The Mummy & Wonder Woman

June 6, 2017
Gal Gadot, real-life Amazon
Gal Gadot, real-life Amazon

Wonder Woman and The Mummy will almost certainly be the highest grossing films in Australia this winter, although I hope I’m wrong. Both are big-budget studio concoctions with everything we have come to expect from this kind of movie.

The Mummy arrived with one of my pet hates – the red carpet preview. I don’t know why these things are now called “black carpet” events. Perhaps the red carpet got dirty too easily. But I digress… The real horror of the evening was the two-hour delay while twin geniuses, Richard Wilkins and Sonia Kruger, interviewed “celebrities” in front of the State Theatre. Both sounded as if they’d stepped out of a zombie movie so there was a lot of undead action to get through.

Not for the first time I was struck by the leering insincerity that emanates from Tom Cruise, who seems even more phoney off-screen. He is one of those actors who is playing a role even when he isn’t playing a role. Judging by the cheers he elicited, not many fans had caught Tom’s star performance as a really creepy guy in Alex Gibney’s Scientology movie, Going Clear (2015).

The Mummy is touted as the first in a series of reboots of Universal’s classic monster movie backlist. It bears no relation whatsoever to the 1932 film, where Boris Karloff wore the bandages. The new Mummy is Sofia Boutella, a former dancer of Algerian origins, who will probably never be allowed back into old Algiers after this flick.

Sofia Boutella. Hello Mummy

Sofia Boutella. Hello Mummy

The plot, such as it is, sees Tom accidentally wake the evil Princess Ahmanet from her slumbers in the vicinity of Mosul – an ingenious relocation from Egypt that allows the US army to be present. Ahmanet, who has missed all the Mission Impossible sequels during her 2,000 years in the tomb, takes an instant fancy to Tom.

Our hero, however, has other ideas. Rather than succumb to this murderous Egyptian sexbomb he forms an incomprehensible attachment to plummy English gal, Annabelle Wallis. It’s a whole new twist on Gentleman Prefer Blondes.

Annabelle is working for Russell Crowe, who plays Dr. Henry Jekyll – a name that might suggest we have stepped into the wrong monster movie. In fact, it’s a remarkable plot device that allows Rusty to go all feral and belt Tom around for a bit.

Meanwhile Ahmanet is busy trying to destroy the human race, take over the planet, etc, etc. All the usual stuff. This entails an extravagant amount of CGI, numerous explosions, crazed zombies, scanty outfits and lots of pouting. Ahmanet has managed to turn the tongue kiss into a deadly weapon, being able to suck the life out of anyone with a single pash.

Can Tom resist her charms and save the world? Rather than answer that question I’ll leave you in suspense.

Wonder Woman is just as much an exercise in sustained CGI as The Mummy, but there is a certain charm in the proto-feminist undertones of the script. This much is faithful to the character invented by William Moulton Marston in the 1940s, who always intended his creation to be a beacon for women’s rights. If he also saw her as a fantasy dominatrix, forever getting into and out of bondage, that aspect never registered on the public mind.

Gal Gadot, in the lead role, is surely the most convincing Amazon that has ever appeared on screen. She is so much the centre of the film that all the other Amazons have been given Israeli accents to match.

At the mega Wonder Woman preview I had the experience of sitting next to a real fan. It was a revelation. Apart from the fact that I never thought I’d meet anyone who’d say Zack Snyder was his favourite director, my neighbour spoke with such feeling about the superhero mythos that he sounded like a religious acolyte. I started to wonder if he was typical of superhero movie audiences, and what these films are doing to our minds. He gave Wonder Woman “a solid 8/10”.

Like The Mummy, Wonder Woman seems to have been written by committee, but the dialogue has a few amusing moments. The most problematic idea was to set the story on the battlefields of World War One, even though the original Wonder Woman emerged during World War Two and was usually seen fighting with the Nazis.

I’m not sure what is gained by taking the character back to an earlier time. If it’s because of the centenary of the Great War it’s a strange tribute that proceeds by caricature. The real General Ludendorff was a famously hard man, but the character Danny Huston plays is a cartoon supervillain.

Will those who were so incensed by an innocuous tweet linking the Anzacs to present day conflicts find nothing disrespectful in this movie?

For my neighbour, the superhero expert, this grotesque version of World War One seemed entirely convincing. For me it was a little disturbing. Rather than instilling a twisted view of history in the heads of fans it would have so much better had the producers merely followed Dr.Marston, and sought to convert them to feminism and S & M.

Wonder Woman
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Screenplay by Allan Heinberg, after a story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg & Jason Fuchs, based on characters created by William Moulton Marston
Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Neilsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock
USA/China/Hong Kong, rated M, 141 mins

The Mummy
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Screenplay by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie & Dylan Kussmann, after story by Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet
Starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson
USA, rated M, 111 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, 10 June, 2017