Our review of The Mummy Returns (HD DVD), published February 12th, 2007, is also available.
The most powerful force on Earth is about to be unleashed by the two people who should know better.
In the spring of 1999 The Mummy was released and unleashed hordes of decomposing corpses, flesh-eating scarabs, and Biblical plagues onto an audience in the glory of digital special effects. When I first heard of this film, I really doubted that Brendan Fraser could be a believable action hero, and it just looked like another case of a big, dumb summer movie. I was gladly wrong. Make no mistake: The Mummy was a big, dumb summer movie, but it was an enjoyable big, dumb summer movie. The Mummy managed to provide an entertaining story, probably for no other reason than it never manages to take itself too seriously while not straying too far away from the themes of the original Boris Karloff vehicle of the same name. Fraser managed to pull off the action hero bit, and mainstream audiences got a good look at the beautiful and talented Rachel Weisz. The Mummy managed to gross about a jillion dollars worldwide despite any misgivings about the film, and the visual and sound effects garnered three Academy Award nominations. The subsequent DVD release of The Mummy was equally dazzling, providing an outstanding example of what these shiny little discs could achieve.
Any time a film makes as much money as The Mummy, a sequel is inevitable and The Mummy Returns was born the morning after it premiered. Unlike many other sequels, the entire principal cast was reunited with the original writer and director, Stephen Sommers, to pick up where its predecessor left off. It was met with another impressive run at the box office, and now an equally, if not more, impressive DVD release has made its way to store shelves.
Facts of the Case
Thousands of years ago there was a great leader called The Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson, AKA professional wrestler "The Rock") who led a vicious campaign against civilized Egypt. After seven bloody years, his armies were turned back and died in the desert on the return to Amn Shere. With his dying breath, the Scorpion King (or S.K., as his friends knew him) pledged his soul to Anubis if he would be spared so that he might crush his enemies. Anubis answered the call and the Oasis of Amn Shere sprung out of the desert sand along with the warriors of Anubis, brutal dog-headed warriors who managed to lay waste to Egypt. All good things must come to an end, however, and the Scorpion King was returned to the sand, where he waits for the day he will be reawakened to once again conquer the world.
Flash forward to 1933, which is ten years after The Mummy takes place. We learn that our heroes Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser—Bedazzled) has married Evie (Rachel Weisz—Enemy At The Gates) and they now have a young son, Alex (newcomer Freddie Boath). It turns out the O'Connells have been actively pursuing various treasures in Egypt over the past ten years, and in the opening of The Mummy Returns they come across the Bracelet of Anubis, previously seen on the wrist of the Scorpion King. The keys to the ruins are unlocked with the help of visions that Evie has had of ancient Egypt, as though she had been there at one point. After fending off some goons who want the bracelet for themselves, they return to London.
Meanwhile, in another part of Egypt, a mysterious woman named Meela (Patricia Velazquez, reprising her role from The Mummy) is leading an excavation at the lost city of Hamunaptra, where she unearths the rotted corpse of the mummy Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo—Hard Target) as well as a swarm of those nasty flesh-eating scarabs from the first film. The three goons who tried to kill Rick and Evie arrive to announce their failure to retrieve the bracelet, but they know where to go to find it.
In London, Meela's henchmen, led by Lock-Nah (an imposing Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje), then invade the O'Connell residence, as they try to obtain the bracelet, which is now secure on the wrist of an inquisitive son. With the help of former ally Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) and Evie's roguish brother Jonathan (John Hannah—Four Weddings and a Funeral) the brigands are chased off, though they manage to run off with Evie in tow. A quick pursuit leads to the London Museum, where a bunch of ne'er-do-wells manage to bring Imhotep back to life.
It turns out that Meela is the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namum, Imhotep's squeeze from ancient Egypt who he wishes to bring back not only in body, but also in spirit. After that, he plans to venture to the Oasis of Amn Shere where he will confront and kill the Scorpion King so he can gain control of the Army of Anubis and lay waste to the world.
Standing in the way, of course, are our heroes. Standing in their way however are hordes of mummies, scorpions, dogmen warriors, and mummified pygmies, all brought to life in glorious 1s and 0s.
One of the usual problems with a sequel is that it never seems to live up to the original film that inspired it. In this case, The Mummy was a rather enjoyable film that couldn't really seem to find its identity, crossing between adventure, horror, and comedy. It was this lack of tonal direction, however, that set The Mummy apart from other big summer movies and actually gave it an identity. Stephen Sommers approached The Mummy Returns with a clearer idea of what the film should be. It's really an attempt to provide more of the same, but also to do it bigger and on a grander scale. The Mummy Returns is undeniably bigger in scope than its predecessor, with the plot description I gave above not even beginning to do the film justice. Subplots abound, including the abduction of Alex, who will die if he does not reach the Temple of Amn Shere by sunrise of the seventh day after putting the Bracelet of Anubis on his wrist. There's also a great deal of detail regarding Evie's visions of the past and her mysterious connection to Meela, which is shown by splicing in new film with footage from The Mummy in a terrific flashback sequence. Then there's the whole bit about a tattoo on Rick's wrist (kept covered by a leather band throughout the first film, apparently) that Ardeth claims signifies that he's a chosen protector of humanity. The action begins with a harrowing opening scene and very rarely slows down throughout the film. The special effects provided by Industrial Light and Magic are a great improvement over those in The Mummy, and that's really saying something. Time was obviously spent on improving the appearance of Imhotep before he regains his human appearance (he still looks "sticky"), and the results will speak for themselves. This film is really a major assault on the senses that might leave you dizzy and exhausted by the end, which comes well over two hours later.
Another problem with sequels is that they usually forsake character development in favor of just getting to the story. In some ways, The Mummy Returns falls into that trap, but there are some differences to the characters. Evie has become a much more confident and assured woman than the meek, timid librarian we saw in The Mummy, Ardeth Bay is no longer the dark, mysterious stranger with unknown motives, and Imhotep himself receives further development since he can no longer simply be a creature that wants everyone to die.
Yet another problem with sequels is something I call The Scrappy Factor. Back when I was a child, "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" was a great TV show which was eventually marred by the introduction of Scrappy Doo, a puggish runt of a character that I'm convinced was created to torment and annoy everyone within earshot or, more specifically, me. Star Wars had its Ewoks and Jar Jar Binkses, and Scooby Doo had Scrappy. When I initially saw trailers to The Mummy Returns I quickly noted that they would be including a child character in the storyline, and I immediately became very worried that we'd run into that horrible cliché where the child saves the day, something that contributed to the ruin of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Fortunately, this was only partly true. Alex is a linchpin to the story, but thankfully manages to mostly stay out of the climax. Alex does manage to steal a few scenes after he's captured, and some of the interaction between him and the towering Lock-Nah is simply priceless.
And yet even another problem typical of sequels is the expulsion of everything that made the original enjoyable. A perfect example would be the Highlander series where the second film discarded the ideas of the first to rewrite its history and turn it from fantasy into science fiction. Trust me when I say that everything that was fun to watch in The Mummy is present in The Mummy Returns. Flesh-eating scarabs? Check. Mummies formed out of sand? Check. Faces of Imhotep appearing in a magical moving wall? Check. Sword fights? Check. Gun fights? Check. But The Mummy Returns doesn't stop with the old stuff. ILM pulls out all the stops in creating some new enemies. The Army of Anubis is certainly impressive, but I loved the tiny pygmy mummies that inhabit the Oasis of Amn Shere. These things were so cool that I now believe that they should appear in every film being made in Hollywood. There is little doubt that films like Two Ninas or Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles would have been far more enjoyable with digital pygmy mummies terrorizing the cast.
The acting in The Mummy Returns is decent enough for action movie fare. In fact, I'd say it was quite a bit above average. Fraser has the necessary talent, but inexplicably continues to make films like Dudley Do-Right, and Rachel Weisz shows off her acting chops and some impressive stunt work ability in some fight scenes with Patricia Velazquez. With more opportunity to display their respective characters, both Oded Fehr and Arnold Vosloo excel, which was good to see. Some special mention needs to be made of Freddie Boath. Child actors can be really hit or miss. In this case, Boath shows that he may have some talent as an actor. I would not put him on par with Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense fame, but he's credible. Another newcomer to film is The Rock, who does okay for the brief amount of screen time he receives, but I'll get to that a bit more below.
The anamorphic transfer of The Mummy Returns is flawless. Let's face facts. This is mostly a computer-generated film so there's really no reason why it should not be flawless. I detected absolutely no trace of pixellation, edge enhancement, or digital artifacts of any kind during the two viewings I've given to this DVD release. All colors are deep and seem to leap off the screen. The sound itself uses all sound channels to set atmosphere and for the numerous action sequences, and also highlights Alan Silvestri's incredible musical score. This is a reference quality release and Universal deserves a pat on the back since they seem to have outdone their release of The Mummy, which is an impressive feat.
Bonus material on The Mummy Returns is plentiful, and it isn't even one of the "ultimate" editions that Universal has been inflicting us with by way of double-dips. The feature commentary by Stephen Sommers and Bob Ducsay is entertaining and informative. They have a great time pointing out their mistakes, addressing some of the issues brought up by critics and the audience, and pointing out a few bits of trivia, like the references to King Kong and Dr. Strangelove that manage to occur within 30 seconds of each other. I'll admit, however, that I got a little tired of hearing the phrases "the background here is all digital" and "characters here are digitally created." With a film like this, it's a repetitive theme. Other notable features include a "Making Of" documentary that covers a lot of the information that the commentary does not. We also get a feature regarding how some of the bigger special effects were created, an amusing Outtakes reel, and a music video for Live's "Forever May Not Be Long Enough," which is pretty nice since I rather like the band. Another notable feature is the continuation of the Egyptology lessons that began with The Mummy DVD. This feature tries to provide some insight into the culture of ancient Egypt that went into the research and design of The Mummy Returns, an example of which would be some evidence that suggest there may have actually been a Scorpion King at one point in Egypt's history. There's also an interview with The Rock that clocks in at about his total screen time, and an unpolished trailer for the upcoming movie spin off The Scorpion King that will give The Rock a larger star vehicle. There are plenty of other special features such as the trailer, but most of them are pretty standard on other DVD releases.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Let's just get this right out of the way. The Mummy Returns has a couple of plot holes in it. Erm…make that a few plot holes. Um…make that numerous plot holes. The fact of the matter is, if you spend more than three minutes thinking of the finer points of the plot of The Mummy Returns, blood will shoot out of your nose. This might happen especially after Rick O'Connell, carrying his dying son to the Temple of Amn Shere, actually manages to outrun the sunrise. Or maybe after you realize that a blimp filled with hydrogen has fire-spewing rockets attached and can outrun a wall of water. Or maybe even after a portion of the fearsome and deadly Army of Anubis is defeated without a single human casualty. When watching this film, you really should just turn your brain off and go with the flow. In doing so, you'll find the film much more enjoyable.
While Sommers might have had a better idea of what he wanted to do with this film, it's that very direction that removes that which made The Mummy as charming as it was. The comic relief, notably John Hannah's character, is sadly underutilized (though he still has a couple of solid spots) and the screen time this would have taken is filled with a vast array of digital effects. Action is swapped into the film at the expense of story at times. Many people felt that the sequel surpassed the original in quality, but I can't bring myself to agree with that assessment.
I've often wondered why it is that people who claim to have past lives always claim to be the reincarnation of somebody famous. Granted, it's much more glorious to be the reincarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769—1821) then, say, Phillip, the pig slop boy (1563—1581). In The Mummy Returns Rick is, unbeknownst to him, one of the Majeri, a group of warriors born to protect mankind from evil. Evie is the reincarnation of Neferteri, daughter of the Pharaoh murdered by Imhotep in The Mummy. Meela, as previously mentioned, is the reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namum. And a good friend of mine insists he's the reincarnation of Melvil Dewey (1851—1931), inventor of the Dewey Decimal System and bane to grade school students everywhere. My point here is that there's maybe just a bit too much coincidence at work here.
My final complaint really has to center around The Rock, who appeared in what had to be the absolutely most overhyped cameo of all time. Seriously. He's in The Mummy Returns for all of about six minutes and then replaced by a bunch of 1s and 0s later in the film. If you're watching this movie for the sole reason of catching a glimpse of The Rock, you can turn the movie off once you see Brendan Fraser hit the screen.
The Mummy Returns follows in the tradition of being a big, dumb summer movie, but in the long run that's really okay with me, as it's still a pretty enjoyable piece of eye candy. If you enjoyed The Mummy then you will probably be satisfied with its sequel. If you want a DVD to really show off your home theater system, then look no further.
The Mummy Returns and everyone involved is not guilty and free to go.
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