Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
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The Mummy Returns is the first Earplug Movie of the official summer season. You’ve been warned.
Roaring armies of the undead, clanging sword blades, chitter-clicking hordes of scorpions, thundering waves of water—it’s enough to make you bleed from both sides of your head. This is the kind of Dolby movie where evil-hearted theater projectionists will, in the words of This is Spinal Tap, turn the volume up to 11.
Buried among all that noise and visual confusion is some good old-fashioned matinee serial entertainment, the kind of fun Indiana Jones brought back to the marquee for a while. This sequel to the smash-and-clash summer blockbuster of two years ago delivers exactly what you’d expect when you fork over your money at the box office. If you’re looking for a cerebral, thought-provoking two hours, then Memento is two doors down in Theater No. 6. But if it’s a white-knuckled, computer-generated adventure you’re seeking, you’ve come to the right place.
There’s nothing new here—unless, that is, you haven’t been the movies in the last four years and seen what computers have done to the medium. The Mummy Returns is predictable, dependable and, if you put yourself in the right frame of mind, enjoyable.
These new millennium Mummies, both directed by Stephen Sommers, bear no resemblance to the classic Universal picture of 1932 starring Boris Karloff. Not even a passing resemblance.
The other night, I happened to catch a few minutes of the Karloff classic. There’s a scene early in the picture where the wrapped and age-caked mummy is unwittingly brought to life by the over-excited archeologist who’s reading ancient Egyptian texts aloud. Cut to the mummy in the background. Close-up on his bandaged hands. Slowly, ever…so…slowly, a finger moves. Then, ever…so…slowly, one eye cracks open. Believe it or not, it’s the most frightening moment of the movie.
The Mummy Returns has its share of frights (parents, be warned—this is not one to take nightmare-prone children to), but it aims to thrill more than it does chill. It doesn’t have time to waste on slow-motion, creaking-finger horror. Karloff shuffles, but these undead dudes gallop (and leap and scamper across the sheer walls of buildings). Slow motion is for sissies.
But one wishes that Sommers and company would slow the pace every so often so we could catch our breath. After all, there’s only so many swordfights, attacking waves of scorpions and double-decker bus chase scenes that one can take in one sitting.
The Mummy Returns is on full throttle from the first scene onward—that’s when we meet the Scorpion King (played with Oscar-caliber emotional depth by that great, great thespian The Rock). Courtesy of a tedious narrator, we learn how the Scorpion King makes a deal with the evil god Anubis: if he, the Scorpion King, agrees to quit the WWF and devote his life to working in a Meals-on-Wheels program, then Anubis will grant him all-consuming power. Or something like that.
For some reason, after the Scorpion King seals his Faustian deal with Anubis, he sinks into the sand. There, he must wait another 5,000 years until matinee idol Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) finishes making lame-o movies like Dudley Do-Right, Bedazzled and Monkeybone before he can come back from the dead to torment humanity. Or something like that.
O’Connell and the lovely, bookish Evie (Rachel Weisz) return from the previous movie, still comically bickering like a modern Tracy and Hepburn. But this time, they’re married and they’ve got a precocious nine-year-old son (Freddie Boath), an utterly charming kid who steals the show right out from under them. And that’s hard to do, since both Fraser and Weisz are in fine form, loosening up and having more fun with their characters this time around, even if they have to deliver recycled dialogue like:
“This is bad, Evie.”
“We’ve had bad before.”
“This is worse.”
The plot rollicks along as an ancient bracelet is stolen, a mummy is reincarnated and two ladies duke it out with swords and kung-fu. The story jumps from Egypt to London and back to Egypt again as Rick and Evie (otherwise known as Indiana Jones and the Librarian) race against time to stop both the recently-revived Scorpion King and Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) from conquering the world. They’re joined on their quest by Evie’s comic-relief brother (John Hannah) and the mysterious-and-smoldering Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr).
However, the real stars of the flick (at least in the minds of the producers and director) are the teams of CGI artists who worked overtime creating layers upon layers of cyber-drawn landscapes and armies. Forget Cecile B. DeMille’s “cast of thousands”—this is a cast of millions. Hordes of Anubis warriors—creatures which look like a cross between a Doberman and Charles Atlas—swarm across the sand dunes, swinging computer-generated swords and roaring with Dolby fury.
A lot of money was poured into creating all this eye candy and, truth be told, you can see every penny on the screen. After watching The Mummy Returns, the Screen Actors Guild should have no reason to be worried that its members will someday be replaced by computer actors. If the painstakingly fake figures on display here are any indication, I’ll take flesh-and-blood Pacinos and Streeps any day. Watch closely during the battle scenes and you might even notice evidence of sloppy CGI: in a crowded battleground scene, while humans are clashing with CGI characters, I saw at least one Anubis warrior swinging at nothing but air. I guess the filmmakers figured we’d be so distracted by the blur of action we wouldn’t notice that one lonely little computer guy.
And that’s the biggest problem with The Mummy Returns: there’s such a non-stop assault on all your senses that you feel you’re somehow being cheated. It’s like when a magician distracts you from his sleight-of-hand with non-stop patter and chatter. Instead of producing magic, however, the movie leaves you feeling slightly drained (if not bleeding from the ears). It strains to entertain and nearly gets a hernia in the process.
In the end, you’ll probably walk out of the theater wobbly-legged and buzz-headed, as if you just got off a two-hour rollercoaster ride. “Well, that was fun,” you’ll say, “but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”
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Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older