1999's "The Mummy" (IMDb listing) was simply a gangbang of noise, special effects, and lousy filmmaking. Rewarded with impossible box office, "The Mummy" now begets "The Mummy Returns"the sequel that rumbles into theaters with all the subtlety of a nuclear bomb. Though bomb it won't, "The Mummy Returns" is basically the same journey of nonsense, oppressive special effects, and artistic theft that makes one question just why the initial outing was so popular when obviously the filmmakers hold so much disregard for their audience.
It has been 8 years since explorer Rick O' Connell (Brendan Fraser) and librarian Eve (Rachel Weisz) put the Mummy Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) into his desert grave. They have since married and produced a rambunctious little tike named Alex (Freddie Boath). On a scavenger trip to Egypt, the family O'Connell stumbles upon a bracelet that could unleash the great armies of hell and unearth the fearsome Scorpion King (The Rock) from his underworld. When Alex puts on the bracelet and reveals the true location of the Scorpion King, the agents of evil kidnap the boy and also manage to reanimate the long dormant Imhotep. Rick and Eve are then thrust into retrieving their child, learning about their reincarnated selves, and stopping Imhotep from killing The Scorpion King and taking over the soldiers of evil for himself.
The main concern with these "Mummy" movies is that they are not the grand reinvention of high adventure movies they claim to be. They are merely out and out theft of other, better, adventure films most notably and obviously the Indiana Jones saga. "Mummy" mastermind Stephen Sommers ("Deep Rising" only scratches the surface of his lackluster film career) lightly took from the Spielberg trilogy for his first "Mummy" movie to fashion an adventure picture that was successful simply because I think audiences missed a good time at the movies, not because they truly liked the film. "The Mummy Returns" forgoes such childish attempts to write off the larceny as homage and settles for just blindly grabbing handfuls of Indiana Jones, along with bits and pieces of many other movies. This sense of deja vu doesn't let up throughout the entire picture. Rick even wears a fedora at one point! It's appalling what Sommers gets away with, and even more disgraceful is that he seems to be passing off these set pieces as his own this time out.
Of course, when his fraudulent screenplay fails him, Sommers heaps on the special effects like they were going out of style. Taking up almost 1/4 of the final budget, "The Mummy Returns" has an effect for almost every shot in the film. While undeniably competent, the Industrial Light And Magic wizards' work here is undone by Sommers's limited imagination. The sheer number of effects in the film go far to create the unpleasant feeling of suffocation. I'm sure Sommers was trying to conjure magic and awe with his visuals, however he is such a clumsy director that he mostly elicits a finger-in-ear response.
Effects wise, the biggest oversight comes in the finale when The Rock finally reemerges as The Scorpion King. Lunging from the darkness as a half man-half scorpion beast from hell, this gigantic creation actually looks incomplete and ends up resembling something out of a 1995 CD-ROM game. It's an almost laugh-out-loud effect. For all the work that went into the rest of this picture, the f/x team blows it big time with this mangled conception.
Returning from "The Mummy is the miscast Brendan Fraser and the slumming Rachel Weisz. Look closely into their eyes during the film and you can see the strain of contract obligation in them. It's so sad. Also coming back for second helpings is Arnold Vosloo as the title character. As with the first film, the very sight of Vosloo's slightly cooked and doughy body doesn't generate much fear. My sympathy for these actors is great, since they rarely have to act against anything tangible. It limits them to just boring "reacting" acting, and that is no way for Sommers to allow his players to create memorable characters.
Fans of The Rock should note that even though he is prominent in the marketing materials, he's only in the picture for less than 5 minutes.
Sommers also cheats a bit by reinventing his own myth in "The Mummy Returns." Pulling a "Highlander" series technique by altering established truths from earlier installments, "The Mummy Returns" re-imagines the characters as filling a greater role in the legend of the "The Mummy" backstory then by having them just be the innocent bystanders instituted in the first film. A frustrating method to say the least.
Suddenly Rick has a tattoo on his arm that proposes him to be a long lost warrior? A tattoo that he barely acknowledges he even has? Eve's story is also messed with. She is now a long lost descendant of the Pharaoh that Imhotep killed in the "The Mummy." She was even there to witness the actual crime! These kind of whoppers (there are numerous more) go a long way to deepen the new story, yet they are cheating their way into the greater narrative.
Stephen Sommers has never been a skillful storyteller, and "The Mummy Returns" with all its convoluted and sneakily altered subplots clearly demonstrates a lack of finesse on Sommers's part in trying to mount a sequel to his popular original. The whole movie reeks, yet this sequel doesn't even bother to try anything new.
Filmfodder Grade: D-