Ten years ago, Ken called The Mummy Returns the worst movie of 2001. A decade later, he went looking for someone to stand up for the Stephen Sommers franchise. Carmen Andres answers the bell:
The Mummy (1999) is one of my favorite films of all time. I am, as Roger Ebert puts it in his review, “cheered by nearly every minute of it:”
I cannot argue for the script, the direction, the acting or even the mummy, but I can say that I was not bored and sometimes I was unreasonably pleased. There is a little immaturity stuck away in the crannies of even the most judicious of us, and we should treasure it.
Indeed, I treasured The Mummy so much I bought the original film poster, which now hangs on a wall sandwiched between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
So, you can understand why I was one of the first in line two years later to see The Mummy Returns (2001). As promised, it was crammed full of, “You know, the usual,” as adventurer Rick O’Connell puts it: “Mummies, pygmies, big bugs.” It picks up nine years after the first, with Rick (Brendan Fraser) and former librarian Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) now married and raising their young son Alex (Freddie Boath) while treasure hunting in Egypt. They come home from their most recent adventure—during which Evie has begun to experience odd flashbacks suggesting she was at one time the daughter of the very Pharaoh that was murdered at the hands of Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velasquez) and the High Priest Imotep (Arnold Vosloo) in the first film—with a bracelet that’s the key to unlocking an unholy army from the underworld. When the bracelet inadvertently attaches itself to the youngest O’Connell’s wrist and the bad guys (who’ve recently resurrected Imotep) kidnap the boy, Evie and Rick begin a grand trek across Egypt to save him—and the world—from the Mummy. Again.
What Was Said Then
The Mummy Returns was even more financially successful than its popular and modestly budgeted original. But like The Mummy, critics were divided pretty much down the middle, and this film garnered a 47% rating at Rotten Tomatoes (seven points lower than its predecessor). More than a few critics wrote that the film felt like a “recycling of the 1999 original.” Ebert himself tipped the other way on this one, writing that the film abandons the characters and “the plot only as a clothesline for special effects and action sequences.” But others enjoyed the film, like USA Today critic Susan Wloszczyna, who admitted the films faults, but posited that “it’s easy to overlook plot holes when your eyes are being boggled” by the special effects, “high-camp” and “cheesy Saturday-matinee style of Cecil B. De Mille.”
What I Say Now
I’ve see this film numerous times in the last 10 years, but this is the first time I’ve sat down to watch it as a critic—and I felt a little like a microcosm of the critic split.
I must admit, this film doesn’t cheer me as fully as The Mummy. There are moments in The Mummy Returns that feel a bit wasted. Evelyn’s “death” feels rather serious for such a light-hearted film; indeed, Weisz too often plays Evelyn as if she’s contending for the Oscar she got four years later instead of romping through a Saturday matinee. And this film, unlike its predecessor, borders on silliness at times; Fraser’s Three Stooges eye-poking of a mummy warrior during the fight on the bus felt like it belonged in George of the Jungle instead of this film. The whole reincarnation plot is a bit murky and the theology, as Ken Morefield points out, is indeed messy, if not completely incoherent. And the CGI for the Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson) leaves something to be desired, even by the standards of 10 years ago.
But the strengths present in the original film are present here, too. The film pokes fun at itself—with its “whole wipe out the world ploy,” as Evie’s brother Jonathan (John Hannah) puts it—and the humor is constant. Fraser and Hannah deliver their lines with snap-on comedic timing. The special effects, swashbuckling and adventure explode onto a grand scale. And rather than recycled, the film revisits the original with a purpose (albeit a murky one), pulling the characters back together in a way that, as Magi Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) puts it, crosses that “fine line between coincidence and fate.”
So, here’s the bottom line: Even after seeing this film countless times over the last 10 years and acknowledging its weaknesses, it still makes me smile. And laugh. And jump and shiver.
And in all its campiness and adventure (and despite its incoherent theology), The Mummy Returns also reminds me of larger truths. While resurrected mummies and armies of Anubis are things of fiction, films like these remind me that there is a larger dimension to this world full of frightening and glorious things—and that, in the end, good has and will triumph over evil. And I have grown to appreciate Rick and Evie’s solid bond with each other and their son, because it reminds me of the power of love to risk and even lay down one’s life for another.
Of course, you could say I’m being too generous, and maybe you’re right (I do, after all, find redeeming things in truly awful films). But the truth is, if you weren’t a fan of the first film, you won’t enjoy this one. Even if you were a fan of the first, you probably won’t like this one as much. But it is still—with all its mummies, pygmies and big bugs—an eye-candied, fun diversion on a Saturday afternoon. Which is was all it was meant to be in the first place.
Carmen Andres is a freelance writer and editor. She makes her blog home at In The Open Space: God & Culture.