This week, Mark Batalla of PixelDrip Gallery returns to take on the action-adventure blockbuster sequel to the blockbuster action-adventure remake of what was originally a fairly small horror film.
Logline: It’s been ten years since Rick O’Connell and company faced the threat of the mummified body of Imhotep in Egypt. The reincarnated lover of Imhotep has established a cult to once again resurrect the mummy. They plan on finding the remains of the fabled Scorpion King and the Army of Anubis. Rick must find a way to prevent Imhotep from taking control of the legendary army and save his family from the clutches of the mummy cult.
I loved The Mummy. Once you got past the fact that the mummy, Imhotep, wasn’t a lumbering zombie wrapped in cloth, it’s a great adventure movie in the same vein as the pulp stories from the 1920s era. It wasn’t Indiana Jones, but it was a straightforward enough film with well defined character archetypes and a villain with a dangerous mean streak.
Until The Mummy came along, Brendan Fraser was most well known for playing fish-out-of-water characters. His roles in Encino Man, George of the Jungle, and Blast from the Past were executed with incredibly charming efficacy. The Mummy franchise allowed him to stretch out a bit into the role of an action hero.
Much of the cast from the first movie returns with slight changes to their characters. Rachel Weisz as Evy is no longer a bumbling nerd. She and Rick now have a son named Alex who’s clearly following in his parents’ footsteps. Jonathan Carnahan once again serves as comic relief but he no longer acts like a simple stooge. Ardeth Bay and the Medjai are ready as ever to kick some undead ass. They treat Rick and his family with respect after the events of The Mummy.
It’s easy to pick apart the anachronisms of the set design and costumes in The Mummy Returns, but they work well at placing the storyline in the 1930s London and Egypt. After all, this is a pulp adventure story, not historical drama. Even though you could clearly tell the actors were being filmed on sets, it fit with the style of many films by Universal Pictures. I wasn’t surprised when they incorporated The Mummy franchise into the Universal Studios theme parks.
There are plenty of callbacks to the first film that serve as winks to the audience. At the same time, the sequel attempts to raise the stakes with the inclusion of the Scorpion King and his mythological army. In theory, this movie has everything going for it. I enjoyed watching it ten years ago but something happened since then.
Is it Better or Worse Than I Remember?
Definitely worse. The Mummy Returns came along at the perfect time for me to enjoy it. I was still interested in studying classic mythology, I was a big fan of WWE Attitude era Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the scenes with Patricia Velasquez in a slinky chain outfit hit all the right spots in my imagination. Any flaws this movie had were quickly blasted away by the sensory overload as I watched it on opening weekend inside an IMAX theater.
The Mummy Returns feels very mediocre on repeated watches. A lot of that has to do with the way the main characters act during this potential end of the world crisis. Here are some of Rick’s lines during the film:
“You know, a couple of years ago, this would have seemed really strange to me.”
“Oh no, not these guys again.”
“Oh, I hate these guys.”
Rick: “Right. And if someone doesn’t kill him, then he’s gonna wipe out the world.”
Evelyn: “How did you know?”
Rick: “I didn’t, but that’s always the story.”
“Here we go again!”
Alright, that last one was from The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, but it still highlights what I hate about Rick’s character in the sequels. He’s just not fazed by all the crazy shit going on around him. I get that he should have his bad ass moments, but when he’s either annoyed or nonchalant by the danger, then it’s hard for me to care myself. It’s not just limited to Rick. Evy and Jonathan also act like it’s business like usual. Seriously? You experience ONE mummy plague and that somehow prepares you for the appearance of Anubis’s humanoid jackal soldiers? I tolerate this type of behavior on Buffy the Vampire Slayer because those characters deal with the occult on a daily basis. TEN years have passed and the only thing that changed is the birth of Alex. There is no mention of any spectacular misadventures that befell the O’Connell family.
If it wasn’t enough that the “witty” banter doesn’t accurately gauge the danger, then it’s also force-fed down the audience’s throats. There are few quiet moments in this film and it feels like the writers were just trying too hard to top the character interactions in the first film. Those dynamics in The Mummy were great because the characters all felt like distinct individuals. They reacted in a way that was natural to their traits. The Mummy Returns keeps throwing one liners and quips at the same rate as Family Guy does with its joke tangents.
And of course, I can’t forget little, obnoxious Alex. Child characters in summer films ride a fine line between precocious scamp and obnoxious brat. I feel that Alex tends to lean towards the latter. Freddie Boath, the actor that plays Alex, doesn’t emote very well so it’s hard to connect with him.
They really should have quit while they were still ahead with the first Mummy movie. Then again, with two sequels, a spin-off, and a prequel to that spin-off, the franchise is on the fast track to reboot city.
Stephen Sommers directed the first two Mummy movies. I guess that explains Brendan Fraser’s quick appearance in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
Casting The Rock and Patricia Velasquez as Middle Eastern characters? *sigh* At least the casting agency didn’t go down the whitewashing route like in The Last Airbender and Prince of Persia.
On the other hand, Oded Fehr is awesome in any role that he plays. They should have made a spin-off based around his Ardeth Bay character and the Medjai instead of the Scorpion King.
We find out that Rick is a descendant of the Medjai. That helps explain how he was able to defeat Imhotep in the first movie. A little unnecessary, but it works.
Speaking of which, Evy is revealed to be the reincarnation of Nefertiti. Well, I suppose that explains her new-found combat prowess with a sword and gun in this movie. And it also explains why Imhotep is so fixated on her.
Alright, I can only suspend my disbelief for so long. Surviving a giant wave of water crashing down on your dirigible? It’s possible. The appearance of human/jackal hybrids? Makes sense within the context of Egyptian mythology. Managing to outrun the sunlight for several miles as the characters sprint towards the Scorpion King’s pyramid? Give me a break!
Seeing Evy die didn’t provoke much of a reaction from me. Aside from the fact that the movie is PG-13, it’s really hard to feel like the characters are in any credible danger when there’s so much reincarnation and resurrection going on throughout the films.
The Scorpion King’s monster form is a hideous mess of CGI. The head barely resembles The Rock and its movements are so stilted.
The Mummy Returns is the very last time I would enjoy a movie with Brendan Fraser in it. That being said, I did enjoy his appearances as Ben Sullivan on Scrubs.