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Non-Review Review: The Mummy Returns

I will confess that I enjoyed The Mummy for what it was. It wasn’t ground-breaking or revolutionary, but it was a nice attempt to resurrect the old Universal Monster Movie for modern audiences, with Raiders of the Lost Ark providing a rather clear inspiration. Perhaps part of the appeal was novelty, as we hadn’t seen an old-style monster movie like that in quite some time. I remember being somewhat disappointed on seeing the second film in cinemas, feeling like it just didn’t measure up to the solidly entertaining original. Having caught it again this weekend, I find I’m in firm agreement with my younger self.

I'll stick my neck out and admit I enjoyed the first film...

I think the biggest problem the film has is that the excitement and novelty are gone. As a kid, I’d never seen a movie in cinemas which featured creatures like an Egyptian Mummy. Those sorts of monsters were reserved for holiday late night viewing with my granddad, along with vampires and werewolves. This time around, we know exactly what we’re getting – which means it’s a lot less interesting for us to sit through.

It certainly doesn’t help that the characters seem to feel the same way about their adventure. Sure, the first film had our leads defeat a supernatural all-powerful potentially-world-ending adversary, and it’s nice for the sequel to actually acknowledge it – but it’s very hard to get worked up about the present threat when the characters insist on reminding you every five minutes that they’ve already handled something not too unlike this. “You know,” Rick remarks on stumbling into an occult ritual in the British Museum, “a couple of years ago, this would have seemed very strange to me.” Now it all seems so unimportant. When he confronts a bunch of demon guards, he remarks, “Oh no, not these guys again.” He’s saying it in a tired and exhausted way (one more hurdle he has to work past) rather than a genuinely terrified sort of way.

He's half the man he used to be...

The movie feels exactly the same way. It’s as if the excitement and spontaniety are gone – they’re just missing. In the last film, restoring the evil villain Imhotep was the entire point of the film, with the corpse gradually restoring himself over the course of the film – and everyone genuinely frightened of what a fully-powered Imhotep might be capable of doing. Here, instead, he restores himself completely in a single scene, and nobody really seems too bothered that the villain has returned (they are too pre-occupied with the “even more evil” Scorpion King).

Watching it, I miss the pulp horror feel that defined the original film. Sure, the original wasn’t exactly wading ankle-deep through pools of schlock, but there were more than a few creepy moments – the reveal of the eye-less American, for example, or the way the scarabs attack their prey. Those were moments which scared my younger self. This time around… there’s nothign. There’s just some dodgy CGI and a whole host of awkwardly unfunny comedy.

Cat fight!

That said, the film does have a hint of the charm from the original. Brendan Fraiser is solidly entertaining in the lead, and Rachel Weisz is always worth watching. I actually quite like John Hanna’s “poor loser” schtick here – as far as idiot sidekicks in adventure movies go, Hanna is certainly top-tier. There is a decent sense of fun in putting the band back together, and they have enough chemistry to keep the audience watching.

I also like the fact that the film did allow Rick and Evy to “grow up”, becoming a married couple rather than opting for the safe option of keeping them a young footloose and fancy-free couple. Indeed, you might argue that the rather mundane reactions to the end of the world are intended to reflect the fact that they’ve grown up and that a loving marriage has removed their thirst for adventure, but I don’t buy the logic. It’s nice to see film characters grow (even slightly) in a franchise like this, and it’s especially nice to see a couple grow up together and move their relationship between the stereotypically cheeky flirtation that one expects.

It's interesting to see our leads tied down with family...

Of course, this growth comes with a child. Personally, with John Hanna along for the ride, I don’t see the need for a kid to be involved in all this. But hey, I’m not a Hollywood executive, so what do I know? Anyway, Rick and Evy’s child, Alex, is one of the most annoying child characters I have seen in years. And I sincerely mean that. I’m not sure if it’s some freak collision of writing, direction and acting, but I was genuinely rooting from the guard played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje when he claimed, “When the time comes I shall truly enjoy killing you.” The little smart-ass comes out with arrogant little remarks like “I wouldn’t get too worried just yet” when his parents are dealing with the end of the world. How about you let the people who have actually done this before recommend how worried you get?

And then there’s the really bizarre idea of saddling our two leads with strange backstories. Rick is revealed as “a warrior for God”, while Evy is now a resurrected Egyptian princess. I want to steer clear of that cliché term “everyman” or “everywoman”, but the appeal of the two characters in the first film was how delightfully unassuming and ill-equiped they were for the task at hand. He was a washed-up soldier with a huge ego, and she was a librarian – that was a huge part of the appeal of the story, the delightful randomness of getting caught up in this grand adventure across the sands of Egypt. Making it their destiny just sort of cheapens it.

Gonna cry for your Mummy?

Still, it’s not all bad. Some of the CGI looks quite ropey (and did, I recall, even at the time) – like the attempt to digitally graft the Rock’s upper body on top of a giant scorpion. There are a few nice moments and the film moves along quickly enough that the audience is seldom bored. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re engaged, but it’s not all bad.

The Mummy Returns is a disappointing sequel to what was a fun and exciting little adventure movie. It lacks the trashy horror of the original, and just seems a lot more by-the-numbers. It’s a shame, because I still have a great deal of affection for that action adventure movie.

3 Responses

  1. While this was certainly a step down from the original- a movie that I adored- this was still pretty entertaining and not really a failure in my book. There was some pretty shoddy CGI, especially The Scorpion King at the end, but they still had a pretty good mix of witty humor and adventure to make this fun.

    I’ve still managed to avoid the third film, because it looks like total garbage. I have it on my external hard drive, and will probably fold under pressure here soon.

  2. If you had trouble with this one you should avoid “Dragon Emperor” at all costs.

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