In true sequel fashion, "The Mummy Returns," the first big-budget follow-up to 1999's box office smash, "The Mummy," is notably bigger and more extravagant. It's also flashier, has superior CGI visual effects, courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic, and gorgeous cinematography, taking full, wise use of its incredible vistas and myriad settings (including the desert, the jungle, and London). The whole enterprise, rumored to have cost $100-million, certainly tries hard to top its predecessor, but it ultimately ends up being no better, which also means it simply isn't very good.
Set in 1933, roughly ten years after they first escaped the wrath of the mummified Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), adventurer Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) has gotten married to Egyptologist Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and had a son, precocious 8-year-old Alex (Freddie Boath). While on an innocent expedition in search of a mystical bracelet, they inexplicably set into motion the resurrection of Imhotep, who once again will stop at nothing to be with his equally dead true love, Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Valezquez). Lucky for Imhotep, Anck-Su-Namun has been reincarnated, and all that is missing in order for the two to be together is her soul, still trapped within the tombs of Hamunaptra. Meanwhile, Imhotep's henchmen catch wind of the bracelet, which Alex puts on and can't get off, setting out to kidnap him away from his parents. It is only Alex, it seems, who knows of the whereabouts of The Scorpion King (The Rock), whose remains hold the power to ruling the world.
The inevitably convoluted plot of "The Mummy Returns," written and directed by Stephen Sommers, is a passable one, but also offers up one gaping suspension of disbelief after another. As previously mentioned, the film is far larger in scope than "The Mummy," including an endless parade of mummies, dog-like creatures, scarabs (flesh-eating bugs), and even a giant scorpion. Several plagues are also put into motion, with a monstrous wall of water that chases after the protagonists a standout in visual effects. Still, so much of the picture is CGI creations that it often is more akin to viewing a video game rather than a live-action movie. In today's world, so much film work is done on computers that it is rare to see an astounding visual based on simple make-up effects, which are undoubtedly more effective.
All of the surviving cast members of the first film return in "The Mummy Returns," which does work in its favor. It is enjoyable to see all of the characters again, and several of them play a more prominent part this time around, particularly Arnold Vosloo, as Imhotep, and the radiant Patricia Velazquez, as Anck-Su-Namun. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz are also back as thrill-seeking lovebirds Rick and Evelyn, and fill their roles with the same sort of gusto as they did before. The romance works well under the confines of the story, although it is a shame that Fraser is given a continuous stream of one-liners every time he opens his mouth. While "The Mummy" successfully mixed camp with drama, "The Mummy Returns" tries too hard, and comes off, at times, painfully unfunny. Oded Fehr, as good-guy ally Ardeth Bay, and John Hannah, as Evelyn's brother, Jonathan, round out the returnees.
In first-time outings, newcomer Freddie Boath plays young Alex O'Connell, and while he avoids the curse of annoying child performers, he has trouble with the more emotional scenes. At one point, he goes from crying and being upset, to smiling and being joyful, within a second's time. Also in his feature-film debut, WWF wrestler The Rock makes a cameo as The Scorpion King, and proves why he wasn't originally trained as an actor. The fact that a prequel is currently being made about The Rock's character is horrifying in itself.
The major beef I have with "The Mummy Returns" is the same one I had with the original. In Universal Studios' quest for attracting the widest mass audience it can garner, it has stripped away the main purpose of the mummy legend: to frighten. Unfortunately, "The Mummy Returns"--less violent than "One Night at McCools," less suspenseful than "Driven," and less bloody than even "Bridget Jones's Diary"-- is never scary. Rightfully knowing that our heroes are all going to live before the first frame flickers on the screen also eases much of the tension that might have been there, had we ever been given the chance to feel like the good guys were really in danger. "The Mummy Returns" is going to make infinitely more money than I am ever going to see in a lifetime, and it saddens me. Not because I'm never going to make hundreds of millions of dollars, mind you, but because this particular movie doesn't deserve it.
©2001 by Dustin Putman