The summer season starts with the sequel to the 1999 box office smash The Mummy, which put Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz versus an evil mummy played by Arnold Vosloo. Though they conquered the mummy once and for all in the first film, Vosloo manages to make it back easily. Unfortunately, the whole of The Mummy Returns is much more shallow than that.
Most people expect sequels to be worse than the original, and they shouldn't; in the first Mummy film, Fraser and Weisz meet for the first time, their chemistry is great, and they have no clue as to what they are going to encounter. The powers of the mummy are shocking and scary to them, as they should be. Furthermore, despite the purposely cheesy script, the plot is pretty invigorating. The sequel should not deviate from the first movie's formula, except that it should have more action, more comedy, and more horror (if anyone can remember back that far, the movie did have a few truly creepy parts).
Unfortunately, The Mummy Returns is a bad sequel. It has more action and more comedy, but at the expense of the plot, the dialogue, the characters, and the audience's interest. From minute one I realized that this second film could be a tedious film.
The opening scene takes place in ancient Egypt, as we are given a very brief rundown of how the Scorpion King was defeated and gave his soul to the underworld. This opening battle scene tells us two things: First, The Rock, who plays the big Scorpion King, has no chance as an actor. Though he only has one line in the whole film, and the rest is just shouting, he just doesn't have what it takes. WWF fans might not care, since they are used to seeing bad actors flex their muscles, but they will also be disappointed because this is the only time we get to see our big villain in the flesh (the rest of the time, he is computer animated). The second thing the battle scene tells us is that The Mummy Returns know it is going to have to use every trick in the book to keep the audience mildly entertained, and so it plays off the popular battle scenes of late (Gladiator, and most notably Gladiator).
The movie then takes us to Brendan Fraser, who is trekking through an Egyptian tomb like he has never done it before. First off, if you encountered what you encountered in the first film, would you ever take a step back in Egypt? I don't think so. Anyway, ten years have passed since the first film, he is married to Weisz, and they have a young smart-alecky boy, played by Freddie Boath, who is the only redeeming actor in the whole film. That is because since those imaginary ten years have passed (or two, depending on how you look at it), Fraser and Weisz' acting skills have degraded into nothing. They cannot even walk around without looking foolish. Yet again getting back on course, they open up another thing they shouldn't, they get attacked, but not before Weisz has a hallucination of herself being physically back in ancient Egypt. Many more of these occur throughout the film, and while they do show back story most of the time, they also serve as a really easy and cheap way to move the characters from point A to point B without having to use any inductive skills whatsoever.
Some of the flashbacks are well done, like the scene shown in the previews where two woman are fighting. Of course, the flashbacks plant Weisz as one of the characters in ancient Egypt, so she is one of those girls fighting. These flashbacks account for the reason why Weisz suddenly knows kung-fu style swordfighting, and also create another element of conflict, since Weisz feels for her past life. Yes, she is somehow and coincidentally a descendant of the pharaoh's daughter, and Fraser is her destined protector. These are the kinds of things I hate, because not only are they just cheesy on their own, but they destroy a perfectly good chemistry that was shown in the first film.
Touching up on a few subjects I have already mentioned, the actors seem like they are happy with their paychecks, but don't care how the movie will turn out. Their performances are stale, and since the main characters have already encountered the mummy before, they take everything tongue in cheek, not worrying a bit about the fact that a guy that died three thousand years in the past has been resurrected yet again, just to take control of the army of the dead and destroy the world. We see none of that. The only breath of relief comes from that of little Freddie Boath, who's sarcastic comments kept me entertained throughout the film.
In terms of action, The Mummy Returns has a lot of it. In fact, there is a tremendous amount of gunfights and swordfights, most of them very fast and pretty intricate. Usually, I would be commending this, but since the rest of the movie was so cheesy, I really didn't find the action that suspenseful, mainly because I didn't really care what happened to the characters, I knew the characters wouldn't die, and because the characters don't really care what happens to them. Furthermore, while the movie does try to explain some of these newfound abilities, I have to wonder how Weisz and Fraser are suddenly able to fight as though they've fired nothing more than a pistol before. Maybe they decided to just join the popular onslaught of kung fu action movies, which started with The Matrix. Honestly, the action is pretty intense at times, and looking back, I do commend whoever is responsible for filling much of the movie with fighting, but no matter what, it is hard to ignore the rest of the film.
The first movie was cheesy, a real B-grade movie, but it knew it was cheesy. The second one tries to do the same, but it ends up being a lot cheesier than intended. First off, the dialogue is incredibly weak (you can be funny without making the characters look entirely emotionally inept), and really isn't that funny. However, it is the situational comedy that really kills The Mummy Returns. The dialogue can be as funny as it wants, but when it gets to the serious stuff, keep is serious! The movie's bad cheesiness can be represented in two things: One, the little pygmy mummies kill dozens of men, but are we supposed to take them seriously? Two, the characters spend a lot of the movie in a computerized airship that is completely infeasible (it is equipped with rocket boosters), and guess what happens at the end when the characters are in a tight jam? You guessed it; the airship shows up and saves them. Who the hell thought of this airship? They should be fired immediately!
Finally, I'll talk about the computer graphics. The Mummy Returns relies on them so heavily that not only is the plot lost in them, but it also becomes impossible for the entire movie to look realistic. In fact, much of the movie does not. While the moving characters like the mummy and his minions are cool, the background effects and many other things need a lot of work. It isn't that they are a piece of art (like the Egyptian sceneries), it is just that to make them look realistic you need to blur the more distant objects and maybe sandblast everything a little bit. It is hard to take a movie seriously when the whole thing is filled with computer graphics that are supposed to be realistic but do not look realistic. Of course, the ending shows that the graphic designers are just tired of doing things, because when the Scorpion King shows up, this time not played by The Rock but portrayed as a huge scorpion with a poorly computerized face of The Rock, all I could think of was the ending of the movie coming into sight.
The Mummy Returns could have been something decent if it just handled a few things differently, but how it is leaves little to be desired for. Action and computer graphics cannot make up for the lack of everything else, and The Mummy Returns in no way beats out the original movie. And in the end, what is the point of a sequel if you can see everything better in the original? Maybe next time, if there is a next time, the movie should focus more on the title character, and go for a more down-to-earth and creepy atmosphere, instead of an epic graphics extravaganza that the cheesy screenplay obviously cannot handle.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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