The Mummy Returns (2001)
Another Stephen Sommers film, this time the sequel to one I reviewed just a few weeks ago. I stated then how I thought the sequel was poor - I guess I was wrong! I'm not sure why I disliked this movie so much the first time I saw it, but I had a blast the second time around and think it's a worthy follow up.
'The Mummy Returns' picks up nearly a decade later (though everyone still looks the same age), with Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evie (Rachel Weisz) married and with a son, Alex (Freddie Boath), and seemingly rich from the spoils of their first escapade. Evie's recently been having strange dreams about ancient Egypt, dreams which lead them to an ancient wristband that belonged to the near mythical 'Scorpion King' (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson). The wristband can guide its wearer to the secret Oasis of the Scorpion King, where he can be awakened and fought every 5000 years; if one can defeat him, they obtain the right to command the army of the God Anubis. Unfortunately, the reincarnation of the Mummy's (Arnold Vosloo) lover (Patricia Velasquez) awakens him so that he can defeat the Scorpion King and use Anubis' army to take over the world! When Alex puts on the bracelet and it gets locked onto his arm, the Mummy and crew are forced to kidnap him and use him as their guide. Rick, Evie, her brother Johnathan (John Hannah), and Medjai warrior Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) get on their trail to get Alex back and prevent the Scorpion King from gaining control of Anubis' army.
As with many adventure sequels, this one is bigger in scope. The story structure is quite different as it dispenses with introductions and gets right into the thick of things straight away. This one spans more locations, going from an Egyptian tomb to London to various locales in Egypt before winding up at the mythical Oasis; the adventuring has a globe trotting feel to it. The story is also more complex, with more characters, locations, and incident. For instance, the Mummy achieves his full human form in less than thirty minutes of screentime after he is awakened, a feat that took him most of the running time of the first film to accomplish. Basically it doesn't feel like a replay of the first film. There's plenty of action and adventure throughout, but this time it's more epic and features bigger battles. In fact the climax of this film is massive compared to the fisticuffs finale of the first, and intercuts between multiple concurrent action scenes. The action is great on the whole, and while there's nothing mind blowing it is always spectacular and exciting.
On the downside, the film loses focus on its main characters and feels far too fractured at times. While this allows for a lot of fun supporting characters to shine - particularly Ardeth Bay who finally gets to be the badass that was only hinted at before - it results in the whole thing being just a tad less satisfying. The main trio were a fun group, but the dynamic isn't used to such good effect this time. John Hannah and Rachel Weisz barely register, and Weisz's character has gone from being an adorable bookish nerd to a more tenacious hottie, losing some of her charm along the way. You could call that character development, only it happened offscreen and there's little trace of the original character left! Also not so great is the hokey attempt at mythologizing the story, with reincarnation and 'chosen one' style story elements that are inelegantly slapped on (gasp! this tattoo means you're a warrior of God!). And while the nods to the first film are nice, 'Returns' is occasionally a little TOO self aware and self referential for its own good. There are also some less than effective 'dramatic' moments that seem to be beyond Sommers' ability to sell.
The performances are great all round. Fraser slips right back into the dusty, dirty outfit of the rascally O'Connell, and even though marriage has turned him into a bit of a softie, he's still the same guy at heart. Weisz doesn't have much to do and doesn't seem as into the role, although she has some fun action scenes involving Patricia Velasquez. Velasquez meanwhile has a much bigger role here but besides making for some great eye candy doesn't leave much of an impression (unless you count the part where she sticks her tongue into a CGI Mummy). Vosloo picks up where he left off with a similarly evil performance but now has more to do, and he has a couple of standout moments near the end. John Hannah, like Weisz, registers little. Freddie Boath as the kid does a fairly decent job and manages to not be annoying despite being an impudent little tyke. Oded Fehr is excellent as Ardeth Bay, and he finally gets to kick ass in addition to simply sounding tough and portentous. Oh, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is great as the lead henchman of the Mummy, very funny especially when compared to his role as Mr. Eko on Lost. Many of the other minor players do a good job, particularly the trio of oddball henchmen from early on who I wish had stuck around till the end.
As for the Rock, he barely makes an impact, and most of his screentime is in the guise of a badly rendered CGI cartoon character. The special effects are, barring the Scorpion King effect, generally on par and get the job done without ever coming close to blowing you away. The production values are pretty good overall, though environments tend to feel a little stagy at times, particularly the Oasis. The music, this time from composer Alan Silvestri, is alright but not quite up to Jerry Goldsmith's work.
Even though it doesn't quite match the original, it's a great follow up that is supremely entertaining from start to finish. It's not smart or thought provoking or moving, but it is exciting and fun and is a great two hours of spectacular adventure. I admit it, I was wrong! Fans of the first one ought to find much to like in 'The Mummy Returns'.