It's always exciting to go to the first big movie of the summer. It used to be that the blockbuster movie season didn't start 'til Memorial Day, but the studios have been pushing it back and pushing it back, and now summer starts smack in the middle of the spring. This irks the heck out of movie purists who think that big budgets are ruining the art of filmmaking, but it doesn't bother me. I look at summer movies as pure escapism, and the sooner they get here the better.
The Mummy Returns, the first big sequel in a summer of sequels, starts us off right. Brendan Fraser and the rest of the cast of the first film are back, as are all the scary mummies and deadly scarab beetles. Also in attendance are armies of nine foot tall "warriors of Anubis," which resemble huge sword wielding doberman pincers. And if that weren't enough, evil pygmy shrunken-head mummies that shoot poison darts. This is what summer is all about.
The nice thing about this series of movies is that there is seemingly limitless potential for storylines, unlike poor Crocodile Dundee, who is running out of cities to walkabout. The story goes like this: 5,000 years ago, the Scorpion King (WWF's The Rock) tried to take over the world and ends up slave to the dark god Anubis. Fast forward to the 1930's where Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weis, now married, are searching for the scorpion bracelet that can bring the king back to life and unleash the giant doberman army of Anubis and yada yada yada. It's pretty much your typical Indiana Jones plot. Also in contention for the bracelet is the recently re-animated Imhotep (the mummy) and his evil cadre of henchmen. It gets pretty convoluted, but it's best not to get hung up on the details. This is an action movie, and there is plenty of it to keep you interested. Huge battles, great special effects, and beautiful Egyptian panoramas abound.
Brendan Fraser as Rick O'Connell and Rachel Weisz as Evelyn O'Connell in Universal's The Mummy Returns - 2001
As I said, this is an action movie so, while the acting isn't of the greatest importance, it's nice that everyone does a passable job. Brendan Fraser is fine, though when he gets too dramatic he tends to look cartoonish. Rachel Weisz is fine, as is Arnold Vosloo as the mummy, although he has much less to do here. I would love to say that The Rock was great, but he's hardly in the movie at all. I guess we'll find out how he does when The Scorpion King, his Mummy spin-off, comes out. My favorite character in the movie is the mysterious warrior-leader of the army of protectors of the ancient secrets or something, played by Oded Fehr. You might also remember him as the real gigolo in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Fehr was really cool in the first Mummy, and is even cooler here. His character was actually supposed to die in the first film, but after test audiences reacted so strongly, they decided to keep him around. He could make a great leading man, if he can avoid the draw to make quickie straight to video action flicks.
One of the nice things about this movie is that they keep up the pace throughout. I hate it when you go see an action movie that starts good, lolls around through the middle, and then tries desperately to wrap it all up in the end. That's not a problem here, although they do tend to get a little sloppy as they race toward the conclusion, and the final climactic fight scene is really unsatisfying. I don't want to give anything away, but I think you'll know what I'm talking about when you see it. It's possible to depend too much on computer effects. Aside from that complaint, I had a lot of fun at this movie. There is a lot of violence, but almost no gore and no sex or language. It's pretty scary, so I wouldn't recommend it for little kids, but PG-13 is pretty appropriate, I think. One sort of strange thing you might notice about this movie: there's no title sequence. I kept thinking they were doing the James Bond thing and waiting until after the first action scene, but no, it's just not there. I guess it doesn't really make any difference; I mean, it's not like you don't know what movie you're in. I guess all the mummies running around are a good clue. Anyway, it's nice to not have to wade through all those credits at the beginning.
I hope this movie is a good belweather for the rest of the summer. With an impending strike, it could be the last big budget summer for a while. But, even if the rest of the summer is a let-down, at least I've filled my evil pygmy shrunken-head mummy quota for the year. Grade: B+
The Mummy Returns is rated PG-13 for violence and scary scenes.
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