Raiders of the Lost Stuff
More. Bigger. Faster. Louder. That’s the typical recipe for a sequel, and that’s why sequels often end up feeling like parodies of the films that spawned them. Is The Mummy Returns bigger, faster, and louder than 1999’s The Mummy? Yup. Is it but a bulked-up shadow of its predecessor? Not quite. But it probably would’ve stood a better chance of really wowing me if I didn’t have the superior original as a basis for comparison.
We begin once again with yummy mystic and soldier Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) relating for us, in his sultry voice with that swoon-inducing Mediterranean accent, a tale of ancient curses and hapless mortals doomed to the eternal horrors of immortality. This time around, it’s the Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson, aka WWF’s The Rock), a badass warrior who, 5000 years earlier, pledged to serve the god Anubis for all time, and who now lies somewhere beneath the sands of Egypt, waiting to be awakened to lead Anubis’s army of jackal-headed soldiers to take over the Earth. (All together now: “Nice doggie! Maybe I got a Milkbone…”)
Who better to ensure that the unholy undead dude gets his wake-up call than our friends, American soldier/adventurer/general bad boy Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser: Monkeybone, Bedazzled) and British librarian and Egyptologist Evelyn Carnavon (Rachel Weisz: Beautiful Creatures, Enemy at the Gates). It’s ten years later, and the now-married couple are assisted in their meddling by their son, 9-year-old Alex (Freddie Boath, in a terrific kiddie debut), who is well on his way to surpassing his parents in that department. Evie’s brother Jonathan (John Hannah: The Hurricane, Sliding Doors) is still hanging around, too, living the playboy life and generally making a nuisance of himself.
The Mummy Returns positively brims with exactly the sort of delicious, pulpy, escapist hokum you’d expect: guys in red robes who chant in an ancient tongue and are naturally up to No Good, all sorts of cool artifacts like the Sceptre of Osiris and the Bracelet of Anubis that everyone is after, and mysterious destinations with evocative names like the Lost Oasis of Ahm Shere. Everybody is somebody reincarnated. The flesh-eating scarabs are back (“Indy, why does the floor move?”)… and so is Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the mummy with the capital M who is returning — he wants to raise Anubis’s army for himself, so he can rule the world (“Mummies. I hate these guys.”)
This is a gorgeous film, in that painterly CGI way — from the banks of the Nile of ancient Egypt awash in moonlight to modern, crumbling ruins bathed in the golden glow of torchlight, returning director Stephen Sommers (who also wrote the screenplay) knows how to make his movies look fabulous. But The Mummy Returns does suffer from a bit of sequelitis. There’s almost too much action, and not enough downtime. So some of the small cleverness of the first film has been sacrificed, some good opportunities for cheeky humor bypassed in favor of gunplay and knockdown hand-to-hand combat. The biggest problem is that Rick and Evelyn have been homogenized — part of the immense charm of their first outing was the romantic push and pull between the cocksure, rough-and-tumble adventurer and the bumbling, intellectual librarian. But now he’s been domesticated (Fraser’s best moment in the film is his gasp of fatherly grief as he watches Alex disappear into the distance, kidnapped by the bad guys) and she’s been toughened up, discovering new capabilities in herself springing from a surprising source. The romantic tension is gone, and a tad too many fight scenes fill the void.
Fraser and Weisz are still terrific together, the kid is little wonder, and you can’t go wrong with Fehr running around in black robes and intoning the secrets of the ancient past. And any movie that practically invites you to toss in lines from Indiana Jones flicks (“Throw me the idol, I throw you the whip!” always works) can’t be a bad thing. The Mummy Returns is fun. A lot of fun. Just not quite as much fun as the original.