Tom Cruise has been an action star for a couple of decades now, and one thing he does particularly well is combine his fighting chops with light, relatable charm. It's served him well in movies like Edge of Tomorrow, War of the Worlds, and Minority Report. Indeed, many movies call for a lightening of serious scenes or traumatic word events by adding a little humor. But Cruise's latest action flick, The Mummy, unfortunately takes that concept a little too far, by using an air strike as a joke in its opening moments.
The first scenes of the new film take place in Iraq, as Cruise and Jake Johnson play two American solders who have seemingly gone off the grid to hunt treasure, raid tombs, and loot the cradle of civilization. While pursuing a particular treasure in a small village in the middle of a barren desert, the duo finds themselves in a gun fight with insurgents. It's unclear whom exactly they're fighting. Is it ISIS? AL Qaeda? The whole encounter is unclear, and uncomfortably played for laughs. But what's worse is that the whole scene culminates in Johnson's character calling in an air strike to "scare them off," so he and Cruise's character can get their treasure fix on.
The strike no doubt kills dozens of innocent civilians in the village, but the whole thing is brushed off as a gag; a moment of comedy that plays incredibly out of touch with audiences' changing comfort levels. Many could argue that since 9/11, the use of mass violence, or world catastrophe, in movies has left many people uneasy. When Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained premiered right after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, or when The Hunger Games Mockingjay: Part 2, opened right after the Paris attacks of 2015, there was audible discomfort from some fans and critics with how these films were using violence. Superhero movies like Man of Steel, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and X-Men Apocalypse were called out, too, for their leveling of entire cities, resulting in millions of fictional deaths that went unaddressed as matter of fact events.
Millions dying off-screen in these giant blockbusters has become sort of a norm. But at least all of these films (aside from Tarantino's) were portraying the events as serious tragedies. The Mummy's opening devastation, however, is used as a joke intended to make people laugh, and it feels remarkably out of touch with the world today. The rest of the film just adds to this ignorance; later in the film, the Mummy character uses her magic to essentially harvest the sand out of every piece of glass in the city of London and create a massive, destructive sand storm, destroying much of the city. Considering the recent terror attacks in England, this sequence might not sit well with many audiences.
To be clear, it's totally OK to use destruction-heavy scenes in action films, and to make the threat of your villain more intense by putting more than just a few heroes in danger. But filmmakers should always note the current mood of the world, and not be surprised when people find these moments uncomfortable. And some scenes, like The Mummy's opening one, are just unnecessary, making a joke out of something that's very real and occurs often in today's world.
Additionally, the entire setting of the scene in Iraq comes out of nowhere. Yes, The Mummy's mummy is intentionally buried in a tomb far away from the main society of ancient Egypt, but it's almost as if the filmmakers used Iraq as an excuse to get in some gun fights and an explosion or two. As it relates to the rest of the story, there's absolutely no reason to set the scene there, or to incorporate Iraq's current problems. Scenes like these, where Middle Eastern "enemies" are just faceless Arabs and mass casualties are a punch line, don't fly anymore in any film. But what makes the moment in The Mummy the worst is that it's played off as a total gag, there only to amuse its audiences.