The Mummy / The Mummy Returns: Don’t go out of your way

It’s been a really, really long time since I saw any of the Indiana Jones movies, and I didn’t see the fourth one. Instead, I’ve been rewatching The Mummy and The Mummy Returns to prepare for a girls’ night (ok, morning) outing to see The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

Some have suggested that Heroine Content’s tagline should actually be “Helping feminists with their Netflix queues since 2006.” If that is true, then let me just say up front that you probably shouldn’t bother with either of these if you haven’t already seen them.

The Mummy, released in 1999, is a fairly predictable desert adventure where a bunch of stupid white people awaken an evil Egyptian mummy and then have to kill it before it wreaks havoc. Or rather, lots more havoc, since it certainly takes them a while to put the damn thing down.

Our heroine for this installment is Evelyn Carnahan, a book smart but slightly clumsy librarian specializing in ancient history and languages. She starts off as fairly uptight, but cannot withstand the charms of our Leading Man, Rick O’Connell, once he’s had a bath and a shave. (That’s right, gentleman, all of women’s supposed standards for your behavior wouldn’t be an issue if you were just prettier. Even insults and manhandling can’t break the spell of those big blue eyes.)

Though Evelyn and Rick are portrayed as the grownups of the film in comparison to Evelyn’s brother Jonathan, and part of her character’s role is to be wicked smart and not grossed out by mummy goop, that doesn’t stop the filmmakers from trotting out the most tired cliches. She gets held hostage! Twice! In her nightgown! Then she dresses up like a “local” woman, except they’re all covered and she’s in a mesh blouse with a beaded veil! How exotic! And when she becomes the mummy’s next target, she’s unceremoniously picked up and locked in a bedroom. Her boldest move is her choice to allow the mummy to kidnap her, which she only makes because she trusts Rick 100% to save her.

OK, maybe her boldest move is kissing the mummy to distract him – because eccch, mummy lips. This being a guy who’s spent most of the movie sucking the life out of people and leaving their desiccated corpses lying about, I would have thought twice about that maneuver.

As far as women go, she’s basically it. She’s supposed to be half Egyptian, because “my father loved Egypt so much that he married my mother, who was Egyptian.”

I’m going to pause here to roll around on the floor in agony over that phrase.

Rachel Weisz, who plays Evelyn, is Austrian and Hungarian, so I’m not going to give this supposed half Egyptian character a lot of weight on the diversity scale. There are no women of color with speaking parts. I don’t even remember any other women with speaking parts.

There are some men of color, though, and their roles leave a bit to be desired. We have the sniveling avaricious Egyptian man with no spine, the smart but mercenary Egyptian man who helps the Ugly Americans steal from his own history, and there is the mysterious and exotic Defender Of The Desert played by Oded Fehr (also in Resident Evil: Extinction as “the hispanic guy who sacrifices himself so white women can live.”) In non-speaking roles, there are lots and lots of Egyptian men who do the hard work for white men and generally get set on fire or eaten by bugs for their troubles.

Nothing to see here, people, move along.

The second film doesn’t get any better. One of Rick’s first comments is about Evelyn “desecrating another tomb,” but that’s about the only recognition I saw of the fact that the items Evelyn takes might actually belong to someone. This issue is what took Tomb Raider and Cradle of Life down to 2 stars – you have to explicitly deal with the fact that these people are plundering a history that is not their own, even if there are other people in the movie with worse motives, or you just don’t get any credit with me.

Evelyn has gotten strumpeted up for this one, and spends a lot of time making out with Rick. Her outfit of choice for plundering tombs is an off-the-shoulder cardigan and high heeled boots. When intruders burst into their home, her son says “it’s time to yell for dad now.” When she starts swordfighting instead and he asks where she learned to do that, she says “No idea.”

You see, it turns out that she’s the reincarnation of Nefertiri, an ancient Egyptian princess and warrior! And Rick is the reincarnation of one of the ancient warriors pledged to protect her! Now they’re white people, and they’re the chosen ones who will save us all!

Unfortunately, Evelyn’s newfound ass-kicking abilities don’t translate into any better behavior when the situation gets dicey. She gets knocked out, carried off as a sacrifice, watches without acting as Oded Fehr’s character is beaten up by a mummy, and when Rick promises to get their abducted son back, she says “I know you will.”

Honestly, I liked the new bad girl on the scene better. The mummy’s lost love, Anck Su Namun, played by Venezuelan Patricia Velasquez, reminds me a lot of The Nazi Girlfriend in the first Hellboy. In the first Mummy movie, it really wasn’t clear to me whether Anck Su Namun and pre-mummified Imhotep were evil, or just caught up in a forbidden affair that went south. This time the film makes clear that they were bad to the bone even before they were found out, stabbed her father to death, met their gruesome ends, and were brought back to life.

Of course you see it coming, though: CATFIGHT!!!!! Ancient Egyptian style catfight, complete with swords and mesh miniskirts.

It is nice to see an army of Middle Eastern men who are the good guys. I’m not sure that would happen in 2008, which may be why they moved the sequel to China. On the downside, the other roles for men of color aren’t doing anyone any favors: The Rock, who plays the warrior Scorpion King, is of Samoan and African background, and Nigerian Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays a rather brutish henchman. Shaun Parkes, an English actor of African descent, plays a “friend” of Rick’s who is just as useless as Evelyn’s brother, if not more so.

I have no idea why I just wrote that much about these two movies. The first one was a fun romp, the second one is kind of dull, and neither gets more than a star.

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

6 thoughts on “The Mummy / The Mummy Returns: Don’t go out of your way

  1. Kathleen

    Strumpeted. To strumpet. I’m going to have to remember to use that as a verb more often.

    What I will say about the Mummy is that at least (and it’s a very small at least) it knew it was awful and knew it was using cliches and looked like it was fun to make. The second one was just bad.

  2. Ron

    I totally agree with you about the oddness of casting choices here with regard to the supposed race or ethnicity of the character. I also do not, for one second, buy Rachel Weisz as being half-Egyptian. It also really bugs me when they use actors of color to play characters who are supposed to be of some other ethnicity. The message then seems to become that any person who has slightly dark skin can be used interchangeably with any other person of slightly dark skin. So I’m a lot less forgiving than you about Venezuelan Patricia Velasquez playing an Egyptian than you are. I met have let it go, except that they also have Arnold Vosloo, Erick Avari, and Oded Fehr also playing Egyptians, none of whom actually are (Vosloo is South African, Avari is Indian, and Fehr is an Israeli, although in his case at least they got the right general part of the world).

  3. angela

    “The Mummy, released in 1999, is a fairly predictable desert adventure where a bunch of stupid white people awaken an evil Egyptian mummy and then have to kill it before it wreaks havoc. Or rather, lots more havoc, since it certainly takes them a while to put the damn thing down.”

    LOL!!! ;) That is too funny.

    I’m tired of movies that take place in ancient Egyptian with a whole bunch of White people. How sad is it that the most accurate depiction of ancient Egyptians (as far as skin complexion goes) is a Disney movie? But nonetheless, I still really enjoyed The Mummy.

    I do not have a problem with Rachel Weisz being played a character who is half Egyptian; mixed people’s appearances are very subjective . Although you can argue that that’s just an excuse.

  4. leo

    The first Mummy movie made me cringe. Especially the part where Evelyn was bound in shackles. The second movie, though, was better, in my own opinion. My idea of a heroine is someone who can kick butt and also saves people. As much as the woman in love with her husband character bothers me, I want the relationship to be given equal power on a grounds where the woman is just as likely to save the man. Of course, they really don’t have equal power, since Rick is always still the one to save the day. But I loved the parts where Rick was about to get attacked and Evelyn shoots the guys (though she wasn’t actually fighting, she was just above it all, watching) and the part where she saves Rick from falling into the pit with the mummies.

  5. Skye

    Thanks for the correction. My brain totally knew that, but my fingers were apparently off in their own world while typing.

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