At least you can’t say that The Mummy Returns didn’t try to improve upon its predecessor, or, at the very least, maintain the same standard. Here is a film with pretty much the same cast, a larger budget, more refined CGI, and a cameo turned in by The Rock. It is a film that is using the “bigger is better” school to sequel making, something that generally works pretty well for these no-brain action flicks.
Our film opens with a flashback, informing us of a man named the Scorpion King (Dwane “The Rock” Johnson) who was the greatest warrior the world had ever seen — back in 3000 BC, that is. He was eventually defeated, cursed by Anubis, and made a deal with the god, turning over his soul to be given the power to defeat everyone in his path. After an action scene, the soul is claimed, the Scorpion King and his army are removed from the face of the planet, and we’re going to move forward to present day.
Well, we’ll go to 1933. That’s close enough to present day. We meet our heroes from the first film, Rick and Evelyn O’Connell (Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz respectively), a duo who previously managed to defeat a resurrected mummy bent on destroying the world. They also fell in love, and have an eight-year-old son named Alex (Freddie Boath). The family manages to find the Scorpion King’s bracelet, it sticks to Alex’s arm, and before you know it, we’re on a quest to find a pyramid which contains the Scorpion King.
That’s not all, however, as that would be too easy. A separate group of people, led by one Meela Nais (Patricia Velásquez), has brought back the mummy from the first film, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), who captures the son and uses him in order to find the Scorpion King. Most of The Mummy Returns is actually an extended chase sequence in which Rick, Evelyn, Evelyn’s brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), and Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) all chase after Imhotep in order to stop not only him, but the Scorpion King as well. See, bigger is better.
Or, it might be if the payoff was actually worth it. Unfortunately, it appears as if either the film’s money or time allotted ran out, as the ending is a huge letdown. Oh, you get a couple of action scenes — I think there were three fights going on at once — but it’s all so poorly done that it’s not worth your time. The Scorpion King especially looks awful. Basically what you get is a poorly rendered CGI Rock caricature set on top of a scorpion’s body, then blown up to make him about three times larger than a normal human being.
This wouldn’t be a problem if this creature actually looked like it belonged in this universe. When CGI models are being used, they go through a series of revisions before the final result that you see on-screen. This one looks as if they only got through about half of the revisions that the production team would have liked, and as a result looks atrocious. It stands out and doesn’t ever look like it’s interacting with the people it’s fighting.
I wouldn’t have minded this so much if it wasn’t so much of a pivotal point in the film. We’re building up to his appearance right after we head to 1933, and after we finally see him, it’s a let-down. I’m surprised that they didn’t place him in more darkness, but the terrible CGI is on full-display for the world to see. The other major fight during this time pits Patricia Velásquez and Rachel Weisz against one another, leading me to wonder why neither actor is a huge action star. Their sai (and other weapons) battle is the highlight of the film, so good that the filmmakers end up including it twice.
The Mummy Returns doesn’t have much of a plot, instead favoring lots of action and special effect sequences. Apart from the terrible Scorpion King rendering, the visual effects are actually quite good. Even the mummy version of Imhotep is a major step up from the 1999 iteration. Unfortunately, with not much of a plot, there’s little to satisfy those of you looking for anything other than a brainless action film containing characters you’ve already grown to like or hate thanks to the previous film.
Actually, when an action scene isn’t going on, most of The Mummy Returns does is reference its predecessor. It seems to proud of everything that happened before that it wants to draw your attention to it at every instance. These characters don’t develop or even get interesting because they’re so deeply rooted in the past that it’s impossible for them to grow. Any chance they get, they’ll make reference to The Mummy in some way or another. You might expect some in-jokes regarding earlier Mummy films like the 1932 one, or perhaps the series from the 60s, but that’s not what happens. It’s too self-indulgent for that to happen.
The Mummy Returns is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a sequel to 1999’s The Mummy. It’s loud, it’s filled with special effects, and there isn’t much to sustain an audience apart from constant action scenes and references to the last installment. If all you want from this film is a bunch of action, or maybe some solid chemistry between Fraser and Weisz, you’ll probably enjoy yourself. If you’re looking for a smart action film, or one that’s satisfying in any other way, you’ll want to look elsewhere, as The Mummy Returns never comes close to being that good.