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The Mummy Returns (2001)
Although it's not likely to gain any converts among those who disliked the first film, 1999's The Mummy, The Mummy Returns won't displease any of us who loved that magical bandage adventure, either. Director/writer Stephen Sommers makes all the smart moves, providing a film that retains the stylistic complexity and atmosphere of a proven success, while extending the mythology in a way that brings us further into a pleasant fantasy world and opens many doors for future Mummy-related films, one of which is already in the works.
The Mummy Returns is a sequel that can certainly be seen and enjoyed on its own, but it's preferable to watch The Mummy first, as the story is continued in a serial fashion here. Sommers picks up the narrative 10 years after The Mummy. Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), our Indiana Jones-ish hero, has married his love of the first film, Evelyn (Rachel Weisz). As a married couple will do, they also have a spunky, smart kid, Alex (Freddie Boath). The O'Connell's are back in Egypt, further raiding tombs for treasures, when they find confirmation (which the audience has already received through a breathtaking, cgi-fueled opening) of the existence of the Scorpion King (WWF wrestling legend, The Rock), who they previously thought to only be a myth. Of course, the bad guys also know about the Scorpion King, and they have a plan to resurrect Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the Mummy menace of film number one, and gain control of the Scorpion King's power. Unfortunately, the O'Connell's, partially by accident, stand in their way. And so goes the premise of this action-packed, thrill-a-minute visual spectacle.
It's nice to have the core cast of the first film back for the sequel. The characters seem tailor-made for these actors, and the two major new additions, Alex and The Scorpion King, have depth and promise for future films (The Scorpion King film, a prequel of sorts, is already in production, and The Mummy Returns producer James Jacks has mentioned the possibility of doing a modernized sequel featuring Alex as an adult).
Because of the stylistic complexity -- The Mummy Returns ranges from comedy to surrealism, romance, visceral scares (my wife was grabbing my arm a few times in the theater), and beautifully choreographed martial arts--it requires a wide-ranging cast who might not easily mesh in other hands. Sommers combines these disparate elements seamlessly, however, and the end result has something that should please everyone, except perhaps for those folks who are trendily anti-cgi, and who should lock themselves up in their broom closets and watch Shakespeare in Love for the thousandth time.
In fact, pleasing everyone was one of the stated goals. As Vosloo pointedly noted in a recent interview in Wicked magazine (May/June 2001), "There are very few movies where you can literally take the 10-year-old kid and the parents and grandparents, from 10 to 80, and just go and buy a big-ass thing of popcorn and just all hang out and watch a movie together...even if you're into German existential art movies, on some level you can enjoy a movie like this because it's just a fun summer movie."
Sommers nicely quotes some elements from The Mummy, as an effective means of perpetuating a style characteristic, and builds on that vocabulary to create marvelous new beasties, such as the Scorpion King's supernatural army, and the wonderful creatures who inhabit the oasis. There are also entertaining new behaviors for familiar faces, such as the thrilling wall-running of Imhotep's stooges.
And speaking of stooges, the Evil Dead -- and especially Army of Darkness -- influences are even stronger here, a fact that might make some of you run further away, but that those of us who aren't lame love. We even get another instantiation of the two-fingered mummy eye-poke.
When interviewed for The Mummy, Sommers kept mentioning, among others, his love for the Indiana Jones films. I agree with him there; Sommers' Mummy films capture most of the best properties of the Indy films, and I can't imagine that anyone with a love of Lucas' work would dislike Sommers', unless they're militantly anti-anything that has a strong influence from other films, in which case they can take a seat in the broom closet with the other trendoids.