Thank You, ‘Malignant,’ for Being Malignant

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Malignant (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/Screenshot)

Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Marina Mazepa, Jean Louisa Kelly, Susanna Thompson, Jake Abel, Jacqueline McKenzie, Christian Clemenson, McKenna Grace, Ingrid Bisu, Amir AboulEla

Director: James Wan

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: September 10, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

I’ve never seen anything quite like Malignant. This is the type of movie that’s best to go in completely unspoiled on, so I’m going to be careful with how I choose my words. And after all, I like to keep it brief when reviewing something that’s already fully released, so I won’t say much more. But I will say this: when I heard that this movie was called “Malignant,” I wondered why it was so generic. Then I watched it and realized that it was actually the most perfect title.

One more bit before I go: one thing I like to do when reviewing is ask myself if the movie I’m reviewing makes me want to do/be the thing in the title. So… does Malignant make me want to be Malignant? Honestly, I’m tempted. I can’t deny how cool it would be. The vicarious thrills I experienced while watching were wildly energizing enough on their own. But it would probably lead to a lot of gore, and I have a history of getting lightheaded at the sight of blood, so better to keep things benevolent and benign.

Grade: 1999 Malignants

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Mummy’ Reboot is Lifeless Except for the Rare Moments When It Embraces Its Goofy Side

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Russell Crowe

Director: Alex Kurtzman

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Getting Ur Freak On with Death

Release Date: June 9, 2017

I laughed derisively when the Universal globe logo spun around and gave way to the “Dark Universe” logo, but the joke was on me, as the best parts of this new interlocking cinematic franchise are the ones setting up its upcoming entries. More fundamentally, the reason the joke was on me was because I held out hope throughout The Mummy that something unique or especially thrilling might happen.

As far as reboots go, once again resurrecting the Egyptian tomb-dwellers is far from an outrage. This undead crew is part of the cinematic and larger cultural collective unconscious, so there is plenty of room for new generations of storytellers to add their spin. But this particular version of The Mummy is maddening because it never establishes a convincing reason for why it should exist in the first place.

There is a fairly clean setup in which the Ancient Egyptian Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) makes a deal with Set, the god of Death, but then is defeated and laid to rest thousands of years to become the title villain. Then Tom Cruise swoops in as low-rent Indiana Jones Nick Morton and slips open her tomb, thus unleashing the Pandora’s box of the Dark Universe. So far, so reasonable. But then the story gets bogged down in mythical mumbo-jumbo about daggers and prophecies and whatever. Universal so obviously wants to copy the success of Marvel, but it is not going to do that by following its worst habit of focusing way too much on the MacGuffins. Are there mythological nerds out there who actually care about this minutiae?

All this plot-centric gobbledygook can be forgiven if The Mummy can provide the genre thrills, but the results in that department are mostly meh. Cruise is as game as always, but the action, while competently shot and coherently edited, is not especially memorable. The one mildly saving grace comes from the stabs at horror. Boutuella’s snake-like body and shadowy face provide a canvas for some decently scary images, as her pupils split into two pairs and her corpse decomposes into a dusty pile of bones (reminiscent of the effects of drinking from the wrong grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

Alas, that is all inconsequential, because the real purpose of The Mummy is prologue to a series of tales in which Dr. Jekyll is the de facto Nick Fury. Russell Crowe plays the good doctor with a motivation apparently split between defeating monsters or assembling them. That dichotomy is potentially interesting and fits the character, but it is a distraction from the actual movie it is in.

At the beginning of this review, I said that I was somehow excited for the rest of the Dark Universe, but mulling everything over, I should probably temper my anticipation, though I still hold out a smidgen hope. The Mummy’s conclusion indicates that the next entries might actually kick back and have more fun by giving extra screen time to characters like Morton’s partner Chris Vail, brought to screeching, howling life by Jake Johnson (New Girl fans will be confused every time he calls Cruise “Nick”). For its lead character, The Mummy could have really used with more off-kilter energy. Cruise can be edgy, but he is too straightforward to match the hysterical, almost Abbott and Costello-esque vibe that Johnson employs to intermittently resuscitate this DOA franchise to life.

The Mummy is Recommended If You Like: Tom Cruise-related schadenfreude, Jake Johnson (though you must be able to endure long stretches without him)

Grade: 2 out of 5 Decompositions