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The Mummy 3: The O’Connells return, with plot holes galore.

Posted in movies,reviews by YTAH on August 6, 2008
Tags: , , ,

When you knowingly go to see a movie that features mummies – living, breathing, cognizant, undead beings made from sand and the ancient equivalent of duct tape – you are willing to put up with a certain amount of ridiculousness. You go in, as it were, with the dial on your Belief turned to “Max. Suspension”. It’s a contract you enter into with the filmmakers: you will, for the requisite hour and a half, or longer, voluntarily accept the existence of an obvious impossibility; furthermore, you will not only fail to doubt its veracity, you will also invest a great deal of emotional energy in its fate and in those of the people around it.

But there is a limit. It’s a limit born from the knowledge that you’re already asking an audience to believe that the bodies of the ancient dead can be brought back to life several millennia later, at which point they will nonetheless manage to walk on two legs and hold an intelligible conversation with someone from the present. With this level of indulgence, the least you can do is to make sure the rest of it makes sense, up to a point anyway.

This is a limit that the previous movies in the Mummy franchise understood and abided by, more or less. With this latest instalment, the filmmakers must have thought: “What the hell. Let’s add yetis. Why not?”

The film has many of the problems associated with sequels, although it’s got a fair share of new ones. As with The Dark Knight, there are numerous minor characters who seem to be there simply because they were in the previous films. (John Hannah, who plays the brother-in-law, may as well have Terence Malicked himself out of the film from the off, as his “comic relief” is less “plucky” than “sucky”.) Then there are the logical inconsistencies that inevitably crop up due to casting problems: For one thing, there’s the implausibility of having Brendan Fraser, looking not a day older than 38, playing the father of … a 27 year old? Then there’s the transmogrification of Mrs. O’Connell, AKA Maria Bello, who takes over wifely duties from Rachel Weisz – but this is less annoying than expected, because at least Mrs. Aronofsky didn’t sully her good name by appearing in this dreck.

The story does share some continuity with the previous films. Again the bad guy is a powerful mummy who’s got unfinished business with a long-lost love. Again, there is the henchman of dubious morals and even more dubious intelligence who assists the bad guy in his plot (although in this case he helps to raise him, rather than simply taking advantage of the self-raising undead). And again the whole thing is an excuse to relive the thrills of 30s serials and boys’ adventure stories and Indiana Jones capers – perhaps not the wisest move in the same year Spielberg & Co. finally release that franchise’s long-awaited sequel, even if said sequel did get royally Lucased up. (For the original meaning of ‘to get Lucased up’, see Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.) The main difference is that this time, it feels like an excuse for a film, and a flimsy one, at that.

Please note: I am not complaining about the action scenes or the CGI or the obvious set-pieces, although I have issues with all of those. (Some of the CGI is just terrible, and I’ll get to the action scenes in a bit.) I had a much bigger problem with the film, which was that it may as well have been called Cool Ideas We Didn’t Think Through. As Tanya, a friend of mine who saw the film with me, put it: it’s like the film was written by a 10 year old: “And then there was a mummy anna bunch of zombies anna spaceship annanalien anna yeti annanother yeti anna…”

So for example you have a scene where the pilot, Mad Dog, transports a yak all the way to the top of the Himalayas, and then … lets it go. What? And there are the scenes at the beginning, after the prologue, where we’re still waiting for them to “GET ON WITH IT!” (as per Monty Python and The Holy Grail). Watching a few dreary scenes meant to illustrate exactly how bored the former adventurers are in their early retirement, I recalled something a friend of mine once said about storytelling: just because your characters are bored doesn’t mean your audience should be. Again, there were simply too many scenes in the film where I was left wondering: Why are we watching this? Why does the person who’s lived for 2,000 years behave exactly like somebody who’s lived for 25? Surely living for that amount of time must do something to your brain.

At least in the first movie, the people put some thought into things, and the silliness made some sort of sense. There were lots of set pieces that worked just fine. For instance, the scene where Our Very Own Arnie (Vosloo)™ first uses his power to control sand, specifically to transform an enormous dune into an even larger sand-wave which engulfs our heroes. I loved the bit where the Mummy’s henchman, in a nod to the audience and CGI crew alike, says, “I loved the whole sand wall trick, it was beautiful.”

In the new film, by contrast, we must tolerate a prolonged battle between two zombie armies, both of which have to be spannered in through a plot wormhole so our two main characters can waste fifteen crucial minutes firing guns into a mob. What gives? A more astute filmmaker would realize that characters get lost in large battle scenes, which is not something you can afford – especially since they’re the central characters from the original film. (It’s like making a sequel to Jaws, but without the shark.) Worse, there is no reason for this scene to exist. After all, the bad guy has control over all the elements, right? So they’re fighting on a sandy plain, which has … sand? Why isn’t he using the sand against the opposing army? Idiot. How’d he become emperor? Guy couldn’t win a game of Tic-Tac-Toe, nevermind a full-scale war.

It was during the scene where the two ancients are calling their armies to battle that I thought to myself: “You know, for someone who’s 2,000 years old, she sure does have nice teeth – especially if you consider that when she was born, dentistry wasn’t so much a science as an abstract art.” It’s distracting, is what it is. Or more accurately, it’s a sign that your attention isn’t on the movie, and that is a bad thing. You shouldn’t have time to think about this kind of stuff during an adventure yarn, because if you do, you’re obviously bored – and that’s simply unforgivable in a genre that’s supposedly predicated on fun. It’s a waste of a silly but serviceable conceit, not to mention a fairly appropriate cast.

This is a pity, because Brendan Fraser is generally a likeable actor. Even though he’s descended into a plane of existence where the inhabitants are forced to constantly release bad remakes of Who Fried Roger Rarebit?, he’s been in many enjoyable movies. So perhaps, if he’s lucky, he’ll soon graduate from the slew of kiddies’ pictures he currently finds himself mired in. And yes, I wish Mr. Fraser the very best of luck. So let’s all hope they don’t decide to make The Mummy 4: Monarch of the Moon-Sea.

For more cool pics from the silly film, visit the director’s site.

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