The Mummy Returns (2001) / Horror-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for pervasive violence and scary images
Running time: 130 min

Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Freddie Boath, Oded Fehr, Patricia Velasquez, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Alun Armstrong, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Shaun Parkes
Cameo: Stephen Sommers
Director: Stephen Sommers

Screenplay: Stephen Sommers
Review published August 12, 2008

Although only three years has passed since the first film in real time, this sequel takes place about a decade years after the events of The Mummy.  Adventurer Rick O'Connell (Fraser, Monkeybone) and librarian Evelyn Carnahan (Weisz, Chain Reaction) are now married, with one precocious son, Alex (Boath).  Once again, they battle the ancient mummy Imhotep (Vosloo, Agent Cody Banks), who has been resurrected, along with his lover Anck Su Namun (Velasquez, Mindhunters), in order to defeat the mighty Scorpion King (The Rock, The Rundown), who himself is unleashed every few thousand years.  Imhotep's hope is that, once the Scorpion King is vanquished, he will be the one to control the canine army of the god Anubis, giving him the might to conquer the world.  When young Alex puts on a powerful ancient bracelet that reveals the key to the Scorpion King's lair, Imhotep has him kidnapped to lead the way. It's up to Rick and the gang to save Alex, and hopefully, the world.

Writer-director Stephen Sommers (Van Helsing) tries to outdo himself in special effects and action in this visually kinetic sequel, but in the process, dwarves the characters and humor under heavy coatings of CGI, noise and mayhem.  Despite the eye candy feast served up, it's a rather numbing experience, especially when you consider that star Brendan Fraser isn't even on the screen for the majority of the film, and when he is, he is rarely as fun to watch as he had been in the first adventure.  There are a few tongue-in-cheek moments, but most of them refer back to those that occurred in The Mummy, such as the return of the creepy wall-crawling mummy priests ("I hate these guys," Rick bemoans).  Whatever dialogue and character interplay exists is merely a set-up to the next giant spectacle of an action sequence.  The result is an amusement park ride that goes and goes without stopping for us to jump on.

One curious new character facet introduced is that Rick and Evelyn are no longer normal people.  The tattoo Rick has on his forearm is said to be a mark that he's some sort of hero of destiny.  Funny that it would just appear here and he not know why he has it.  Comic relief third wheel, Jonathan (Hannah, Sliding Doors), delivers very little to actually alleviate the seriousness of the murderous elements, and is so grating at times, you may not care whether he finally meets his maker.  That's still nothing compared to our fair librarian's newfound ability to open up a can of whoop-ass, apparently having been some sort of Egyptian warrior princess, Nefertiri, in a former life that just so happens to be channeled up.  It appears that such things as martial arts and weapons such as sais were all the rage in ancient Egypt.  One can only suppose that the success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon might have had an influence on Sommers, who must have thought it would be pretty boffo to include two women in a supercharged swordfight in his film even if it didn't belong.  The third film would take it a step further by exploring full-blown martial arts action, but at least they had the good sense to make that an Asian storyline, starring Jet Li to boot. 

Despite many horrific creatures, all very well rendered, The Mummy Returns isn't a scary film.  That's not a surprise, as its predecessor wasn't either, but at least The Mummy had its creepier moments that rattled the more squeamish of viewers.  If you've seen the first film, you'll already know what the mummies look like, so there is little shock value when seeing more of the same.  One new creature does make an appearance, as The Rock plays the Scorpion King, who in the film's big finale, has the upper torso of a man and the body of a scorpion.  Rock fans may be disappointed that the creature is wholly CGI, crafted to look like The Rock.  While it does resemble him sufficiently, the creature still looks like CGI, so whatever grotesque features one might attribute to the hybrid demigod, we know it's a fake, just like most other of the "monsters" in the film.  Shortly before the the final showdown, one of the major characters gets stabbed and, one presumes, dies.  It's one of several moments of seriousness that occurs that Sommers would never have done in his exuberantly campy first film, and it is then that we realize just how little interest we have invested in these characters.  The resulting moments of barely perceptible anguish are even left unconvincing, and we know from the lack of appropriate tears that whatever death occurs will be short lived.  It is a film series about people who keep coming back from the dead, after all.

I wasn't a huge fan of The Mummy, but The Mummy Returns still managed to disappoint me, as the opportunity and budget was certainly there for Sommers to grab the bull by the horns and expand the characterizations so that we might actually grow to like them enough to be entertained by the scenes in between each action showcase, and even be interested in their destinies.  Alas, Sommers only sees them as vessels by which to get to filmmaking concepts he wants to try out.  In place of character and story development, Sommers splashes more and more computer-generated creatures, scenery and magical doo-dads across the screen, pausing only to put in a new plot twist to set up more action.  At two hours and ten minutes, it's a bloated big budget spectacle to be sure.  If one were to trim out the excess, we'd have a 15-minute movie, and not a very good one at that.  

The Mummy Returns isn't so much an homage to the classic horror flicks of the 1930s so much as an attempt to play oneupsman to all of the summer blockbusters to have been released in the interim years after 1998, and in so doing, it exists only as mindless fodder for strict popcorn movie fanatics.  Like Imhotep himself, this is a barebones experience that lacks any sort of humanity, constituting its form through the merciless reaping of parts from the bodies of work of other more noble creations.

-- Followed by The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and two spin-off prequel to the series, The Scorpion King and The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior.  Also made into a television cartoon series, "The Mummy: The Animated Series" in 2001.

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo