The Mummy Returns (2001)
The most powerful force on earth is about to be unleashed by the two people who should know better.
I enjoy all sorts of candy, including the cinematic kind, which are movies that throw everything at the screen in an attempt to bewilder and shake an audience. A great example of this is Michael Bay’s utterly bonkers Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014). 2001’s The Mummy Returns is another gem when it comes to filmic confectionary, a wild, noisy non-stop behemoth of action, adventure, comedy and Saturday-morning-cartoon goodness for those less refined moviegoing tastes. Having been rushed into production straight after the surprise success of the ’99 original, not everything about The Mummy Returns works, mainly its overly convoluted story and some of its hokey FX, which have been the subject of criticism over the years (some of its CGI shots are classified as ‘the worst ever in the history of filmmaking’). Irrespective, this sequel is still one helluva crazy everything-and-the-kitchen-sink treat and should (mostly) please fans of the first film and those who enjoy having their senses rattled.
Steered once again with gusto and flair by filmmaker Stephen Sommers, The Mummy Returns sticks fairly closely to the formula set by its predecessor, only this time doubling down on everything we enjoyed in the previous outing — one powerful supernatural bad guy last time, well, how about we make that two!
The movie opens with a lengthy prologue set in Thebes, 3067 B.C., where we’re introduced to the powerful Mathayus aka The Scorpion King (The Rock in his first-ever Hollywood role) who’s leading his army to take over the land. After a long-lasting siege, his men are defeated and exiled into the desert of Ahm Shere, where they die of heat exhaustion. Alone in the hot sand, the Scorpion King makes a deal with the God Anubis, offering his soul in exchange for the power to defeat his enemies. Anubis accepts the arrangement, and an oasis (with a pyramid) instantly springs out form the ground. Subsequently, the Scorpion King is given command of Anubis’ army of humanoid jackal-headed warriors who sweep across Egypt to defeat his enemies. But once the battle is over, Anubis claims the Scorpion King’s soul and locks him away, his minions returning to the Underworld, with only a gold bracelet left behind revealing the resting place of his body, which can revive the slumbering Army of Anubis.
Cut to 1933, where the dashing legionnaire explorer Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) is on another archeological expedition at a temple along the banks of the Nile with his now-wife Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and their mischievous 8-year-old son Alex (Freddie Boath). On the quest, they discover the fabled Bracelet of Anubis, the armlet containing the Scorpion King’s whereabouts, which they take home to their mansion in London. Alas, as soon as they unpack they’re attacked by a mysterious cult, led by the curator of the British Museum, Baltus Hafez (Alun Armstrong), his chief enforcer Lock-Nah (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and a woman named Meela Nais (Patricia Velásquez), who shares an uncanny resemblance to Anck Su Namun, the sweetheart of big, bad bald Imhotep. All the while, and unbeknown to anyone, young Alex puts the bracelet on for fun, which inadvertently sets the wheels in motion for the Scorpion King’s return, and possibly the next apocalypse. Oops!
During the encounter, Ardeth Bay (the rather handsome Oded Fehr), leader of the Medjai, shows up, meaning that things aren’t looking good for the O’Connells. It turns out that the cult plans on resurrecting their old mummified foe Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) to get him to duke it out against the Scorpion King, seeing as whoever defeats the beast can either take control of the Army of Anubis or send them back to whence they came. Problem is, the bracelet is attached to Alex’s arm, and only he can lead the bad guys to the pyramid where the Scorpion King sleeps.
Throughout the rollicking ride, writer-director Sommers attempts to connect his films by giving Rick and Evelyn some kind of secret past, linking each to Imhotep’s history with a preordained destiny of sorts — look, it’s a little slapdash at best, but at least we get a kick-ass martial arts-type sai fight between Rachel Weisz and Patricia Velásquez, who, may I add, look fab in their skimpy Egyptian outfits (the costumes by John Bloomfield are still killer). We also get a bunch of winks, nods, and tie-ins to the previous film, including an early scene where Alex knocks over a bunch of pillars in the same way his mom toppled the library shelves, along with a part that sees Evie’s bumbling brother Jonathan (John Hannah) need to recall the stork-looking hieroglyphic, Amenophus.
As is with most follow-ups, everything is bigger (and better?) in this second installment, and that extends to the budget. This means we’re treated to a slew of new locations, which changes things up, the best being a splendid battle (against some bandaged goons) aboard a double-decker bus that’s speeding through the streets of London. Just like its precursor, the action is fast-paced and fun, with every set piece extremely well staged and expertly executed. Sure, it’s clear that stuff’s been borrowed from other movies — mainly a sequence where an army of pint-sized pygmies attack a bunch of unsuspecting victims in an oasis of tall grass à la the Raptors in 1997’s Jurassic Park: The Lost World (admittedly, a high point in the film) or a steampunk-looking dirigible that looks as though it’s been nicked from Kevin Costner’s Waterworld (1995) — but none of it detracts from the rambunctious, campy roller-coaster we’re on.
The CGI wizardry, led by returning visual effects supervisor John Berton Jr., Men in Black (1997), remains somewhat striking even by today’s standards (remember, The Mummy Returns is almost twenty years old) — we see endless armies of computer-generated dog-like soldiers fighting on desert dunes, and an entire Eden being sucked into a tiny pyramid, a sensory overload of swirling trees, shrubs, besties and debris getting whisked through the air. The only exception is the Scorpion King’s ‘final’ form, which looks as though it’s a few renders away from being complete, but in my opinion, processes a distinct old-fashioned Harryhausen-esque edge. Some of the water FX are a little dodgy, too, coming off as in-game graphics from a PS3 cutscene — there’s a bit where Imhotep uses a giant water well (projecting his face onto it) to thwart our airborne protagonists.
The performances continue to shine, the cast sharing playful chemistry and comradery throughout. Brendan Fraser slips comfortably back into the skin of high-flying adventurer Rick O’Connell, Fraser piling on the charm and gung-ho attitude that made him such a perfect fit for the role a couple of years back (re-watching this reminded me of how much I miss the guy). The same can be said about Rachel Weisz, whose Evelyn has come a long way from her introduction in the first film, transforming from a shy, bookish librarian into a feisty, sexy explorer. John Hannah gets most of the funniest lines as Evelyn’s cowardly brother Jonathan, who’s lost his share of the treasure from Hamunaptra, bar a golden scepter that he clutches onto with his life. Freddie Boath is also good as the youngest member of the O’Connells, Alex, and avoids falling into the ‘annoying kid cliché’ thanks to a spirited performance. And oh, Arnold Vosloo looks to be having even more fun this time around as the evil Imhotep.
Of the newcomers, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), (who was just a wrestler at the time) does a superb job as the Scorpion King, the big fella making such an impression here that his Scorpion King would go on to get his very own spin-off series — a mighty feat for a non-actor who only speaks a single line of dialogue in the entire film. Shaun Parkes, Notes on a Scandal (2006), is also a blast as an old friend of Rick’s named Izzy, who wears an eye-patch he doesn’t need (coz it makes him look ‘dashing’) and is hesitant to help out seeing as every time he works with Rick he winds up getting shot! Lastly, Bruce Byron, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999), Tom Fisher, The King (2019), and Joe Dixon, The Cold Light of Day (2012), are amusing as Red, Spivey, and Jacques respectively, a trio of thieves who end up getting more than they bargained for after agreeing to steal the Bracelet of Anubis for their shady employer.
In terms of production, The Mummy Returns is more polished than its ancestor, due to slight improvements in almost all filmmaking departments. The production design by Allan Cameron is richer and more extravagant, while the thrilling score by Alan Silvestri, Avengers: Endgame (2019), really gets the blood pumping. Heck, even the theme song, ‘Forever May Not Be Long Enough’ by alternative rock band Live feels spot on!
A feast of cinematic fun, The Mummy Returns is filled with rip-roaring action, dazzling locations, an array of mythical monsters, and a classic sense of big-screen adventure that’s hard to resist. And while this kind of popcorn-munching madness might not be for everyone, Sommers’ clear love for the material and palpable energy makes it impossible not to be swept along for the ride. So, if you simply wanna unwind, The Mummy Returns may be just the ticket!
4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
The Mummy Returns is released through Universal Pictures Australia