The Mummy Returns

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

THE MUMMY RETURNS

6/10/10

USA 2001
director / script : Stephen Sommers
cinematography : Adrian Biddle
editing : Bob Ducsay, Kelly Matsumoto
lead actors : Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, Arnold Vosloo, Patricia Velasquez
129 minutes

The British censors have laid an egg by slapping a ’12’ certificate on Mummy II – it means most of the target audience will have to content themselves with pirated video. Because, despite the odd scary moment, this is kiddie fare through and through. Tell-tale signs: a 6-year-old in a central role (Freddie Boath as Alex, gratingly precocious offspring of Fraser and Weisz) and the amusingly ludicrous appearances by WWF uber-knucklehead Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as ‘The Scorpion King.’ He gets to bellow one incomprehensible line before he’s replaced by a laughable computer-generated version of his mutated self – veteran Brit character actor Alun (Get Carter) Armstrong isn’t so lucky, having to chew his way through some of the script’s ropiest dialogue as a sinister fez-wearer. It’s hard to tell whether his purply-bronze face is the result of ‘ethnic’ make-up or terminal embarrassment.

This is video-game cinema, 2001 vintage – as the FX gallop into the future, so everything else regresses to the most cobwebby old-fashioned level, but we barely have time to notice, let alone mind. Sommers’ technique mainly consists of flinging one thing after another into the audience’s face – literally, in many instances, to the extent that the movie feels like it’s been made with 3-D in mind. The cumulative effect is one of sensation-fatigue: “Now what?” as Treat Williams was fond of remarking in Deep Rising, Sommers’ enjoyably ramshackle pre-Mummy flop.

He doesn’t even have time to bother with opening titles. At one point Alex dons a gaudy bit of pharaoh jewellery, which turns a hologram projector, taking him on a virtual magic-carpet ride through the film’s various Egyptian locales – “Whoosh! Karnak!” – and this is the level at which The Mummy Returns operates. The countless flashbacks to thousands of years BC make for a very confusing plot – a deliberate ploy, of course, as the script mainly consists of getting from one set-piece climax to the next.

This has the benefit of engaging the attention of even the most impatient viewer, but the hastiness also means are several missed tricks along the way, viz:
* Until the last moment, the film intriguingly presents the romance between two of the villains (Vosloo and Velasquez) – as at least the equal of that between the hero and heroine (Fraser and Weisz). But after much Egyptobabble about eternal passion, when push comes to shove the script lets both us and Velasquez down by having her abandon her paramour in his moment of direst need. This does, admittedly, give Vosloo a brief chance to show off his acting skills (he’s apparently a leading stage star in his native South Africa), but it’s still a cheap trick.
* Alex is introduced to us as an inventor-prodigy, constructing ingenious mousetraps – but this talent is never put to use, or even mentioned again. Instead, the plot ends up relying on the kid being revealed as a skilled sculptor of sandcastles.
* We’re told it’s 1933, but no reference is made to the original Mummy starring Boris Karloff, one of the year’s major box-office hits. Director Karl Freud went for the poetic approach, emphasising the tragic, lyrical aspects of the material, and Sommers, whose take on the material couldn’t be more different, might have had a chase through a cinema with one of his own kamikaze zombie-mummy creations ripping through the screen.

It’s not as if he’s incapable of sly visual in-jokes – a dirigible floats past the moon in the inevitable ET homage, while at one point the bald Vosloo bangs a gong, for no special reason other than to remind older viewers of the Rank films logo. Later on, a chase through a forest involves some log-bridge shenanigans that are a clear nod to King Kong, an even bigger horror smash of the era. But this is, of course, 1933 in name only – by making Alex half-American and half-English, Sommers thinks he can get away with putting some insufferable, wildly anachronistic dialogue in the brat’s mouth: “My dad is going to kick – your – arse!”, he informs Vosloo, halting the movie in its tracks.

In such a context, the few minor touches of historical accuracy stand out a mile – there’s a protracted chase sequence involving an old-fashioned red London bus, which carries an eyecatching ‘DO NOT SPIT’ notice for the benefit its passengers. It’s also reminder for the audience, of coure – if you’re happy enough to pay your money to ride a rollercoaster, it’s churlish to get off and criticise the ride for a mechanical experience, regardless how infantile and soulless it may seem in retrospect.

24th May, 2001

by Neil Young
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