Tom Cruise doesn’t have anything on the great Brendan Fraser.

Without a doubt, the 1999 remake of The Mummy is the best-known version of the story to modern audiences, though I would say it’s more a riff on the story of the original 1932 horror classic than it is a remake. In fact, The Mummy isn’t really much of a horror movie at all, though I continue to see it categorized as such over the years. At heart, it’s every inch an action movie.

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The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy takes place in 1926 and follows the adventures of Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), an American adventurer, and Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), a British librarian and would-be Egyptologist. Evie wants to prove her mettle by finding the lost Egyptian city of Hamunaptura. O’Connell saw during a doomed stint with the French Foreign Legion three years previous, making him a precious source of information for Evie.

Accompanied by Evie’s bumbling brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and competing against a group of treasure-hungry American explorers, the two set out to find the city. However, they get more than they bargained for when they accidentally awaken the cursed high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) from his undead slumber.

Imhotep was buried alive thousands of years ago for high treason. Now, he seeks to resurrect his lover and co-conspirator Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez) by ritually sacrificing Evie, as well as restoring his former power.

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The Ultimate Power of Charm

Critics have been calling this movie loud and dumb for twenty years now. Well, I can’t say it’s not dumb or loud, but it’s certainly more enjoyable than your standard Michael Bay explosion-fest. I will admit the plot is your standard “save the world from the Big Bad” we’ve seen in about a million blockbuster movies since Star Wars, but even this ultimately isn’t a problem.

Why? It’s all in the characters, whose personalities, humor, and charm make The Mummy as beloved a film as it is. Brendan Fraser and especially Rachel Weisz are extremely charismatic leads. Fraser’s O’Connell is both a clown and a competent fighter. Weisz is silk hiding steel as Evie the librarian, definitely as much a force to be reckoned with as any of the gun-toting men around her. The supporting characters all have their own comic flaws as well.

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Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep

Arnold Vosloo also leaves a big impression as Imhotep. Among all the goofy characters, he’s the only one playing things straight and this is very much to the benefit of the movie. By not endowing the villain with as much camp as everyone else, Imhoetp is a credible threat, leaving the audience in suspense even though the movie is otherwise a light-hearted affair.

This is why I say the movie is not a proper horror film. It has way more in common with action movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark than it does, say, the Evil Dead trilogy, because even though those scarab beetles are terrifying and there is a healthy sense of gothic atmosphere when the characters are navigating the interior of an ancient tomb, The Mummy is way more interested in high adventure in an exotic location– swords and chases and explosions and chaotic crowd scenes, not so much terror and dread.

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Where Action and Adventure Meet

The excitement tends to come from the action, not the scares, which are often so over-the-top that they veer into comic territory anyway. For example, the ambush on the ship is shot like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, relying on stunt work and kinetic energy. Same with the final battle against Imhotep. It’s not really a horror movie climax when you look at it, focusing more on combat and adrenaline.

The Mummy came out in 1999, a big year in the history of special effects. Movies like The Phantom Menace and The Matrix were huge steps in the evolution of CG. The Mummy also uses a great deal of CG, though most of it hasn’t aged as well as the other two movies listed. However, some of it is still quite impressive, like the part where a scarab beetle crawls into a CG hole in Imhotep’s face and then he starts eating it.

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20 Years Gone but not Forgotten

The Mummy remains a well-loved movie with a healthy cult following. A recent reboot starring Tom Cruise tried to amp up the action and the horror, but crashed and burned, lacking the fun characters or light touch that made the 1999 movie such a hit. Despite the advancement of special effects in the last twenty years, The Mummy has so much more going for it than that, and remains an entertaining action-adventure.

How do you remember Brendan Fraser and The Mummy (1999)? Let us know in the comments!