Directed by: Stephen Sommers
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo, Oded Fehr
It's big and it's loud and it's colorful. The widescreen cinematography of Adrian Biddle is breathtakingly gorgeous. The production design by Allan Cameron is stunning and seems effortlessly in period (something the script threatens to scuttle with easy laugh anachronisms such as having an 8-year-old mutter, "Get a room," upon seeing his parents osculate). The performances are generally quite good -- ranging from excellent (Brendan Fraser) to pleasantly surprising (Freddie Boath) to about-what-you'd-expect (The Rock). Alan Silvestri's musical score is sometimes amazingly effective, but at other times distractingly bombastic in that sub-Wagner John Williams manner. At their best, the CGI special effects recall Peter O'Toole's credo about cinematic hocus-pocus in The Stunt Man: "If God could do the tricks that we can do, he'd be a happy man." The recreations of ancient Egypt are truly awe-inspiring, and the battle with the Anubis (the jackal god) army is the sort of thing that makes you believe CGI effects might just become an art form yet. At their worst, they're pretty bad. The film's Big Monster effect is especially lame because it tries to pass off a computer-created image as an identifiable player, and the result is something akin to the Hieronymous Bosch version of a character from the Hall of Presidents at Disney World. The Mummy Returns' actual climax unwisely mixes successful traditional floor effects with computerized jiggery-pokery that is almost laughable. In other words, writer-director Stephen Sommers' sequel to his own The Mummy is pretty much a mixed bag. And a lot of both the praise and the blame must fall to him. Much like the original film, The Mummy Returns owes less to the sort of classic horror film from which it is ostensibly derived than to an earlier form of horror fantasy found in such novels of Fu-Manchu creator Sax Rohmer as Brood of the Witch Queen and Grey Face -- material that really needed the advent of CGI in order to even be attempted onscreen. And while there's nothing wrong with this, The Mummy Returns loses some of the original's identity by veering a little too much in the direction of Indiana Jones and threatening to topple over into cuteness. Oddly, the film's cute ratio isn't so much boosted by the inclusion of 8-year-old Boath as the son of Rick (Fraser) and Evelyn O'Connell (Rachel Weisz), but in the addition of the character Izzy (Shaun Parks, Human Traffic) and his eccentric flying machine. Parks himself is an agreeable addition, and plays nicely opposite Fraser, but his Rube Goldberg "dirigible" is a bit of whimsy that belongs in some other movie. It's not enough to sink the film, but it certainly doesn't help. Actually, The Mummy Returns usually works best when it relies on -- or expands on -- concepts that worked in the first film. The arbitrary gag of the domino-effect library shelves of the original, for example, is much improved upon here in a similar sequence involving columns, simply because Sommers has this time integrated the joke as a plot device. Interestingly, this time there are some fleeting references to the classic Karl Freund/Boris Karloff 1932 film, The Mummy (along with evocations of Son of Kong and The Wizard of Oz), including a stunningly effective variation on the scene in the 1932 film where the heroine is shown her previous incarnations in a reflecting pool. Sommers even elaborates on this by having the reawakened memories appear to two reincarnated characters at once -- though logically, one might wonder why Imhotep didn't notice that Evelyn was the living image of someone from his past in the first film. All the same, it's nice to see the film acknowledge its titular roots -- and to do so in a way that builds on its model rather than just retreading it. Great it isn't, but if the big-budget blockbusters that start invading theaters like rampaging kudzu every spring and summer get no worse than this, it's something to be grateful for.