The Mummy Returns (2001) Revisited

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6.5/10

It is said that the British Queen Mum felt addressed by the title of this film, and she joked that the movie posters announced her arrival wherever she went.

The Mummy Returns starts out just like its predecessor: with a lengthy introduction set in ancient Egypt. This time, it is not Imhotep the mummy who is set up as an antagonist, but an enigmatic warrior known as the Scorpion King. For many, this was their first introduction to Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock. 5000 years later, the Scorpion King is awoken, and it is up to O’Connell and Evy to save the world once again. 15 years later, Johnson has a good career while Fraser disappeared. No one would have guessed that in 2001.

But who really cares? Nowadays it just looks like a bunch of crappy CGI armies and puppets. The practical effects look great, but the computer effects look pasted on. In an imitation of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, there is a little annoying kid too. Rick O’Connell and Evy have a little son, Alex, whom they bring along on their adventures. And they’re still digging holes in Egyptian tombs. Haven’t learned their lessons. What’s more, they are the instigators of all the problems this time. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz are still wonderful together, though. They make a great team and a cute couple.

The movie has a symphonic score that it doesn’t deserve. Composer Alan Silvestri crafted an absolute masterpiece of rousing melodies and romantic moments. But I shouldn’t be too critical. The story is very self-aware and even plays with all the clichés and expectations in a conversation between Rick and Evy. Evy describes a new oasis for them to investigate and explains the legends surrounding it, whereupon Rick asks for the catch. Because there’s always a catch. There’s always an army that was never seen again, and a bad guy that will wipe out the world.

It’s really fortunate that the movie isn’t too serious and self-important about its backstory. Comedy is what saves it. Comedy and action, of which there is plenty. After the first 15 minutes, and action scene starts, which keeps on going until the story is over. Like in the first movie, there is constant running and shooting, with a mummy stuck in the middle here and there. A bit confusing is the sudden appearance of Imhotep’s old lover Ankh-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez) early in the film as a living, breathing woman. We are given a lazy explanation that she is the reincarnation of the real Ankh, but that only raises more questions. I guess the plot needed her to be there, but it doesn’t make sense.

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Most of The Mummy Returns is just copied from The Mummy. We have the same types of mummies, and all the visuals are repeated. Instead of bookcases falling in a row, we have pillars falling in a row. Instead of a face appearing in a sand storm, we have a face appearing in a tsunami. And so on. Only in the second half, our adventurers enter new lands and with that comes new ideas. Geographically, it makes little sense. Somewhere in Sudan they enter the jungle and face pygmy mummies.

The CGI enthusiasm is ramped up from the first film, but that was part of the early 00s. Occasionally it makes this movie feel more vapid than the first instalment. The final confrontation with the Scorpion King is the worst transgression in this respect. The lifeless face of a computer generated Dwayne Johnson pasted on a scorpion body has become a textbook example of the Uncanny Valley and of the bad days of early experimentation with 3D animated special effects.

It’s not the worst, even when the Scorpion King character is horrible. It’s an acceptable sequel. One thing that elevates these two mummy films is that they concern two couples of lovers; one on the good side and one on the bad. Imhotep and Ankh-Su-Namun automatically become more interesting opponents this way and are an interesting mirror to Rick and Evy. That symmetry is further explored in this film, and that’s why I like it.

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