Unpopular Opinion: I loved The Mummy (1999)

A late nineties classic that always manages to entertain.

Stephen Sommers built a reputation in the early 2000s as the go-to director for campy big-budget B-movies such as The Scorpion King (2002) and Van Helsing (2004). What he is best known for, however, is his 1999 reboot of the Universal classic The Mummy.

The Mummy was cemented as a staple of the horror genre in 1932 when Universal Pictures released the film with established horror star Boris Karloff headlining the project and has been lauded as an example of nuanced tension-building horror done right.

There was some disquiet then when Sommer’s replaced the inimitable Karloff with Brendan Fraser and turned what was a subtle early horror film into an Indiana Jones esque action B-movie.

Set in Egypt in 1926, The Mummy sees a group of researchers and treasure hunters travel to the ancient city of Hamunaptra and uncover the remains of Imhotep, played to perfection by Arnold Vosloo, an ancient Egyptian priest cursed in life and death after an affair with the Pharaoh’s mistress, Anuk-Su-Namun. Once Imhotep’s body is disturbed and he is brought back from the afterlife, a race ensues to end his reign of terror and stop him from taking over the world.

From the first scene to the last, The Mummy is played more as an action movie rather like the horror movie it was inspired by. Brendan Fraser is certainly not Harrison Ford, and while he is enjoyable to watch, there are plenty of other actors who would have been just as watchable in the role. He is satisfactory, with a few stand out moments but not enough presence to command the screen. Rachel Weisz is excellent as Evelyn, and her transformation from bookish librarian to heroine is perhaps the movie’s best character arc. Her brother, played by John Hannah, is probably the most pointless character, with his only role in the film being to quote lines from the bible at various points during the film. The rest of the cast feels wasted, with talented actors such as Kevin J. O’Connor, Johnathan Hyde and Corey Johnson falling by the wayside and being relegated to cannon fodder.

Then there is Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep, here in the movie purely to fulfil the role of villain and, despite some less than impressive CGI, he is probably the most memorable character of the franchise (I, for one, was disappointed not to see him return in some in Tomb of The Dragon Emperor). He manages to act very well despite being given little dialogue to work with, he has several lines in ancient Egyptian and that is it. However, through body language and facial expression, he manages to portray a prototypical arrogant, power-hungry lord of evil with some zest. You can tell he is enjoying every moment on screen.

The effects in the movie are dated, to say the least, with the main culprit being Imhotep. Whether it is being used to show off his powers or his slowly regenerating corpse, the CGI used in hilarious in 2021. There are little to no practical effects either to complement the CGI, making the poor effects stand out even more. Both close up and far away effects look poor and occasionally distractingly bad, with the effects bringing you right out of the movie at times.

Overall, a genuine sense of fun is a large part of the appeal of The Mummy, much like the 1998 Godzilla film that I reviewed previously, you cannot ask more of a film like The Mummy than providing a two-hour popcorn flick experience. It is by no means art, and it is certainly not, by definition, a good or excellent movie. But it is exhilarating and genuinely enjoyable from start to finish.

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