The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'The Mummy Returns' great beginning for summer films

May 10, 2001
By Franklin Harris

You know a movie is doing something right when, despite the fact that it is two hours and 20 minutes long, you never check your watch.

In fact, "The Mummy Returns" does a lot of things right. Like "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and "The Empire Strikes Back," it is that rarest of films. It is a sequel that outshines the original.

Finally, The Rock has come back to Thebes.
Photo Copyright Universal Pictures
Finally, The Rock has come back to Thebes.
That isn't to say "The Mummy Returns" is perfect. If you think about it, the thing is shot through with plot holes. But unlike other intellectually challenged films ("Mission to Mars," anyone?), "The Mummy Returns" moves so quickly that you can't stop to think about what is wrong with it. If you nitpick it, you're missing the point.

The action picks up nine years after the events in 1999's "The Mummy." Roguish adventurer Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and bookish archeologist Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) are happily married and busily rummaging through musty Egyptian tombs with their brilliant son, Alex (Freddie Boath), in tow.

They stumble across an ancient bracelet that once belonged to the Scorpion King, played by pro wrestler Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock.

The Scorpion King was a warrior who made a pact with Anubis, the Egyptian god of the underworld. In exchange for Anubis' help, the Scorpion King would someday rise from his grave and, with Anubis' army of jackal-headed warriors at his command, plunge the world into darkness.

I'm too distracted to think of a joke or this picture.
Photo Copyright Universal Pictures
I'm too distracted to think of a joke for this picture.
Of course, no sooner do our heroes find the bracelet, which holds the key to resurrecting the Scorpion King, than three evil henchmen types show up to steal it.

Meanwhile, another archaeological dig with a more sinister purpose is going on in Hamunaptra, the Egyptian city of the dead. And soon the original film's bandaged bad guy, Im-Ho-Tep, played by Arnold Vosloo, is back among the living and eager to have the Scorpion King's bracelet for his own. With it, he can find the Scorpion King's resting place, take control of Anubis' army and rule the world.

You have to love a guy with ambition.

A few gunfights, a bus chase and a couple of kidnappings later, and we're off on a race across the desert, with time running out for the entire world.

Back from the first film are Oded Fehr as the Egyptian warrior Ardeth Bay, John Hannah as Evelyn's no-account brother, Jonathan, and Patricia Velazquez as Im-Ho-Tep's reincarnated lover, Anch-Su-Namun.

And while I'm talking about the cast, I must single out Boath for praise. Child actors in action/adventure movies usually come across as irredeemably annoying. Think Anakin Skywalker, Wesley Crusher or the two brats in "Spy Kids." But Boath's Alex comes across as a normal child, albeit one with an IQ of 200, rather than as a cartoon cutout.

Fans of "The Mummy" will certainly enjoy "The Mummy Returns," because everything the first film did well with its mix of action and humor this film does better. Writer/director Stephen Sommers has definitely perfected his craft, assuming all he wants to do is direct action comedies.

Critics will no doubt complain that the computerized special effects look cartoonish, and they do. But they are no more distracting than the stop-motion special effects in movies like "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" or "Jason and the Argonauts." And if anyone feels like insulting the special effects of the great Ray Harryhausen, them's fightin' words.

Look! It's Elvis!
Photo Copyright Universal Pictures
Look! It's Elvis!
Of course, you shouldn't go into "The Mummy Returns" expecting a horror movie. It isn't a horror movie. Instead, it's in the tradition of '30s and '40s adventure serials. If you want a horror movie, rent Boris Karloff's version of "The Mummy" from 1932.

I only bring this up because I've already seen a few horror fans on the Internet complaining that the movie isn't scary enough.

And wrestling fans shouldn't expect to see much of The Rock. His part is barely a cameo, although The Rock is getting his own prequel film, to be called (what else?) "The Scorpion King."

If there is anything disappointing about "The Mummy Returns," it is that this time out, Im-Ho-Tep is more of a stereotypical, world-conquering baddie, although Vosloo does instill him with some humanity at the end. In "The Mummy," he was something of a sympathetic villain, with his main goal being to resurrect his lost love.

"The Mummy Returns" isn't a great movie, but it is a good one. It's certainly an excellent way to start the summer movie season.

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