The Mummy reviewed by an Egyptologist: 'Tom Cruise's Late Egyptian is passable'

Despite the avalanche of inaccuracies there are fascinating nuggets of truth in The Mummy (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Dr Dan Potter, an Egyptologist and Assistant Curator at National Museums Scotland, gives his thoughts on Tom Cruise's widely panned foray into Egyptian mythology. 

Egyptologists have a tough time with films that take on ancient Egyptian themes, never knowing whether to turn off the academic pedant in our heads and enjoy some cinematic escapism, or critique every second.

The latest re-imagining of The Mummy franchise pits the roguish Tom Cruise against the newly risen undead as the first film in Universal's new Dark Universe.

As an Egyptologist, there was a lot to note – both good and bad.

A departure from excitable 1920's archaeologists

The action here is brought right up to date as we meet our hero, soldier of fortune Nick Morton (Cruise) in Iraq, battling insurgents.

Mummy films habitually involve the cursing of excitable 1920's archaeologists who have unearthed an ancient evil in their quest for knowledge.

Morton is no-such academic. Instead, he's a mix of black market antiquities smuggler and Lara Croft, all wrapped up in T E Lawrence's wardrobe with no time for archaeological jargon.

Antagonist Ahmanet's eyes are daubed with kohl, the cosmetic choice of ancient Egyptians (Photo: Universal Pictures)

The undead antagonist is a vengeful princess named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), eyes daubed in kohl, the cosmetic of choice for wealthy ancient Egyptians.

Her name possibly riffs on that of the goddess Amunet, whose name means "the female hidden one".

Having been bumped from the line of succession, Ahmanet makes a pact with the god of chaos, Set, who is remarkably absent in most mummy films.

In a jealous push for the throne, she kills multiple family members and is mummified alive and buried outside Egypt as punishment.

Real-life historical parallels

Though the vibrant diversity of the ancient world is reduced in The Mummy to a world of pyramids and sand, Ahmanet's backstory does mirror more colourful ancient inspiration.

The female pharaoh Hatshepsut (c.1473-58 BCE) was stricken from history after serving as King.

The memory of the "Heretic King" Akhenaten was also extinguished following his religious upheaval.

The rich and colourful history of Ancient Egypt is reduced to pyramids and sand (Photo: Shutterstock)

However, no matter their transgression, the Egyptian way of dealing with such undesirables was not to put great effort into macabrely imprisoning them in distant lands.

They instead preferred to chisel out their names and images from monuments, effectively erasing them from existence.

The Game of Thrones-esque palace intrigue also has a place in antiquity: judicial papyri record details of a treacherous plot to murder King Ramesses III (c.1184-53 BCE), the "Great Criminals" motivated by succession questions and headed up by an ambitious secondary wife.

In another text, the deceased King Amenemhat I (c.1985-56 BCE) speaks to his son, describing an incident in which he was attacked – and possibly assassinated – after nightfall.

Tom Cruise's Late Egyptian is passable

Whilst taking inspiration from material and literary sources in terms of props and script, the academic refrain "Chronology is king" echoed in my ears, as the film never fully resolves what part of history Ahmanet belongs to.

At separate points her New Kingdom origins are described as 3000 and 5000 years ago and, for the eagle-eyed philologist, there is the cartouche of King Unas (c.2375-45 BCE) in the background, muddying waters further.

Still, I could never have thought the day would come when I would hear Tom Cruise delivering a line in passable Late Egyptian, even if the subtitles don't always match up.

Tom Cruise isn't your typical Egyptologist (Photo: Universal Pictures)

While the 'hero' is less charming than Brendan Fraser's Rick O'Connell of the 1999 series, the action is fast paced, with a few well-placed frights.

It's not going to be storming awards season, nor will it give you a degree in Egyptology.

But, if it piques people's interest in learning more about the ancient Egyptians– which is more amazing even than Tom Cruise saving the world again – then Egyptologists can dispense with the inner pedant.

And accept a little dramatic licence.

Dr. Dan Potter worked on National Museum of Scotland's current exhibition The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial.

He is now involved the creation of a major new Ancient Egypt gallery which will open at the National Museum of Scotland in 2018-19.