Before action flicks were taken over by the likes of Chris Evans’ Captain America and Christian Bale’s Batman, adventurers and treasure-hunters dominated Hollywood. (And we’re not just talking Indiana Jones, here). The Mummy (1999), starring George of the Jungle’s Brendan Fraser, was one of the last great non-superhero genre films of the modern era.
Haven’t seen it? No worries. The Mummy and its sequel are available to stream on HBO Max until the end of June.
The Mummy, Stephen Sommers’ spin on the 1932 classic horror film of the same name, starts in Thebes in the year 1290 B.C., wherein high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) has an affair with the mistress of Pharaoh Seti I (Aharon Ipalé), Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velásquez). A dramatic Romeo and Juliet twist unfolds when their illicit relationship is discovered, and Imhotep travels to the City of the Dead, Hamunaptra, to resurrect his beloved. The ritual is interrupted by the Pharoah’s bodyguards, the Medjai, and Imhotep is mummified alive.
Several centuries later— in 1926, to be precise —Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), her brother Jonathan (John Hannah), and Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) follow a map that leads them to Imhotep’s cursed burial ground to find the legendary Book of Amun-Ra, supposedly made of gold. At Hamunaptra, Evelyn finds Imhotep’s corpse, while a band of American scavengers find the Book of the Dead and Anck-su-namun's remains.
Evelyn, Jonathan, Rick, and the Americans are all repeatedly warned by the Medjai not to disturb the grounds nor read from the book— they, of course, don’t listen. And thus, the ten Biblical plagues are unleashed on Egypt, Imhotep awakens, and frightfully fun calamity ensues.
Sommers did his research on ancient and 1920’s Egypt while writing the screenplay, even consulting a UCLA archaeology professor to ensure the language was accurate. Still, The Mummy is a product of a problematic time, as evidenced by the questionable casting of Imhotep and Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velásquez), cringe-worthy stereotypes of Arabs, and a conspicuous reliance on Orientalist tropes.
However, Fraser charms as the dashing swashbuckler Rick O’Connell, and Weisz shines as the bright, but clumsy Egyptologist and librarian Evelyn Carnahan. Instead of shying away from romance, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns embraced the steamy chemistry between their characters.
The inspired pairing helped both actors to long careers in genre movies. Fraser has enjoyed a steady run leading the DC Extended Universe’s Doom Patrol and has a role in the upcoming Batgirl movie, while Weisz recently joined the MCU in Black Widow.
Action-adventure movies with a genre twist were all the rage in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The Terminator, Indiana Jones, Aliens, Jurassic Park, Willow, Star Wars V and IV, Jumanji, Ghostbusters, and Starship Troopers all had their heyday during those last two decades of the 20th century. The Mummy was released May 4, 1999, right at the tail-end of an era.
The third Mummy installment with Brendan Fraser released in 2008 was a box-office catastrophe, as was Tom Cruise’s Mummy in 2017, effectively halting what had been an ambitious effort to revive the Universal Monsters franchise. But at least we got The Mummy, warts and all.
THE MUMMY LEAVES HBO MAX ON JUNE 30.