REVIEW of THE MUMMY RETURNS
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Last night we caught the midnight showing of The Mummy Returns, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as the original (updated) Mummy, I didn’t think it was bad. (Please keep this in mind while you read this review – I’m going to get carried away here, I’m sure of it.) The first movie had a certain charm to it. It was about normal (if kooky) people rising to meet a supernatural horror, and it was secure in that. The movie knew it was walking a very well-trodden path, but succeeded in restoring to the genre some of the good-natured fun that it had back in the era of the B-movie, before multi-million dollar budgets required all evil to be Ultimate Cosmic Evil (Without even licensing the concept from the estate of H.P. Lovecraft!) and all good to be utmost, brightest, legendary good. There are no shades of gray in today’s megablockbuster. The Mummy had special effects, but they weren’t gloated over. They were there when they had to be, and while there was a little melodrama in the first movie, the hero was just this guy who happened to know the location of the Tomb of Horrors. (I will endeavor to make that the only Dungeons & Dragons reference in this writeup, but I make no promises.) In Mummy Returns, he turns out to be a “Magi” something or other, with a tattoo on his arm which was never seen in the first movie, and in fact an ally of the same heroic tribe of nomadic desert layabouts who tried to kill him in the first movie for disturbing the tomb that eventually made this movie possible. Oops.
In Mummy Returns, everyone has been given super powers. It is revealed that the heroine is not only the reincarnation of ol’ Hollow Skull’s love interest, but also now is given to remember various things about this previous life. (Actually, I was a bit confused when some of the backstory for the first movie was undone through the addition of additional multi-millennial flashbacks, including the addition of another reincarnated love interest, which makes me wonder why he went through so much trouble to secure her in the first film.) Now, I think it is safe to say that, in the movie’s context at least, we are all reincarnations of various ancient peoples. So why is it only the reincarnations of royalty and their hangers-on get to have flashbacks into previous lives? Probably because the reincarnated editions of most people, say, a generic Greek citizen or some serf in feudal Europe, have lives which aren’t interesting enough to relive. “Hey! I can suddenly remember where my distant, previous self hid his silverware!” (Also, if we’re all reincarnations, who were the first people reincarnated from? Please, dear God, someone tell me that this movie doesn’t have the tenets of Scientology as the foundation for its metaphysics.)
Secondly, this movie sees the continuation of a trend we’ve been seeing in these Hollywood spectaculars for some time, and that is the addition, in post-production, of evil monsters and dire perils which were obviously not planned during filming, and just Photoshopped in shortly before release. The first example that comes first to my mind was the skeleton monster in the Dungeons and Dragons movie (oops, there I go again) who was summoned at the end for the sole purpose to claw all over the Empress while she tries to use her Scepter of Battle Winning. The most blatant example in this film was the pit into which the hero and the un-hero are dangling by their hands. Now, in movies made before the advent of computer imaging, it would just be a pit, or there might be lava in there, or snakes, or scorpions, or flame, or flesh-boring scarabs. Here, it’s the tortured souls of the damned, extending downward into infinity, each writhing and shrieking in agony, and pulling at the legs of our intrepid danglers.
What I’m wondering is, why wasn’t the pit enough? I mean, plummeting into lava or down a bottomless chasm is dangerous enough for any movie. Why does it have to be filled with the tortured dead, too? The answer is twofold. First, it is the custom of these summer blockbusters to get steadily louder and louder, more and more CGI-laden, as the evening wears on, so the movie becomes a steady progress of effort and expense, each scene of which having to top the one before in some way, leaving the audience afterward feeling the twin needs for cigarettes and hearing aids. The other reason is a strange reluctance on the part of the director and script-writers to believe, after two decades of increasing stridency for this stuff, a particular scene seems dangerous to the audience. So, the undead jackal-army is bad, yah, but is easily defeated. But, oh no, there was another undead jackal-army ten times as large over that sand dune! D’oh! It isn’t enough that the Scorpion King at the end of the film be played by a big, mean professional wrestler, oh no, he actually has to *be* a scorpion, which causes this reviewer to wonder (yes, I’m wondering again) why they bothered to cast him, anyway. Surely they could have just CGIed in any old person since acting ability seems irrelevant to the role. (Wait! Okay, I see why they chose The Rock, now.)
Time to own up. I really didn’t think The Mummy Returns was that bad of a film. The melodrama has been upped a few notches, but the characters are still the wonderful, self-aware, “why-the-hell-is-this-happening-to-us” types from the first film. I actually didn’t mind the addition of the kid in this one, which would spell doom in a lesser movie, who was smart and clever, in fact far smarter and cleverer than any real kid would have a right to be, but no matter. The female lead seems to have lost most of the klutziness that, in the first movie, caused the forced reorganization of a library. Here, she, and Brandon Fraiser too, seems to have gone through a crash course in sword-fighting, and also found a way to increase their Dexterity stats all the way up to 18 (another one, augh!). This is explained in the story, retroactively, although it isn’t explained why she couldn’t rely on those skills back in the first movie. The only other explanation I can come up with is that all the characters decided to take the Red Pill.