In true sequel fashion, "The Mummy Returns" is notably bigger and arguably more extravagant than its predecessor, 1999's suitably rip-roaring box office smash "The Mummy
." It's also more convoluted, roughly half as charming, and comes with far chancier CG effects from Industrial Light & Magic. At least the gorgeous cinematography from Adrian Widdle is a winner, making full, wise use of its incredible vistas and myriad settings (including the Egyptian desert, a mystical jungle, and 1930s-era London). The whole enterprise certainly tries hard to top what came before, but in doing so it comes with a manufactured, less organic feel.
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, trapped on Alex's wrist, and set out to kidnap the young boy from his parents. It is only Alex, it seems, who knows of the whereabouts of the long-dead The Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson), a powerful ruler who holds the key to ruling the world.
The inevitably ludicrous plot in "The Mummy Returns," written and directed by Stephen Sommers, is a passable one, but requires a gaping suspension of disbelief. While the film is a little larger in scope than "The Mummy," it's also more scattered, an endless parade of mummies, flesh-eating scarabs, resurrected pygmies, and even a giant scorpion too often looking cartoonish rather than plausible. In 2001, many of these effects felt dated, and in 2017 they verge on laughably quaint, as when our protagonists are chased in a dirigible by a monstrous wall of water. Indeed, computerized water effects have come a long way since the start of the twenty-first century.
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. Arnold Vosloo, as Imhotep, continues to strike an imposing, magnetic figure. 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 they did before. The romance works well under the confines of the story, but Rick's penchant for one-liners quickly wear out their welcome, becoming more cornball than witty. 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, then-WWF wrestler The Rock (not yet credited as Dwayne Johnson) makes a bookending cameo as The Scorpion King. He is dreadful and clearly inexperiencedquite the disparate dichotomy for a soon-to-be A-list performer with charisma, even naturalism, to spare.
"The Mummy Returns" offers an intermittent diversion, with action sequences involving a London double-decker bus chase and an attempt to outrace the rising sun offering a certain skill and excitement. So much of the proceedings, however, wallow in the mechanical and obligatory. Rightfully knowing that our heroes are all going to live before the first frame flickers on the screen also eases much of the suspense that might have been there; the solitary instance where the fate of a character is put into question also happens to be its most involving moment. It's promptly back to basics after this. In Universal Studios' quest to attract the widest mass audience it can garner, it has stripped away the main purpose of the mummy legend: to frighten. Alas, "The Mummy Returns" is never scary, trading tension for a cavalcade of impersonal, unconvincing visual effects.
©2001/2017 by Dustin Putman