Film review The Mummy (2017)

The Mummy (2017)Directed by Alex Kurtzman

Starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella. 

Certificate 15

The latest take on Universal’s enduring horror property would go by a more accurate title: An American Tomb Raider of the Lost Ark in London. 

Throw a bit of Lifeforce in there too and you have this Frankenstein’s monster of a movie; ideas stitched together from other flicks to form an underwhelming action adventure with some hit-and- miss horror moments. 

Tom Cruise is Nick Morton, the Indiana Jones-style hero who plunders antiquities in Iraq with his irritating mate Chris Vail (New Girl’s Jake Johnson); happens upon the eponymous antagonist Ahmanet, (the ever excellent Sofia Boutella), and escapes with glam Lara Croft-type accomplice Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). 

Due to some psychic link with the evil, ancient force, our hero survives an attempt on his life by his possessed mate, then wakes up unscathed after an impressively staged plane crash. 

Thrown into the mix is Russell Crowe’s shady boffin, Henry, and the quest for a dagger with a precious gem in the hilt. 

Sadly, once the plane goes down, so does my interest. There’s so much exposition, I grow sleepy, and not even Cruise running, snappy editing and the score-what-you-see soundtrack can inject the necessary lifeforce to make this work. 

Seen after Transformers: The Last knight, I seem to be watching elements of the same movie. Tombs; ancient England; chases in modern London; supernatural threat. You get the idea. 

Oh and more skulking around in digital darkness. The visual equivalent of nails down a blackboard. 

When I start wondering about the nocturnal habits of cows more than the plot due to one scene, a sure sign I’m not immersed in the plot. 

It’s not a complete disaster. The cast acquit themselves well even if a so-called twist with a certain character falls flat. Annabelle Wallis is a fine love interest who can carry a scene with assured skill and Boutella has become rather skilled at propping up films, such as the disappointing Star Trek Beyond and this offering. 

The Mummy (2017) is the first part of Dark Universe, Universal’s attempt to create an interlinked Marvel-style world of overlapping horror characters. Alas it feels more like Hugh Jackman action-horror flop Van Helsing than Brendan Fraser’e feelgood take on The Mummy (1999). Even the much maligned League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a better mash-up than Tom’s money-spinner. 

The last five minutes is also a mess as the finale goes down one path, then the epilogue seems to ignore all of that and ends as it began. 

A shame as I have a lot of time for the Cruiser. Let’s hope the pending Mission Impossible 6 gets things back on track. 



Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Film review

When Tom Cruise adapted the thriller One Shot in 2012 as the film Jack Reacher, not everybody had heard of Lee Child’s lone gun for hire. 
Four years on and it’s a different story. Reacher is now an established hero, and as fans of the first film will know, he’s not a man to take any prisoners. Tom might not be the perfect Reacher, coming in the way under the novel character’s height, but he has an intensity that makes the films work.

Re-teaming with The Last Samurai director Ed Zwick, Cruise once more wisely teams up with a young, attractive heroine, in this case Cobie Smulders. Obviously as Cruise is now in his 50s, he cleverly lets younger, intelligent actresses do a lot of the hard work and physical stunts. It’s what helped make the last Mission Impossible film one of the most enjoyable so far, and Smulders does a terrific job here.

When her character is arrested, Reacher smells a rat, breaks her out of military prison, and they go on the run. Thrown into the mix is Danika Yarosh as a blonde teenage girl who Jack may or may not have family connections with.

After a terrific opening in which it looks like Reacher is going to be arrested in a diner having taken down several men in a fist fight, he sets out his stall for newcomers by bringing corrupt policeman to justice.

Once he and Smulders go on the run, the scene is set for much of the rest of the film. A little exposition, a lot of running, a fight, more exposition, and then a lot more running.

Child’s coffee-guzzling hero is a throwback to the 1970s, when men were men and fist fights were the norm without a lot of character development. Having explored that aspect of Reacher’s character in the 2012 original, here we get a proto-family as our hero gets a girlfriend of sorts and the adoptive daughter character spend a lot of time pinching money, busting heads, and trying to find enough essential information to get them to the next scene.

Lee Child and I. Harrogate, 2015

Aside from Cruise and Smulders, Zwick wisely casts a bunch of relative unknowns. All great vehicles go from a to b with maximum effiency with a minimum of baggage, and this movie is no exception.

Will it change your life? Definitely not, but if you’re in the mood to get away from your troubles for a couple of hours, then it does the job perfectly.

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation: The Review 

A list blockbusters are essentially operas – larger than life with colourful characters, exotic backdrops and a rhythm to the storytelling that ebbs and flows in all the right places. Perhaps most importantly the third act should reach a crescendo before ebbing into the closing titles. 

And the Viennese opera is the backdrop for one of the best action scenes of the year as IMF agent Ethan Hunt attempts to stop an assassination. 

Yes, it’s MI5, aka Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, the latest chapter in the blockbusting franchise loosely based on Bruce Geller’s 1960s TV show. 

Any fan of the series or film saga will know what they are getting from the out set.

Great stunts, exotic locations, Tom Cruise dropping into a perilous situation, that superb Lalo Schifrin title theme, and quite obviously masks.

After the disappointing Ghost Protocol a few years ago, I thought the series had run its course, having got progressively better with each chapter… until part four. 

However, writer and director Christopher McQuarrie, who Cruise had worked with on Jack Reacher, has helped breathe new life into the franchise with one of the best chapters so far.

Following that outstanding pre-credits stunt involving Cruise hanging on the side of a transporter aircraft, we are back in London and Hunt going through the motions of accepting a new mission, should he choose to accept it… only with a twist. 

However, when things go pear shaped and Hunt is captured by an anti IMF organisation called the Syndicate, Ethan is assisted by a femme fatale. 

Rebecca Ferguson is outstanding as Ilsa Faust, the strongest female character in the series. Sexy, intelligent and a match for Cruise. The fact she looks like Hunt’s old flame (Michelle Monaghan) is a clever touch, as is the visual rabbit’s foot cue, a throwback to MI3. 

Following that superb opera set piece and the brilliant underwater data card swap, things peak with a chase through Casablanca. 

That third act is more problematic – bags of exposition, generic foot chases and 20 minutes too long. 

It’s not a deal breaker. There’s enough good stuff that came before to make the final half hour bearable, but just a shame the wordy internecine shenanigans didn’t come in the middle and the chase at the end. 

The other key problem is Ving Rhames – wasted as returning IMF agent Luther (essentially Simon Pegg’s Benji has usurped him as the hi-tech aid; his comic timing as valuable as ever, while adding a sense of much needed gravitas). 

Rhames looks redundant with little to do except flick a few buttons, offer some exposition and be the thread that connects the other movies. 

Thankfully Jeremy Renner is terrific in support, as is Alec Baldwin as the obligatory government official. 

Top turns are also offered by Tom Hollander and Simon McBurney. 

However, as much as I was mesmerised by Sean Harris in Harry Brown, here he just looks like a malevolent Sean Lock as the generic villain. 

There’s also a lack of other decent female characters – either one sacrificial pawn (as with Bond) or the morally dubious Faust.

Cruise always delivers with movies like this, offering more astounds for your pound, but with a relatively weak opening compared to the other series entries, one wonders if the inevitable MI6 will be the series finale. 

The Man With Lee Child in His Eyes – an Exclusive Interview by Roger Crow (Part one)

The last time I chatted to Lee Child, one of the world’s most successful crime fiction authors, I was so inspired after that a few minutes on the phone, I wrote half a novel. 
Within a couple of minutes of arriving at Harrogate’s Crime Fiction Festival, I seized the chance to grill him in person about his new Jack Reacher book, and the pending Tom Cruise sequel. 

“Where’s the other half?” He asks me when I tell him about my unfinished masterpiece.

“I’m hoping this second chat will give me enough inspiration to finish the job,” I tell him.

He smiles, and we sit down in the library at The Old Swan hotel in Harrogate, England.

Lee is in town with a few days to kill. Actually he is here as part of The Old Peculier Crime Writers’ Festival, an annual event which has attracted some of the biggest names in the literary industry.

Tell us about your next novel

“Yeah, the next one is released in September. It’s called Make Me. (Jack) Reacher’s back in his natural habitat. The undiscovered backroads of America. Last year’s book, Personal, which took him to Paris and London and so on, so this time I thought I’ll have him back in the dusty Mid West. 

This time he’s in… The state is not really named but really it’s Kansas; hundreds of square miles of wheat fields, a strange little town with a rail road stop and something bad going on there that he gets involved in.” 

You don’t go back and edit your work. Is that through sheer confidence as you’ve written so many of these books now?
“Yeah, well it’s not exactly confidence. It’s sort of the theory of storytelling. To me this is… In one half of my mind I know this is a made up, but on the other hand I imagine this is really happening and so you can’t go back and change it. If this is what has happened has happened, so it would be dishonest to go back and alter it. So in the morning what I do is check what I wrote yesterday and make sure it makes sense; make sure it’s smooth, and then I move on and I don’t go back and revisit it ever, no.”

The Edge of Tomorrow – The Review

For 30 years I’ve loved The Twilight Zone, a passion rekindled recently with the Blu ray box set.
Those relatively cheap black and white dramas, many penned by Rod Serling, were either 30 or 60 minute ’what if?’ dramas. They created great premises for broader canvases, bigger budget, big screen offerings, some of which (Real Steel) were turned into A-list epics.

The Edge of Tomorrow could have been another of Serling’s mini masterpieces, the ’what if’ tale of a soldier resurrected to fight an alien war on Earth.

In this case Tom Cruise is William Cage, the cocky PR man railroaded to fight against an extra-terrestrial enemy. However, his unit is decimated in a Saving Private Ryan-style attack in Normandy, and Cage wakes up a few hours earlier to live the day over and hopefully glean enough information to defeat the enemy.

Yes, it’s a video game-style premise with Cage’s seemingly unlimited lives a handy perk as he tries to level up.
He’s helped by Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the poster girl warrior who may or may not know more about Cage’s condition than he first thinks.
What follows, for the first two thirds at least, is a snappily paced mix of Groundhog Day, Starship Troopers, Aliens and The Matrix, as our heroes fight whizzing, murderous creatures with the aid of clunky exo-suits.

At one point Cage’s automated metal skeleton runs out of energy and powers down. He steps from it and leaves it standing, an empty shell. And for me that is the third act.

Whatever wonderful ’story battery’ powered this multi-million dollar vehicle simply runs out of energy and becomes a generic, by-the-numbers adventure, hampered by the same murky, digitally graded darkness that plagued X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Hunger Games 2.
I’m so bored of action scenes taking place in darkness, especially when the antagonists are so abstract.

Through it all, Cruise is his usual committed self, but Blunt steals the show as the fearless posh trooper, who lights up every scene she’s in.

In a nice nod to Aliens, Bill Paxton is the gruff Sergeant Farell, commanding his drop ship troops. The scope of the movie is impressive, and director Doug Liman handles the action with flair, but the ghosts of Mr and Mrs Smith and Jumper’s humdrum finales return to haunt us.

Whether by design or accident there is a feeling we’ve been here before with Tom’s earlier work, notably Minority Report (outwitting the enemy with pre-emptive moves) or last year’s elegant but sterile Oblivion (hero attempts to destroy big alien brain intelligence thing and wipe out enemy forces in one fell swoop. Smart move, but yawnsomely predictable.)

Sadly the final scenes are also a let down, as are the closing titles. Recent Marvel offerings Iron Man, Avengers Assemble and Thor: The Dark World have offered stylish, engaging credits, but EOT looks like it was created a decade ago with a generic closing song and a feeling that the budget had all been spent by the time those last bits had to be tagged on.

I really wanted to like Tom’s latest. I adore his positivity and enthusiasm for big crowd pleasers like this, but feel that when you strip away the shell of the movie, you’re left with a sub-standard Twilight Zone episode with a rubbish pay-off.
A real shame.