The release of The Mummy trailer last weekend was exciting for a lot of reasons. It’s the first movie in the Universal Monsters shared universe, set to roll out into the likes of The Wolf Man, Frankenstein and Van Helsing, with things kicking-off by having Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll right at the center. It’s also a new Tom Cruise film that promises lots of high-octane stunts and set pieces (such as a crash sequence filmed using the “Vomit Comet”). But, biggest of all was the simple, visceral thrill of seeing what Sofia Boutella’s eponymous Princess Ahmanet looks like in the actual film.
In a word, menacing. She’s got the pale skin and tattered dress sense you’d expect from a creature mummified for thousands of years, along with some cool curse elements (just look at those splitting irises). There are also echoes of Suicide Squad‘s Enchantress, another millennia-old being, but Boutella’s costume is considerably different from Cara Delevingne’s. There isn’t much similarity to is Imhotep, the villain of the previous iterations of The Mummy franchise in 1932 and 1999 respectively. However, that gender swap wasn’t always planned.
Speaking to CinemaBlend about the design process, the film’s director Alex Kurtzman talked how originally the villain was going to be male and very much in keeping with previous designs:
“There was a moment when I had sort of rendered a design that I liked for a male version of The Mummy. And in that version of The Mummy, the Mummy had been born with a skin pigmentation that at the time would have made him really sort of an outcast. And I thought it was an interesting backstory, because it began to tell the story of someone who had been bullied, which I found topical. I was reaching for a way to make the Mummy a character who is relatable, understandable, and that spoke to issues that we’re dealing with now.”
The skin pigmentation remains in the present version, although it’s easy to chalk up to age rather than something genetic, evidenced by stills of Boutella with her usual skin tone. Why did not just this aspect, but the gender also, change? Why, the other 2016 superhero film besides Suicide Squad that flirted with ancient cultures, X-Men: Apocalypse – or, to be exact, the post-credits scene to X-Men: Days of Future Past that set up Apocalypse:
“I was going down that road, and then I saw the end of Days of Future Past. And they had the character that Oscar Isaac wound up playing as a boy, and it was, I kid you not, the exact same design. And I was like, ‘Oh, man! That is not good!’ And actually it was the catalyst […] I had had that voice in my head for some time to make it a woman, and that was the moment where, the minute I saw that post-credits scene, I went, ‘We have to start over.’”
Oscar Isaac played En Sabah Nur in Bryan Singer’s latest X-movie this summer after a younger version of the character was teased at the end of Days of Future Past. While that film and its villain wasn’t the best received (Isaac mostly escaped criticism, unlike some of his co-stars), The Mummy looking so similar to the villain for another recent tentpole isn’t the best way to appear fresh and exciting – so you can’t begrudge Kurtzman the change, in that respect.