’90s Action Movies, Part VII: “The Mummy” (1999)

This right here is the movie that inspired me to write this series. Of all the movies I have discussed, or will discuss, this is the ’90s-est, action-est, movie-est.

While I obviously like every movie listed here, I could point to flaws in most of them. Terminator 2 is too cartoonishly violent, Last Action Hero has too many crude jokes, GoldenEye has Xenia Onatopp, and so on. But when it comes to The Mummy, I’m at a loss to find much fault with it. It’s a classic pulp adventure.

You’ve got wonderful characters, from the gunslinging American Rick O’Connell and the bumbling twit Jonathan Carnahan, to the mysterious Ardeth Bay and the jovial pilot Winston Havelock. Not forgetting the conniving coward Beni or the sinister High Priest himself, Imhotep.

And then, of course, there’s Evie Carnahan. I can do no better than to quote her description of herself, after she’s had a little too much to drink around the campfire one night:

“I may not be an explorer or an adventurer or a treasure-seeker or a… a gunfighter, Mr. O’Connell! But, I am proud of what I am! I… am a librarian!”

All right, maybe that’s not Evie at her finest, although definitely she is pretty awesome even when she’s been hitting the bottle. But what I love is how she and O’Connell make such a good team. His adventuring skills and her thorough knowledge of Egypt help rescue them time and again from the wrath of the revivified mummy.

Everything about the movie is just fun. You can tell the actors are enjoying themselves, and why shouldn’t they? It’s a cracking good yarn of romance and derring-do. It’s one of those movies that, when you see it come on TV, you just sit and watch it before you even realize where the time has gone.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the better I like a movie, the harder it is to review it. How many ways are there to say, “this movie is awesome and I love it”? Not bloody many. This is probably why academic critical analyses of movies tend to focus on what’s wrong with them; that’s much more fruitful ground. But the result is that many words are generated on the topic of bad movies, and not so much on the good ones.

Well, I’m no academic, but I’ll give this a try: The Mummy is great because it offers us an immediately recognizable, yet still sufficiently different world we can escape into. People watch movies because they want fun. Critics, as a rule, don’t want fun. Ergo, critics aren’t people. Oops, wait; I’m a critic, aren’t I? Hmm.

My point is, if you want to write a 20 page paper on themes and symbolism and whatnot, this movie probably won’t furnish you with enough raw material for same. But who cares? Only weirdos like me sit down and write at length of their thoughts on movies; normal people just enjoy them. And joy is an underrated emotion when it comes to providing fodder for writing. Probably because it’s so far beyond words. There’s a reason that the most famous instance of a composition expressing joy was written in music.

In a way, writing critiques is just dodging the real issue. Could any review I write, no matter how clever, witty, or insightful, ever equal the sheer glee I had as an 11 year old kid watching Rick O’Connell mow down legions of zombie warriors? Of course not! Writing about it is just a way to relive the experience over again, and hopefully share the joy with others.

The real greatness of movies is never found in reviews; it’s found when you are sitting there in that theater, with your popcorn and your drinks, ideally with people you really like, sharing the pleasure of diving together into some fantastic, imaginary world full of excitement and suspense and adventure that you can talk about afterward not in the technical, fussy language of a critic, but with the burbling excitement of a kid playing in the backyard. Take that, Bembridge scholars!

17 Comments

    1. I can believe that. The 1950s version was the first “Mummy” I ever saw. It’s good, but very different. Almost every other “Mummy” film leans heavily into the horror aspect. What made this ’90s one so different was that, apart from a few jump scares, it’s much more action-adventure than horror.

  1. I wasn’t sure about this one at first thinking it was a horror movie. A woman I was talking to said she loved it for the line where Ank Sun Amun tells the Pharoah she’s not his temple anymore. Took wife to watch it and we’ve seen all the sequels, have them on DVD and watch them about as much as we watch 5th Element. Great escape movies.

    1. They sure are! Have you also seen the Scorpion King spin-off with the Rock? Not near as good as these, but still a decent escapist film, I thought.

  2. Nice review! This has always been a film near and dear to my heart with its wit, charm, action, and “fun-ness”. It’s hard to even pick a favorite moment, but I found it particularly comical when Beni begins a Christian prayer for protection against Imhotep, then pulls out about a dozen other religious symbols and tries some different prayers. It just really lets you know what kind of character he is!

  3. Yaay! You included one of my absolute favourites!! 😊 I love this film and never get tired of watching it. I completely agree, all the characters are brilliant, Evie’s my favourite, and I love the way she and O’Connell spark off each other. The sequels may not have been as good as this one but I still enjoyed them.

    1. Evie is great, isn’t she? That’s why I had to end the review with one of my favorite lines from her. 😀

      I agree, the sequels are fun too, but just not quite on the same level.

  4. lol – I remember the Mummy, 1 and 2. Brendan Fraser kind of annoyed me but I loved John Hannah, still do. In fact, he was the reason I watched the movie in the first place. Weird, I know. Not my favourite movie of the 90’s but okay, imho. 😉

    1. It’s true, probably not a lot of people saw it because of him… but he does a great job, so I can’t blame you there! 🙂

      1. I haven’t checked the timing but I believe I became a fan after ‘3 Weddings and a Funeral’. One of my all time favourite movies. 🙂

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