Herewith a quick take on my two most recent summer-movie visits:
Wonder Woman is very, very good — and manages to be so by mostly being a World War I movie rather than a superhero movie. I am, of course, much too young to have living memories of the WWI period, but one of my grandfathers was an Army engineer in that war, then puttered around Europe for several years afterward doing a variety of field work for the American Red Cross. My father made a point of writing down and preserving a great many stories arising from those travels, and Wonder Woman surprised me by matching the tone and texture of those stories to an impressive degree. The members of the team Diana and Steve Trevor bring together feel like people my grandfather could easily have met and understood. I’ve heard complaints about the portrayals of some of the minority characters, but my sense is that what’s shown is essentially accurate for the time and place — and that the reactions of the characters in question are as true to period as everything else.
Mind you, it’s not perfect. The scene in which Diana crosses “No Man’s Land” very nearly threw me out of the movie — even in a comic-book world, there should have been too heavy a volume and breadth of firepower for her to survive being shredded using the traditional deflection-and-dodging powers that we usually associate with Wonder Woman and her gauntlets. That the scene works is a matter of the sheer force of will Gal Gadot throws into the role…and by the end of the film, it’s clear that in fact, Diana’s Amazon powers are more literally godlike than they were in the Lynda Carter era.
By contrast, The Mummy is a major disappointment. Tom Cruise tries to coast through the movie on roguish charm, but the script makes him too much of an idiot and cad for that charm to do much good (except to the degree that it persuades the Forces Of Evil to keep him alive). Cruise’s character literally has no control over his actions for large segments of the film — the resurrected Egyptian princess Ahmanet is pulling his strings most of the time — and even when he makes a choice that looks sort of heroic (notably, resurrecting the film’s other female lead), one can rationalize that he’s only doing so because he’s looking out for his own self-interest further down the road.
But the real trouble with The Mummy is that there aren’t any proper mummies in it. What we have instead is Sofia Boutella as the aforementioned Ahmanet, and within five minutes of waking her up, the film has her mostly out of her wrappings and into slinky seductress mode, clad in just enough shreds of green to keep her nominally street-legal. Nor are most of her monster legions mummies; just about all of them are better classified as skeletons, zombies, or ghouls. The Egyptian — or even faux-Egyptian — folklore is just as thin on the ground. With no likeable hero, no mummies, and no mystical Egyptian spice in play, all that’s left is a lot of CGI sludge and generic mayhem. And that’s not much of a recipe for a successful Mummy movie.
Fortunately, I paid for my ticket to the Cruise Mummy by buying a boxed set of four movies from the much better predecessor franchise starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and eventually The Rock (total price well under $20) — a win for my DVD collection, if not for Universal’s current cash flow.