The Mummy Returns (2001)

Following the success of The Mummy (1999) was always going to be a tall order. The Mummy Returns does its best with director Stephen Sommers upping the thrills; unfortunately, this detracts from the story as much as it supports. Despite a misguided screenplay and overeager direction, the film rollicks along thanks to the returning cast.

Director: Stephen Sommers
Producer: Sean Daniel, James Jacks, Bob Ducsay, Jo Burn, Don Zepfel, Ron Lynch
Writers: Stephen Sommers
Cinematography: Adrian Biddle
Editor: Bob Ducsay, Ray Bushey III
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr, Patricia Velásquez, Freddie Boath, Dwayne Johnson
Runtime: 130 minutes
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures, Alphaville Films
U.S. Release Date: May 4, 2001

Brendan Fraser continues to shine as the neo-Indiana Jones and Rachel Weisz delights with more agency than ever. Their chemistry remains apparent and is bolstered by the addition of a son, Alex O’Connell (Freddie Boath). Monster movies are rich with child characters; however, they often prove more annoying than convincing. Not so with Boath’s performance.

As for the monsters, we are treated to more fleshed out (no pun intended) motives behind Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). To the film’s credit, we sympathize with his story and believe Vosloo’s portrayal of heartbreak; however, the same cannot be said for the main antagonist (arguably), the Scorpion King played by Dwayne Johnson in his film debut.

While the lore behind the character adds interesting layers, the overall execution is shockingly subpar. Johnson is little more than a hulking behemoth, showing none of the trademark charisma he’d become known for (we can attribute this to the script/direction). Furthermore, the computer imagery used to bring the Scorpion King to life is laughable. A rushed production from Universal is to blame, with the designers pressured to accomplish greater spectacle without the proper time. The result is a film plagued by almost cartoon-like graphics. Nothing about the CGI stands the test of time.

As for the screenplay, it is a mixed bag. The humor and action are entertaining enough, but all too often it is used as a crutch to fill run time. The royal duel between between Anck-Su-Namun (Patricia Velásquez) and Nefertiri (Weisz) is a prime example: dynamic and well-paced, but ultimately a distraction to the family drama at the core of the film. As with the Pygmy jungle sequence, it starts well but quickly wears out its welcome, losing steam and believability.

Same, bro. Same.

The Pygmy sequence above all else sticks out like a sore thumb. Unlike say, the scarab beetles from The Mummy, Sommers never roots the Pgymies (or are they monkeys? Unclear) in any sort of lore. Yes, flesh-eating scarab beetles are made-up, but they don’t feel fantastic within the world of the movie because careful groundwork was laid early in the film to establish them as a genuine threat to our heroes in the 20th century. The same cannot be said for the maniacs in the sequel. Such a depiction also lends an air of disrespectful trope-ism to real-life Pygmy culture. The Mummy Returns may be a “dumb” action movie, but a legitimate Sub-Saharan ethnic group deserves more than being portrayed as zombie monkey-like savages.

Actually a pretty funny bit.

With all that said, The Mummy Returns is not a total waste of time. It is a high-energy movie with plenty of humor to maintain your interest. Nonetheless, it suffers from overindulgence in action and humor, forgoing the chilling atmosphere and dramatic tension that makes its predecessor such a classic.

by Vincent S. Hannam

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