The Mummy Returns
And this time, they’ve brought their kid! Somehow, my previous encounter with this movie (at the cinema) did not leave an indelible memory of the smart-talking, trash-mouth brat in Stephen Sommers’ atrocious sequel. That might be because the main impact was borne by the deluge of hyperactive CGI, often of indefensibly poor quality.
The first film is passable in an empty-headed, frenetic way. But the sequel takes everything about it that was borderline annoying and ups it to relentlessly abusive levels. It’s a wearisome, tension-free experience, in which the residing ethos is “the more special effects there are, the better the resulting film must be”. Of which, they start off looking crudely “epic” (computer-generated vistas set in pharaonic times) but by the third act nothing passes muster. It’s a wonder that they considered of release standard, but anyone who has seen a Stephen Sommers film knows that he has inverse quality control.
The plot this time, dreamed up yet again by the creatively-challenged auteur, finds Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) with an eight-year-old genius son (Freddie Boath, who plays Alex, is miraculously still working) who irritates from his first scene. Few directors have a good understanding of how to portray kids in adventure movies (Spielberg is a notable exception), and this is just further confirmation. Think Last Action Hero levels of smug preciousness and you’ll be close. Directors seem to be under the illusion that kids like to see kids on screen. They don’t. They want to see Indiana Jones, and failing that Rick O’Connell. But definitely not their children.
Sommers was open about Universal demanding a sequel the day after the 1999 film opened to unexpectedly vast returns, but he clearly didn’t have a clue about what to do with it. Imhotep is unearthed, so is his bint. But this time he is required to defeat the fearsome Scorpion King and assume control of his army. Otherwise the Scorpion King will take over the Earth much as Arnold Vosloo threatened to do first time out.
The Scorpion King is introduced in the prologue played by a wrestler taking his first tentative steps into the acting arena. He’ll do pretty well for himself, all told, but this is a stinky introduction (the prequel film is a better prospect). When he returns in the climax, as one of the crummiest CGI creations you’ve seen in a blockbuster movie, you’ll have given up all hope for his career.
Borrowing one of the worst tricks in George Lucas’ storybook-for-beginners, Sommers retcons his main characters as possessing manifest destinies intertwined with Egypt. So Rick suddenly has a scorpion tattoo on his arm while Evelyn has become clairvoyant and aware of a past life in the time of Imhotep. Oh, and the boy is of crucial importance. This is desperately feeble stuff, with Sommers even resort to a girl-on-girl catfight at the climax.
There is no weight to the CGI, or the drama. Where there were torrents of scuttling beetles, now there are waves of scorpions (must be the same computer programme). And waves with faces. And pigmies and airships. It’s all quite exhaustingly poor. Alan Silvestri furnishes the film with a truly lousy score, the sort of blandly generic fare you’d find in a ’70s family adventure movie. If there were any thrills or tensions to be found in the movie, the composer studiously avoids them.
None of the actors come out of this with honours. Hannah and Fraser manage to keep their heads above water while spouting Sommers’ tiresomely anachronistic gags. Weisz is stranded with some frightful action chick posturing. Lost’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is at least allowed to show an active distaste for young Alex, so I guess he’s something of an audience surrogate.