The Mummy Returns


The early millennium must have been Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory for any filmmaker with adolescent tendencies who had been hired to tackle a sizable summer blockbuster thanks to the leaps and bounds made in digital technology ever since ILM rendered a watery pseudo pod back in 1989 for James Cameron’s The Abyss. Having the limitations that once forced filmmakers like Steven Spielberg (busted shark) and George Lucas (stoned effects guys) removed thanks to some skilled tinkering at a computer allowed directors to realise pretty much whatever they wanted to and some of them certainly didn’t hold back.
On such example is Stephen Sommers, one such filmmaker in particular who has the sensibilities of an over stimulated 12 year old and who in 1999 gave us The Mummy, a jacked up remake to the 30’s classic that breathlessly fused Indiana Jones style action with the Egyptian undead. Unsurprisingly, Sommers was granted a sequel in double-quick time, but how do you top a movie that was already cranked up to full speed with overturning the apple cart? Short answer? You kinda can’t…

Years after banishing the undead Mummy Imhotep back to the land of the not-living, buff adventurer Rick O’Connell has married gutsy librarian Evelyn and the two even have a predictably precocious son together, Alex – however, this hasn’t stopped them from still creeping around tombs as explorers despite the fact that the last time we witnessed them do just that they almost inadvertently caused the end of the fricking world.
During their latest expedition (which for some reason they’ve decided to bring their child on), little Alex manages to get a macguffin called the Bracelet Of Anubis locked onto his wrist which sets off a chain reaction of events that once again could damn the entire planet (God damn it, O’Connells!).
Turns out this ancient Egyptian bling is connected to a warlord from 5000 ago who went by the rather humble moniker of The Scorpion King who sold his soul to Anubis in order to use his supernatural army to conquer rival kingdoms and thanks to the O’Connells, he’ll rise in days if not stopped. Making matters worse, the worshipers of Imhotep have recovered his pixelated corpse and have revived him in order to kill The Scorpion King when he rises to gain control of his army and once again take a punt at taking over the world. Adding to their already packed save-the-world schedule, both Rick and Evelyn both discover that they may have links to the ancient past thanks to some convenient reincarnation for the latter and a mysterious tattoo on the former that suggest they were pre ordained to get up in Imhotep’s business from the very start.
Can our heroes (who technically started all this) manage to wade through an obstacle course of killer mummys, zombie pygmys, murderous tidal waves and a giant Dwayne Johnson/scorpion hybrid before the sands of time finally run out?

The biggest pitfall a huge budgeted sequel has to negotiate is to balance its expanded size with its running time; underachieving on the scale will leave fans feeling short changed, while cramming in as much action shenanigans as you can will have your exhausted audience staggering from your movie like one of the hollow eyed mummys themselves thanks to being overloaded with too much stimulation. The Mummy Returns, while still just about managing to cling onto the genuine charm of the orginal, unfortunately falls into the latter, relentlessly pounding you with scene after scene that barely gives anyone a chance to catch their breath before hurling itself into yet another huge action sequence. It’s here we find the loose bandage in the Mummys figurative ensemble as for the most part the copious action seems to be ripped off from existing scenes – the extended pygmy attack begins with an obvious visual steal from Spielberg’s The Lost World and a scene where a water manipulating Imhotep launches an attack on a rocket powered hot air balloon (no really) is an inferior version of the bit from the first Mummy when the villian controls a shit-ton of sand. Despite an early scene featuring a quartet of Mummy’s attacking our leads as they tear through London on a double decker bus (arguably the franchise’s best scrap), the rest of the overly ernest action swallows everything else whole and it’s a testiment to Brendan Frasier and Rachael Weisz’s charisma that they’re not completely obliterated by Sommers worshiping at the alter of more is more. Virtually everything else is swept aside in the mad rush to cram endless carnage, a metric-ton of exposition on the fly and trying to give all of its leads something to do; everyone, even Oded Fehr’s Ardeth, is paired with an evil opposite number to feud with at the climax and Evelyn’s reincarnation sub-plot somehow feels silly despite being in a movie featuring a tidal wave with a human face.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so much of an issue if The Mummy Returns didn’t contain numerous examples of some of the most impressively awful CGI ever seen in a movie of this size. Monsters rendered so poorly that they look like they’ve crawled out of a Playstation 2 game like the little girl from The Ring share the screen with actors who are blissfully unaware they’re fighting with things that look as realistic as a $3 note. Think I’m being too harsh? Then consider this: the final form of The Scorpion King which sees a soulless, plastic-looking Dwayne Johnson homunculus merged with a Harryhausen-esque scorpion body still regularly tops worst ever CGI lists on the internet twenty years later – a result of greatly truncated post production period required to render these weathered beasties so they all don’t look as abnormally smooth as an Instagram model’s profile pic.
Despite all the good work he put in with the original Mummy (not to mention the little appreciated cult gem Deep Rising), bad CGI and overwhelming action soon became a staple of Sommers’ work as evidenced by the risible Van Helsing and the sweetly dopey G.I. Joe, but while it’s easy to point the finger at the overly ambitious director, some of the blame has to go to the then newly minted love affair Hollywood had with stuffing movies full of unfinished effects while desperately trying to meet release dates set long before cameras even started rolling.

The Mummy Returns isn’t awful, awful, but it is indicative of what happens when directors fall back entirely on technology in favour of filmmaking talent – imagine and shudder at the thought at what Jaws would have looked like if the shark had actually worked – and is a good example as to what happens when CGI calls the shots.
The Mummy (diminishing) Returns…


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