Monday, August 15, 2016

The Mummy Returns (2001) (Movie Review)

      The 1999 remake of “The Mummy” is personally one of my all time favorite adventure entertainment movies ever made. But I’m not reviewing that film today, I’m actually saving that review for something else that’s coming up. So for this post, I’ll be reviewing its 2001 sequel titled “The Mummy Returns”. Now it’s no surprise that when Hollywood releases a hit summer Blockbuster, there’s bound to be a sequel, and in most cases the sequel has to be bigger and more epic. In this regard, “The Mummy Returns” definitely succeeds as a larger, and more action packed adventure film. However, being a bigger film obviously doesn’t mean better. There was a time in which I hated this sequel and found it completely inferior to its predecessor, but over the years it’s actually grown on me. Now days I look at “The Mummy Returns” as on par with say “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”, which was the weakest of the original Indiana Jones films, but undeniably a fun adventure film that’s worth repeated viewings. While I still have some issues with “The Mummy Returns”, it’s still a perfectly satisfying adventure sequel.

     Our story begins with the origin of a sinister warrior only referred to as The Scorpion King. Back in ancient times, this evil solder made a deal with the dark Egyptian God Anubis, to take command of an immortal army that he would lead to conquer his enemies. After granting his wish, the God Anubis put both the Scorpion King and his army into a deep sleep at the base of a pyramid, hidden in the middle of mystical oasis. All that remains is a golden bracelet which can lead anyone to the pyramid, where any worthy champion can challenge the Scorpion King in battle for the chance to take command of his immortal army. Back in the present, it’s been nine years sense Rick and Evelyn “Evie” O’Connell defeated the Mummy Imhotep in the previous film. While they’ve had a healthy relationship, and raised a son, Evie is receiving mysterious visions. They lead our hero’s to dig site, where they discover the golden bracelet of the Scorpion King. The bracelet latches itself onto their son Alex, making him a living guide to the hidden oasis. Meanwhile, the O’Connell’s greatest foe Imhotep has been unearthed and revived by an evil sorceries named Meela, who’s also the modern day reincarnation of the mummy’s ancient love Anck-Su-Namun. With these two evil lovers reunited, they kidnap Alex, and use him as their guide, as they aim to take out the Scorpion Kind and command his army. Now the chase is on for our hero’s to rescue their son, learn the secrets of the ancient past, and prevent this clash between two immortal titans. 

    All the cast members from the previous film are back, some with improvements, while others have fallen by the waist side. Rachel Weisz still gives a strong leading performance in the role of Evie. On the flip side, Brendan Fraser is looking tired and is far less charming in the role of Rick O’Connell then he was in the previous film. The comedic side character Jonathan is starting to get grading, and even more pointless then before. The Magi warrior Ardeth Bay reprises his role from the first film, and he’s just as awesome as ever, and really shines in some cool action scenes. The Son Alex is your typical child character, nothing bad, but nothing special either. 
One thing that I have mixed feels about is how the characters are given deeper back stories. Rick for example has become some sort of prophesized hero that can slay the Scorpion King. Evie is revealed to be the reincarnation of an Egyptian princess named Nefertiri, who was the daughter of the very same Pharaoh that was murdered by Imhotep during the flash back of the first movie. On the one hand, it takes quiet the suspension of disbelief that all these people came together like this. But at the same time, all this added back story does make the characters and their relation with the villains a lot more interesting.  

    On that note, the film boast quiet the entertaining collection of different villains, both old and new. 
Arnold Vosloo reprises his signature role as the mummy Imhotep, and his performance is just as good as before. The only down side is that he spends a lot of time in his human form, and we don’t get to see a cool evolutionary progression of his decayed body like we did in the previous movie. The evil sorceries Anck-Su-Namun is another excellent villain, and played very well by Patricia Velasquez, who again is reprising her role from the first film. She steals the show with every scene she’s in, and her character is even more heartless then the Mummy himself, which makes her a lot more fun to hate. There’s also a really cool evil henchman named Lock-Nah, who’s one of those menacing supporting villains that stands out with his own unique cool factor. The only villain I didn’t care for is this one Museum Curator who leads a clan of bad guys with red hoods. This guy just felt like unnecessary added fluff as we already had the mummy, the scorpion kind, the evil sorceries and the nasty henchman. Seriously, what did we need this guy for?  

     Next, let’s cover all the other positive aspects of the film, before I address the negatives. Looking back, I had honestly forgotten how much fun the action sequences are in this film, how busy they are, and how they come in a nice variety too. There’s more gun play, hand to hand combat, and lots of really cool sword fights. There’s a scene in which our hero’s are attacked by the skeleton warriors from the first film, which leads into a deeply thrilling chase on a double decker bus. 
Also there’s not one but two cat fights between our female leads, which both feature great fighting choreography, and two good looking woman fighting each other while dressed in skimpy, tight body hugging outfits. This was one of the main selling images on the poster, and for obvious reasons. I also like that there’s more traveling in this film, and lots of imaginative locations. This helps make the film feel more like an adventure, and it further expands on the mythos and lore of the Mummy universe. I already loved the Egypt setting of the first film, but this movie goes even further with an expanded mythology and more ground to cover. The new instrumental music track was composed by Alan Silvestri, who’s a very talented composer and gives this film a worthy soundtrack that heightens the action and adventure elements of the film. There’s also an original song titled “Forever May Not Be Long Enough”, performed by Live, and it’s actually a really cool song. The theme is admittedly out of context with the film, but it’s still great to listen to, and somehow works along with a film in an Egyptian setting.

     Now it’s time to cover the things that annoy me in this sequel. The first thing to note is that when compared to its predecessor, this film doesn’t have much horror related material. Granted the first film was obviously an action adventure film, but it also kept one foot firmly rooted in the horror genera. It had an occasionally eerie atmosphere and some creepy elements. Considering that our star villain is the Mummy, it just feels more appropriate to have some kind balance between adventure and horror. “The Mummy Returns” is 100% adventure action, with some predictable second rate jump scares thrown in. The closest the film ever gets to feeling like a horror film is this one scene where the decayed version of the mummy kills three people on a train to regain its human flesh, but even that is very mild. A lot of the CGI, while impressive for the time has become very dated, with noticeable green screen effects, and cartoony monsters. We do at least get a nice variety of new creatures, including  an army of dingo faced soldiers, and nasty midget mummy’s.  

     Like many sequels, this film has a really bad habit of recreating scenes and making direct references to the first film. Remember that scene when the mummy created a giant sand storm that formed his face, well he’s doing it again with water. Remember that funny joke with the objects falling over in a domino effect, well this film does it again, lather rinse and repeat. I’d call it a nit-pick, but the film is constantly recreating memorable scenes from its predecessor, as if it’s scared to have an identity of its own. The self-referential hummer is also really tired in this film. Actually a lot of the comedy is border line silly. This especially applies to Brendan Fraser, whose deadpan delivery gets very annoying. Also, the first film had this humble old-school look and feel, where as this film feels more polished and modern, with slow motion and way too much wire work during the action. One minor announce that always gets to me in other films is when a main character dies, and is then brought back at the end. Yes, there’s a scene in this film when one of my favorite characters actually dies, and while I’m happy to see said character come back, it also defeats the drama and just feels pointless. 

     The adventure comes to a close with an epic climax, which harkens back to the style of a “Star Wars” finally, as we watch multiple action sequences at once. Rick battles Imhotep in an exciting final battle, Evie gets into another sword fight with Anck-Su-Namun, and Ardeth leads his Magi army into battle against the army of Anubis. 
It all keeps building to the long awaited resurrection of the monstrous Scorpion King. His design is outstanding, as he’s a giant Scorpion/ human hybrid, but unfortunately the CGI effects that bring him to life are some of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s still a really cool final battle, and there’s one stand out moment that’s almost Oscar worthy. Said moment being when both Rick and Imhotep are about to be dragged into Hell, and each yells out a different plea to the woman they love, only for both woman to do the complete opposite of what they were told. This scene was beautifully shot, very well acted, and leads to the most touching bit of human emotion as conveyed by our main villain just before he dies.

     Shortly after “The Mummy Returns” came a spin-off movie titled “The Scorpion King”, which was also silly, but a harmlessly derivative adventure film. I definitely have more to say about that film, but I’ll save it for my next review. Then there was “The Mummy: The Animated Series”, which ran for two seasons on Kid’s WB. This series continued the adventures of the O’Connell family and featured a whole gallery of new villains and mystical creatures for them to encounter. I remember watching it and liking it okay, but it really wasn’t that memorable either. Then in 2008 came a third film titled “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”, and this one was really bad. In an effort to further expand on the Mummy universe, this film flew way to close to the sun, and became an unorganized, boring mess. The characters are worse than ever, and there aren’t even any mummy’s. Every single problem I had with “The Mummy Returns” is multiplied by 20, and leaving us fans with a hollow and empty shell of a sequel that doesn’t even feel like it’s from the same franchise.  

    “The Mummy Returns” is often described as a lesser sequel, but when compared to everything else that came after, it really isn’t that bad. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that “The Mummy Returns” works just fine as an entertaining, and mostly complete sequel. It develops the characters further, explores the universe more, and features some of the franchises best action sequences. While it’s still dated, and brought down by some noticeable problems, it’s by no means terrible. If fun Saturday afternoon fodder is all you want, then this sequel delivers the goods, and is a mostly entertaining experience.

                                            I give “The Mummy Returns” 3 stars out of 5.                 

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