I’ve seen a bunch of articles lately about 1999’s The Mummy and how great it is. I love that movie too, so lately I decided to re-watch it and see if it lived up to the nostalgia. I think of the first and second movies as a set, so I’m going to discuss the details of each movie one by one, and then give them a collective feminist analysis at the end. (What third film and assorted spin-offs? Never heard of em…)

Here’s the first movie’s breakdown on the Scale:

The Mummy movie poster

Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt

All of the women characters are tropes, so, not great but also not offensive, at least to me.

Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts

I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie already! So you know poor, slightly bumbling and deeply nerdy Evie is our main girl. She and her brother are British, but living in Cairo as Egyptologists- slash- colonial adventurers (Evie leans toward the studying, her brother toward the plundering). Evie gets rescued a bunch in this movie, but she also had quite a bit of agency, to the point where her actions drive the plot, and her knowledge is crucial to putting the bad guy away.

She’s also the reincarnation of Anck Su Namun, but since we don’t see very much of Anck Su Namun in Movie 1, I’d hardly call her a character.

Recommended: Cue the Reboot! Star Wars The Last Jedi Is Here

Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 0/3 pts

Nope. No for LGBT as well. Racial representation is… complicated, so we’ll discuss in more detail later.

Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts

I mean, Brendan Fraser! It’s hard to argue that he doesn’t make this movie. What would be a fun adventure film is taken to the next level by his charm. The first movie doesn’t have the blockbuster special effects of the second, but it just works. The action is fun, the jokes are funny, the romance doesn’t feel forced. In terms of watchability, it holds up.

Rick and Evie from The Mummy

Movie 2: The Mummy Returns (2001)

The Mummy Returns movie poster

Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt

There’s sort of this half-naked swordfight between the two female leads which is very male gaze-y and a big eyeroll, but I guess not offensive.

Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts

Barely. No LGBT rep. Racial rep discussed below.

Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts

Evie, again, and she’s become a lot less bumbling and a lot more of a badass equal to her husband, which was an excellent choice on the part of the filmmakers. Another reason I think this movie did so well. It understood character relationships and didn’t decide that just because Rick and Evie were married with a kid that this would somehow be boring, or that they needed to switch to new characters, or force a fight. Evie’s character pretty much just improved between the two movies, so even though she isn’t driving the plot in this one, she still feels relevant.

The other main female character is Anck Su Namun, who gets resurrected and has more to do in this film. They made all the right choices with this character as well, and the comparison between Rick/Evie’s relationship and Imhotep/Anck Su Namun works really well.

Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts

The stakes are appropriately upped in this movie compared to the last, and once again, it works! There are a lot more CGI horror-action scenes, and none of them drag. Like I said above, Evie becomes a badass. The jokes work just as well (hapless Uncle Jonathan especially). Brendan Fraser is Brendan Fraser. In terms of being entertaining, it also holds up.

Unpopular opinion: Netflix’s Bright isn’t half bad. Read our review here.

Above and Beyond General Media = o/5 pts

I’m scoring both films in this category at the same time… because they both get zero. Sorry, Mummy fans! But anyone who has studied the history of film, or colonialism in general, knew this was coming. At the end of the first movie, the characters ride off into the sunset with all the gold they stole, and at the beginning of the first movie we see the giant mansion Evie and fam are living in, paid for by… stolen gold. It’s problematic at best.

But then, the movie does not examine or question this, but in fact doubles down on the characters’ claim to Egypt by saying they all have Egyptian ancestry. Evie and Jonathan are half-Egpytian via their mother and Rick grows up in a Cairo orphanage, and is marked with a sacred tattoo that makes him some kind of great hero. By extension Rick and Evie’s son is then also Egyptian. That’s 90% of the main cast. You can probably guess my problem with this: not a single Egyptian-heritage actor was cast in a speaking role. Every major role is Caucasian, including the mummy himself, and Ardeth Bay, the leader of the Medjai, the guardians of the mummy’s tomb. Say what you will about the third movie (I actually liked it), but at least it had Asian actors.

It’s pretty egregious and since the movie was made in 1999, not 1950, I have to assume the filmmakers knew what they were doing. Think if this movie had actually cast Egyptian-British actors seeking their heritage in Egypt. That would’ve been super cool! Instead, the casting of white characters reduces this movie down to a colonialist fantasy, and it has no hope of gaining any points here.

Should The Mummy be relegated to the sands of time? That’s up to you. But if you’re loath to give up this funny, smart action film, might I recommend National Treasure as a replacement? National Treasure has all the good parts of The Mummy, and it celebrates the cool parts of our* own history and culture, without looking to foist ourselves on other countries for the sake of adventure. A lot has been written by smart people about the death culture of whiteness, and white history of conquering. I can hardly call the history of our country perfect, and an argument can be made that National Treasure glorifies it, but if we want to create better media we have to start somewhere. National Treasure, at least, is about things we actually own, and when the treasure is gifted to the museums at the end of the film, it isn’t being stolen, it’s being returned to its rightful place.**

Score: The Mummy 7/15; The Mummy Returns 10/15

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*By “our” in this context, I mean to include all Americans, though the movie and of course the history we learn in school is often white-male focused.

**Yeah, some of that treasure is definitely stolen, I said it’s just a start!

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