The Mummy

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a US soldier-of-fortune (as in, spends more time looting treasure in Iraq than fighting insurgents), until he accidentally uncovers the prison-tomb of the ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and frees her undead soul. Cursed as her ‘Chosen’, Nick’s only hope of both personal and global salvation lies with archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis) and the resources of her enigmatic employer – Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).

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Look, there’s an elephant in the room here. In fact, it’s not an elephant in a room at all, but a bull in a china shop. It’s this incessant, ham-fisted agenda that every major film studio is attempting these days to have its own Avengers moment. All of Hollywood wants to replicate that superhero ‘shared universe’ formula, and we can’t exactly blame them. The Avengers was a phenomenal feat in film history. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now the most successful film franchise of all time. The story so far with other studios, however, is not so rosy. An aborted Spider-Man movie-verse at Sony. Warner Bros has taken four films to finally have a knockout on its hands with a DC universe, whilst at the same time half-heartedly setting up a Godzilla/King Kong crossover. Now, Universal Studios wades into these waters with plans for its own ‘Monsters Cinematic Universe’ (or ‘Dark Universe), drawing upon its back-catalogue of iconic movie monsters (think Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.). Isn’t all this focusing too much, however, on a studio’s long-term plans and neglecting the film itself? Absolutely. Now if only someone had told the filmmakers that!

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An awkward mashup of the classic Hammer Horror, the adventurous spirit of the 90s Brendan Fraser blockbusters, AND laying the groundwork for some kind of League of Extraordinary Gentleman ensemble film, The Mummy is a mess. Forget the atmosphere and psychological chills that made 1932 a classic. It’s all about the jump-scares now, and the film doesn’t even make much effort to set these up properly half the time, whilst its sense of humour is no less sporadic and hit-and-miss. Ahmanet herself and all her demonic doings amount to little more than an Egyptian-themed retooling of your average Pirates of the Caribbean curse, despite Boutella’s indisputably committed performance that makes you kind of wish she had played Enchantress instead of Cara Delevigne in last year’s Suicide Squad (it wouldn’t have saved it, but it might have sprinkled something a little finer).

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Tom Cruise seems to simply be on an ego trip, an excuse to show him going toe-to-toe with gods and monsters instead of his usual fare of criminals, secret agents and terrorists. Either that, or this entire film is his audition tape for Nathan Drake in the upcoming Uncharted film adaptation (please don’t). Crowe as the infamously dual-sided doctor, whilst himself underwhelming, nevertheless strangely provides for perhaps the film’s more interesting ingredients. So much so that it begs the thought that this ‘Dark Universe’ might actually have the most potential (outside of the superhero market).

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Say what you will of the Fraser films, they were at least proudly silly adventure stories with dashes of horror and a relentless commitment to fun at the cinema. Cruise offers a lacking alternative, fundamentally indecisive about its own nature, which ultimately leaves next-to-no impression at all.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 2.5/5

Final Score: 2.5/5

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Captain America: Civil War

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“We are all people trying to do the right thing”. Not the most soundbite-y statement on record, but in this instance it wasn’t superheroes Steve Rogers or Tony Stark who said it, but the very real FBI Director James Comey. Speaking recently amidst the agency’s intense federal court battle against Apple Inc. over a ‘master key’ for circumventing data encryption, the Director made sure to air a few other such sound-bites; “there are no absolutes in American life…there are costs to this new world”. He was right. And he was wrong. It was a case that caught the world’s attention, a seminal moment and a hot-button issue for our time, Fight Night: Round One – National Security vs. Personal Privacy. Marvel Studios’ latest epic may not be the most qualified to wade into such politically stormy waters, but that doesn’t stop it from deliberately, intelligently engaging with this conversation, and treating it as the serious issue that it is. It’s #TeamCap vs. #TeamIronMan. Hero versus hero. Friend against friend. “We are all people trying to do the right thing”. ‘Captain America: Civil War’ has the brains and the balls to ask, “…are we?”

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The Avengers have protected the world for four years, but every battle has left death and devastation in its wake. After a disastrous battle in Nigeria, the United Nations moves to impose a system of oversight against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. With Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) leading those willing to comply, and Captain America (Chris Evans) championing their right to operate freely, the team descends into all-out war, a war that only intensifies with the re-emergence of the latter’s old war buddy-turned-brainwashed assassin (Sebastian Stan)

There simply isn’t another way of saying this; this film is Marvel’s ‘The Dark Knight’. This unprecedented franchise that was born back in 2008 with ‘Iron Man’, found its feet with ‘The Avengers’ in 2012, and has since been navigating its own sense of adolescence, has now truly reached adulthood. If superhero films were outlawed tomorrow (perish the thought), then the genre could not ask for a finer last hurrah. How is it that good? What makes this one so special, what sets it above cinema’s relentless plethora of live-action comic books? Because at its heart is the very same issue over which Apple Inc. and the FBI locked horns, the same question that has raged throughout our post-9/11 world: when liberty and justice come into conflict, how can the triumph of one not be dangerously detrimental to the other? The film masterfully balances both sides of the argument, carefully fleshing out every one of its extensive cast of characters and what motivates them to choose the side that they do, guaranteeing that whichever side you may root for going into the film, you will have changed your mind at least once by the end.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always specialized in great character development, and here and now all that carefully crafted characterization pays off enormously. There’s a reason a lot of people have taken to calling this ‘Avengers 2.5’, considering the sheer number of heroes entering the fray (Thor and Hulk being the only exceptions), not to mention the seismic debut of two instant heavyweights: Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), both of whom steal so many scenes that any self-respecting crime-fighter would get on their case. Quite literally every single character has at least one moment of substance. Be they a partisan devotee like War Machine (Don Cheadle) or Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a wavering wildcard like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) or just having their friend’s back like Spidey or Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), no one is even remotely surplus to requirement, and not one performance lets the side down. Even the film’s background antagonist, the mysterious and manipulative Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), somewhat breaks Marvel’s pattern of lacklustre villains, although his manipulations themselves at times are a little glossed over and more scattered plot contrivances than anything else.

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For all its spectacle, star power and subtext though, make no mistake. This is unequivocally a ‘Captain America’ story, an identity it earns and retains by never losing focus on what drives everything: Rogers’ relationships with friend-turned-enemy Tony Stark, and old friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend-again Bucky Barnes. The chemistry here is second-to-none, and it shows with every plea to the other’s senses and every punch thrown. But as much as they all clearly want to build bridges, the widening ideological gulf outpaces them, and their fighting is all the more bitter because of it. Deserving of special mention is Robert Downey Jr., who delivers easily the best performance of his Iron Man career, possibly of his acting career full stop. The MCU has never shied away from giving its heroes deep character flaws, and Downey Jr. continues to prove there is no wannabe do-gooder more flawed than Iron Man.

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‘Civil War’ is the MCU at its best, its brightest, its darkest, its most gloriously fun and its most arrestingly serious. Frankly, it’s a struggle to even process the fact that a film like this can even exist, that it works as well as it does, and that it can resonate so profoundly with the state of our world today. Iron Man may have started this whole thing off, but Captain America has become the real heart of this grand story, a story that here draws to a close, for now. It’s not just a spectacularly entertaining kickoff to the blockbuster season, it’s an incredibly important piece of cinema, a film I think we all genuinely need right now. The number of people these days fretting that the world is spinning out of control, countries split down the middle over referendums and elections, elites too numerous to mention flagrantly enjoying zero accountability for their actions. In fifty years time, this film will be looked back on as one of the stories most telling of our times, unable to proffer solutions, but placing a reassuring hand on the shoulder saying simply ‘you’re not alone’.

Quality: 4.5/5

Entertainment: 5/5

Final Score: 5/5

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