For those of you that don’t know, Evelyn O’Connell is the leading lady of the Universal reboot of its classic film, The Mummy. Set in 1920s Egypt, the film follows the various misadventures of Evelyn, her brother, and her future husband as they accidentally resurrect a millennia-old, vengeance-driven mummy bent on destroying them and probably conquering the world (as you do). While not a huge critical success, the film became hugely popular – enough to warrant a couple of misguided sequels, a TV series and a handful of rollercoasters. Evelyn herself is at the centre of all this, whether she’s resurrecting mummies or just punching them in the face.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
Whether Evie shapes her own destiny or not depends largely on the film she’s in. In The Mummy, she’s very much the one in control. Even though most of the plot is generated by her efforts to stop the evil mummy, Imhotep, which you would think would put him in charge, it’s Evie who actually resurrects him in the first place. She’s the one who decides to stop him – before she finds out that he’s weirdly fixated on her and wants to kill her to bring his dead ex back to life. She’s actively involved in the attempts to bring down Imhotep and comes up with a lot of their plans.
However, in the other two films, she’s just kind of there.
In The Mummy Returns, it’s revealed that she’s actually the reincarnation of a badass Egyptian warrior princess, and it’s heavily implied that everything she does in that film is due to the forces of ~*Destiny*~ rather than her own agency. But even leaving that aside, she still doesn’t really get to decide where she goes or what she does – most of that is driven by the actions of her son, Alex, and the same can be said of the third film, too. I’ll give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
Evie’s goals are pretty clear. She wants to find mummies, get accepted by the Bembridge scholars and stop the mummy she accidentally raised from the dead from taking over the world (twice). Her beliefs are also pretty clear – she clearly finds preserving and sharing knowledge important, doesn’t let the limitations other people put on her get in her way, and tends to be very factual and pragmatic, without setting much store by superstition. Her hobbies aren’t as clear, as her love of books and Egypt is heavily linked with her profession, but I’ll allow it. She can have the full point.
SCORE SO FAR: 1.5
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Evie’s personality is pretty consistent. She’s intelligent, adaptable, determined, brave, and keeps her head in a crisis. This remains the case for all three films.
Her skills, however, are another matter. She’s consistently shown to be skilled at ancient languages, which is fine, but in the first film, she’s also terrible in a fight. She has no fighting skills whatsoever and spends most of the film’s climax running away rather than fighting. But in the second film, she transforms into a competent badass who flips and kicks her way through scores of enemies, and even she admits that she doesn’t know how she does it.
This is wildly inconsistent – Evie transforms from a clumsy librarian into a badass who can use any weapon she touches like a professional. The film attempts to play this off as a part of her reincarnation: the Egyptian princess that she was in a past life was also a backflipping stuntwoman, so obviously Evie is too. Clearly, spending an entire lifetime poring over dusty old papyri is just as good as going to the gym.
This explanation is just silly. Stop and think about it and it immediately unravels, but it also takes away from Evie’s character in the first film. In The Mummy, she was pretty much the only character who wouldn’t resort to fighting to solve her problems, but in The Mummy Returns she solves her problems just like the rest of the cast: by punching people in the face. I’ll give her half a point for personality, but I’m still not impressed.
SCORE SO FAR: 2
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
A brave, intelligent young librarian accidentally awakens a long-dead monster and must fight to stop him from taking over the world, multiple times.
SCORE SO FAR: 3
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Most of Evie’s decisions aren’t really influenced by her love life – she’s much more preoccupied with trying to stop a vengeful, all-powerful, life-sucking mummy from taking over the world. Amazingly, she does find time to get a boyfriend while she’s doing this, but that’s more of a testament to her impeccable time management. Her love life is a feature, certainly, but it’s not what motivates her.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Evie doesn’t really develop over the course of her films. She doesn’t really learn anything new or change in any significant way. This is actually very unrealistic, especially when you consider that in the second film she literally dies and is brought back to life. She’s exactly the same person in all three films, despite the fact that the films span about twenty years and Evie goes through a hell of a lot. I’m withholding the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she have a weakness?
Evie doesn’t really have much of a weakness, either. She makes mistakes, and some of them are quite significant ones – her excessive curiosity leads her to accidentally resurrect a creepy desiccated bald guy – but these don’t really stem from a significant character flaw. Her curiosity is sold as a part of her charm, or as something entirely justified, rather than something that causes trouble for her, and the same can be said of her occasional skittish or stubborn behaviour. I’m withholding the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Evie does influence the plot, but how much depends on the film she’s in. In The Mummy, she’s the catalyst for the whole film – she awakens the mummy, she decides to stop him and the others follow suit. In The Mummy Returns and Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, she’s not such an important player – her actions do impact the plot but they’re very much led by other characters. She also gets captured quite a few times, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I’ll give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Evie is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to gender stereotypes. On the one hand, she can be quite progressive – she’s clearly the brains of the outfit, she can take care of herself in a fight, she’s very independent, intelligent and persistent, and she’s a woman who breaks into a very male-dominated field to pursue her life’s passion. These are all very positive traits that should not be underestimated, and these are only enhanced by the fact that Evie is technically a biracial character who isn’t exoticised because of that (although the actress that plays her is white).
On the other hand, she gets kidnapped a few times and needs to be rescued and her role is very much that of ‘designated love interest’. It’s not as bad in the first film because she has a lot more agency, but there’s no getting away from the fact that she’s so clearly set up as Rick’s future girlfriend. It’s even worse in the second and third films, where she doesn’t really get to do a lot apart from be Rick’s wife and Alex’s mother. She’s firmly set in a secondary role, and despite all her newly-found backflipping skills she doesn’t really have enough to do to get away from this. Scenes like this aren’t really enough to redeem her:
Evie’s personality and goals are pretty progressive in themselves, but if you examine her in the context of the script that gets undermined, particularly in the later films. I’m going to give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Evie doesn’t really relate to many other female characters. She meets Anck-Su-Namun in the first and second films and hates her on principle, because she’s trying to take over the world. In the third film we see her interact with more female characters – the sorceress, Zi Juan, and her daughter Lin. Her relationship with Zi Juan isn’t particularly significant, but her relationship with Lin is much more so, as Lin begins a relationship with her grown-up son. At first, she disapproves (especially seeing as Lin is technically two thousand years old) but eventually warms up to her. Even though this relationship does develop over time, it still isn’t explored in any real depth and draws on a few mother-in-law stereotypes that I could go without. I’ll be generous and give her half a point.
FINAL SCORE: 5.5/10
Evelyn is a character with her own goals and beliefs who isn’t motivated by her love life, but aside from that she exhibits half-hearted character development on all fronts. She doesn’t change, doesn’t have a weakness, is pushed to the back in the second and third films and cast firmly in the role of ‘love interest’. But her biggest weakness as a character is her inconsistency. If I was looking at the first film alone, she’d probably pass my test, but she changes so much (and becomes so useless) over the following two films that all of that is undermined.
It’s a real shame that what made Evie such a great character in the first film isn’t carried over to the other films in the franchise. But despite all of this, I still really enjoy The Mummy. They have their flaws – huge, gaping flaws – but they’re still really fun films. (I’m on the fence about the last one and I draw the line at The Scorpion King because hey, I have my pride.)
Next week, I’ll be looking at a modern classic: The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.