The Mummy Returns
The Mummy Returns

USA, 2001. Rated PG-13. 140 minutes.

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr, Patricia Velazquez, Freddie Boath, Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Writer: Stephen Sommers
Music: Alan Silvestri
Cinematographer: Adrian Biddle
Producers: Sean Daniel, James Jacks
Director: Stephen Sommers


Grade: C+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

A  conventional big-budget, big-action flick to kick off the summer 2001 movie season, The Mummy Returns expertly implements the three rules of a sequel, which are: 1) bigger; 2) louder; 3) more. The result is a popcorn movie that has the same story as the 1999 original, except that it is 1) bigger, 2) louder, and 3) there's more of it. It has the same characters as the 1999 original, except that they are 1) bigger, 2) louder, and 3) there's more of them. And it has the same monsters, explosions, and special effects as the 1999 original, except that they are 1) bigger, 2) louder, and 3) there's more of them. Unlike most sequels, however, The Mummy Returns can legitimately claim to be just as good, if not better, than the original film, if the words "good" and "original" can be used to describe films that really aren't.

Like the titular mummy, writer/director Stephen Sommers also returns for the sequel. Sommers, who was also responsible for inflicting Deep Rising on filmgoers, has never been plagued by a new idea in his life. His strained, tortuous plot ripped off from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the other two Indiana Jones films (to name but one well of "inspiration") brings back all the characters from The Mummy, including the mummy Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) himself, who had, we thought, been banished back to hell with some finality.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazis hunt for an ancient relic thought to confer the power to rule the world. The cartoonishly evil bad guys in The Mummy Returns don't wear swastikas, but they are similar in all other respects (only romantic-at-heart Imhotep himself possesses some ambiguous qualities). They are searching for the burial grounds of an ancient warrior known as the Scorpion King, who finished his career serving the Egyptian god of the underworld, Anubis. If the Scorpion King and his army of undead warriors are awakened, they will overrun the world, but if the Scorpion King is slain when he first awakes, his killer can thereby gain control of the army and assume the mantle of global despot. As the Scorpion King, WWF superstar Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, speaks no lines, which is surely a wise decision by Sommers, but likely to disappoint fans of The Rock's cooking show… apparently he's some sort of wrestling chef who likes to invite audiences to smell the aromas of his culinary efforts. Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo

Under the leadership of the curator of the British Museum (those museum curators are always up to no good), the villains know they are no match for the Scorpion King, and so they turn to someone who is: Imhotep. With world domination as an attractive side benefit, Imhotep desires to be reunited once again with his ancient lover Anck-Su-Namun (unexpressive Patricia Velasquez) and exact revenge on those who foiled his efforts the first time around: Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), Evie Carnahan, now Mrs. O'Connell (Rachel Weisz, who grows more beautiful and self-assured with each film she makes--such as Enemy at the Gates and Sunshine), and her brother Jonathan (John Hannah, from Four Weddings and a Funeral and Sliding Doors), back for comic relief.

To masquerade as a family film and raise the stakes--for a sequel must always raise the stakes--Rick and Evie's young son is caught in the tug of war over a relic that holds the key to the Scorpion King's whereabouts. It seems our heroes didn't stumble over this relic by chance, however. They are connected to Imhotep and Anck-Su-Namun through past lives and fate. This we learn through a convoluted side-story that exists only to get Weisz and Velasquez into skimpy outfits and fighting with long knives in a scene laden with lesbian undertones. So much for being a family film, not that young children should be exposed to the level of violence in The Mummy Returns anyway.

An ongoing complaint: Hollywood continues to labor under the misapprehension that computer-generated graphics have developed to where digital characters and monsters actually look real. The fact is, CGIs are not ready to replace people and traditional special effects entirely, particularly in close-ups. The ambitions of George Lucas and Lucas-wannabes are outpacing the technology. There is one scene in The Mummy Returns where one of the characters appears as a monster with a human head and torso, and in this scene he is entirely computer-generated. He looks terrible. They could have at least digitally pasted in his real face--couldn't they?

At a certain point, sitting through The Mummy Returns is not unlike watching a Saturday morning cartoon show. And yet, it's not entirely unpleasant. Big-budget, big-action summer films fill an escapist need for many of us, and the characters and story of The Mummy Returns are more likeable and exciting than, say, those of Charlie's Angels or Gone in Sixty Seconds. Los Angeles Times reviewer Kenneth Turan may have put it best when he tautologically observed, "If you've been waiting for a movie like The Mummy Returns, then The Mummy Returns is the movie you've been waiting for." I think we all know what he means.

Review © May 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2000 2001 New Line Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

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