I love camels. I love scarab beetles. I love thrilling heroics and stunning vistas. I love when sand and khaki match. I love the insides of tombs. I love art deco hotel bars in Cairo. I love when there are sword fights and gunfights in the same film. I love Kevin J. O’Connor. I love men with pasts and women with gumption. I love evil books. I love seeing white people in places the sun doesn’t want them.

I love the movies. I love “The Mummy.”  

I could go like this all day, and probably would if I didn’t sense my editor expected an argument by now. I’m referring, of course, to the 1999 film starring Brendan Fraser, not the 1932 Boris Karloff feature nor the 2017 war crime starring Tom Cruise. (I saw the latter while on a flight to London and still attempted to walk out halfway through.)

It seems I’m not alone in my affection, as the studio has put “The Mummy” back into theaters this week (and in some places, the next) for its 25th anniversary. But I have seen evidence of its cultural staying power before. I once bought, for more money than I care to admit, a bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you’d rather be watching the 1999 cinematic masterpiece ‘The Mummy’ starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz.” This was a mistake, for now every car ride involves a flock of honks. I mistake the pleasant ones for being mad at me, and assume I’ve made a chorus of new friends when I’ve really just crossed the double yellow.  

The titular Mummy is the high priest Imhotep, cursed and buried alive for his love affair with the pharaoh’s mistress. His vow of vengeance gets an opportunity 3,000 years later in 1926. Archaeologist siblings Evie (Rachel Weisz) and Johnathan Carnahan (John Hannah) hire former French Foreign Legion member Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) to guide them to Hamunaptra, the lost city of the dead, hoping for a discovery that will put both it and them on the map. They race to beat rival American treasure hunters, but of course both parties find much more than they bargained for.

None of this is very novel; the cruel could call it derivative and the honest can only shrug. Yet “The Mummy’s” greatness is despite, or more accurately because of, that familiarity. Literary icon Umberto Eco once praised “Casablanca” on similar terms: “Two clichés are laughable. A hundred clichés are affecting, because we become obscurely aware that the clichés are all talking to each other and having a get-together.”

“Indiana Jones” was created in homage to the adventure serials of the past, but was too accomplished to do anything but stand apart. In contrast, “The Mummy” doesn’t rise above its genre and in doing so proves the better summation. It doesn’t want to do anything but play in the sandbox filled over the generations, and has no wounded pride in being built from repurposed marble pillaged from the aqueduct. This lack of vanity is what sculpts it into a platonic ideal. In other words, if you’re going to tomb raid, tomb raid from the best.

What does separate it from the pack, and spins the engine of its staying power, is its lead performances. I once attended a screening of “The Mummy” at local repertory theater New Beverly Cinema, which played to a packed, rabid, and decidedly millennial house. When Fraser and Weisz’s names appeared during the end credits, the audience rose for an unchoreographed standing ovation. It felt like a nonreligious version of Pentecost.

This is Fraser’s most iconic character, or at least his most beloved. He certainly doesn’t win his Oscar for “The Whale” 25 years later without the goodwill this performance built up. Like many actors, it took his fanbase growing up and inheriting the levers of power for him to finally receive the official recognition he deserved. Some would call it democracy manifest.

The role is the perfect marriage of his talents, allowing him to smolder and stumble in equal measure. Fraser’s greatest skill as an actor is his physicality, the way he inhabits a frame rather than just existing within. Sartre argued that existence precedes essence, but Fraser proves here that they arrived at the party at the exact same time.

His fleshiness is the character, something grounded and carnal and real to contrast his supernatural foes. When the movie turns into a CGI extravaganza in the second half, he is our tactile tether to reality. As CGI has since seized control of the first half of movies as well, we miss such presence dearly. I wouldn’t trust Timothée Chalamet to lift a box, let alone ride a sandworm. Fraser could ride a sandworm.  

Weisz also has great physicality, but in ways I’m not going to elaborate on here. Her Evie is the perfect counterpart, the brains to his brawn and the dreamer to his cynic. But what I love most is how she complements him almost accidentally: she is made for Rick, though not written for him. She is her own woman with her own talents and flaws, her frustrated academic career held back by a combination of sexism and self-inflicted snafus. She and Rick circle each other as equals, more in failure than anything else.

Her finest moment comes in a drunken speech around the campfire where she declares with dogged pride that she is a librarian. She is not diminished in her diminished circumstances, proud of the work regardless of recognition. You sense she would feel the same self-esteem in whatever job she held, by the residual virtue of it snagging her. Rick falls in love with her in that moment, and we follow suit.

As the two most attractive people in the movie, they are bound by the laws of physics and the laws of cinema to come together eventually. But a quarter century on, audiences still stand to clap at them because they manage to make the inevitable feel unanticipated. That is the essence of true love, to look back in delight and see you never had a choice.

Some of us love grave robbers, others love librarians. I love “The Mummy.”