of Anubis. It is believed that if Imhotep ever returned to life that he would be a nearly unstoppable plague on humanity, so the Medjai form a secret society to guard against any excavations of his tomb.
In 1926, Jonathan Carnahan gives to his sister Evelyn—an Egyptologist / librarian—a box containing a map that leads to Hamunaptra – which is by this time little more than a myth. Jonathan acquired the box and map by stealing it from Rick O’Connell, an American who discovered the city while fighting in the French Foreign Legion. Jonathan and Evelyn find Rick, rescue him from execution by hanging, and convince him to lead them to the city.
Rick, Evelyn, and their party run into a competing group of treasure hunters, also American, who led by Beni Gabor, a man known to Rick from his time in the French Foreign Legion. Ardeth Bay, the leader of the Medjai, warns both of the groups to discontinue their efforts, but neither group heeds his advice. In the city, Evelyn searches for the Book of Amun-Ra, made of pure gold, but she and her group find Imhotep’s remains. The team of Americans discover the black Book of the Dead, along with jars containing Anck-su-namun’s preserved organs.
At night, Evelyn steals the Book of the Dead from the other group and then reads from it aloud. This accidentally awakens Imhotep who begins attacking the camps. The members of both groups that escape flee to Cairo, but Imhotep follows them. He is aided by Beni, who has agreed to serve him in exchange for his life. Imhotep kills the members of the American expedition and uses their body parts to bring himself back to a normal human looking state. Then he begins to unleash “the ten plagues” on Cairo.
Rick, Evelyn, and Jonathan meet Ardeth, who speculates that Imhotep wants to bring back his lover, Anck-su-namun, by killing Evelyn. Evelyn, meanwhile, decides that if the Book of the Dead was able to bring Imhotep back to life, that the Book of Amun-Ra must be able to him again. She then guesses that since the Book of the Dead was where she believed the Book of Amun-Ra to be, that the Book of Amun-Ra must be where historians believe the Book of the Dead to be located. She and their group plan to return to Hamunaptra. Before they can leave, though, Imhotep finds them. He now has an army of followers. In order to spare Rick and the others, Evelyn agrees to go with Imhotep. Imhotep tries to kill Rick, Jonathan, and the others anyway, but Evelyn’s group is able to escape.
Imhotep transports himself, Evelyn, and Beni to Hamunaptra, but they are chased by Rick, Jonathan, and Ardeth – in an airplane – as they go. Going off of Evelyne’s hunch from the previous day, Rick and Jonathan are able to find the Book of Amun-Ra while Imhotep is preparing to use Evelyn in his ritual to bring back his lost lover. Before Imhotep is able to complete the rituation, Evelyne is rescued by Rick and Jonathan, the latter of whom reads from the Book of Amun-Ra. The incantation read from this book makes Imhotep mortal just before he is fatally stabbed by Rick. Rick, Jonathan, and Evelyn flee the city.
Meanwhile, Beni is looting the city but is killed by a swarm of flesh-eating scarab beetles as Hamunaptra collapses into the sand. Outside of the city, Ardeth – who is improbably still alive – says goodbye to Evelyne, Rick and Jonathan. The trio then rides away on a pair of camels carrying some of Beni’s treasure.
This was a B- movie that could have been a solid A with a little bit more work. The Mummy is a film that is almost too self-aware of the fact that it comes across like a rip-off of the Indiana Jones franchise. If it had somehow been made in ignorance of Harrison Ford’s series, or if it had just leaned in on it, then I think it could have allowed itself to take its story more seriously. Unfortunately, the self-awareness seemed to push the film’s tone too often into an almost apologetic or comedic direction when the story did not actually call for comedy. Brendan Fraser’s Rick vacillates between being uncomfortable and boyish, and being a take-charge man’s man, and most of the inconsistency is driven by force-feeding comedy into the story.
The Mummy is a story that wants to embrace the horror genre. The steps that it takes to that end are indeed quite horrifying (those scarabs are things of nightmares and the Mummy kissing Evelyn was just awful to watch.) However, the characters going through these things never sell the horror they are experiencing sufficiently. Jonathan kind of shrugs off having a flesh-eating beetle crawl beneath his skin. Evelyn handles being kissed by a three thousand year old mummy, with half of its face missing, as though it’s just a non-ideal day at work. I wanted to see more unhinged panic.
The romance of The Mummy is predictable. Weisz starts the film as a buttoned up, hair-up, librarian in glasses. By the end of the film, her glasses are gone, her hair is down, and she’s wearing a little black dress. You can guess which part of the film you’re in by what she is wearing. Fraser is presented early on as a fighter and a wild-man, who happens to be on death row. However, after he is rescued from hanging, he cleans up to such a degree that the librarian might as well have her eyes turn into little heart shapes once he comes on screen. This whole arc is rescued by the fact that Fraser and Weisz have great on-camera chemistry. Whether the love story was ham-fisted or not, it was still enjoyable to see it unfold.
The main flaw of The Mummy is that it does not take its own archaeology / Egyptology seriously enough. Part of the joy of an action-adventure movie is the adventure and when everything is figured out too easily, you rob the audience of the joy of the adventure. Reducing this element of the film reduced important opportunities for character development and for heightening relationship tensions. The film tries to make up for this by leaning too hard into its admittedly well-done action sequences and the fantastical magic of ancient Egypt more generally. I think, though, this was a case where less on that front would have been more. There was just so much going on that the actual Mummy monster never fully developed the sense of menace for the audience that it could have because it’s big moments were drowned out by the other big action sequence moments.
There was still a fair amount to like with this movie. As mentioned, the action scenes are good, the settings looked great, and I thought the monster looked really good by 1999 standards. Fraser and Weisz have great on-camera chemistry. The biggest thing in favor of the movie is that it is *fun.* You can overlook and forgive a lot of mistakes, as a viewer, if you’re having fun.
I am happy to have re-watched this, even if I turned it off wishing it had been better. I doubt I watch the sequel films from this franchise any time soon, though.