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Not having had very high expectations of The Mummy Returns going in (see my review of The Mummy to find out why), it is no surprise that I was not disappointed. The big surprise was that I found it less bad than I thought it would be. This opinion, of course is my own -- most of the audience members whom I heard discussing it after the screening were complaining that it was not as good as "the first one."
The Mummy Returns marks the return of Brendan Fraser (Rick O'Connell), Rachel Weisz (Evie O'Connell), John Hannah (Jonathan), Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep), Patricia Velasquez (in a greatly enlarged role as Meela/Anck-Su-Namun), and Oded Fehr (Ardeth Bay -- the fellow with the decorated face about whom I have already received numerous inquiries) to the roles they created in writer-director Stephen Sommers' The Mummy. The differences, this time around, are that Rick and Evie have a son (Alex, played by Freddie Boath), Evie, remembers her life in a previous incarnation as the daughter of a Pharaoh and her catfights with Meela (who was then Princess Anck-Su-Namun, Pharaoh's bride-to-be and Imhotep's lover), and that Imhotep is almost im-po-tent as a screen villain because he has been surrounded by a crew of dastards who greatly diminish his on-screen fearfulness. Chief among the new crew are, besides Meela (who is about to be reunited with her former soul and become Anck-Sa-Namun again), Alun Armstrong in a very strong performance as The Curator, who serves as Imhotep's rediscoverer and right-hand man, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Lock Nah, a vicious killer in the employ of the Curator, who is determined to kidnap and/or kill little Alex O'Connell to obtain the mystical artifact which Imhotep needs to challenge the biggest baddie in the film.
The new new big bad guy is the soon-to-be-resurrected Scorpion King (played by Dwayne Johnson, alias, "The Rock"). The Scorpion King was a fellow from five thousand or so years ago with a fairly simple ambition: to conquer the world -- all of it. Unfortunately for him, his army was destroyed, but, on the brink of death, The Scorpion King makes a pact with Anubis (who is presented as as an evil god of death, when, in fact, He was always regarded as the good guardian and protector of the souls of ancient Egyptians journeying in the afterlife). The terms of the deal provide The Scorpion King with an army of "Anubis warriors" -- jackal-headed creatures created from the sands which can only be slain by decapitation. Killing the Anubis warriors is apparently not terribly difficult for a skilled warrior, but there are a lot of them to deal with . . . think of the battle scene at the end of Star Wars: The Phantom Misfire to get an idea of how many of them there are -- their numbers seem to be limited only by the memory capacity of the computer which created them for the movie.
But, . . . OOPS! . . . The Scorpion King overlooked a little loophole in his contract: Anubis agreed to let him conquer the world, but never said anything about his ruling it. No sooner does The Scorpion King kick the world's butt than he is sucked into a golden pyramid at the brand-spanking-new, well-guarded, mysterious, and legendary Oasis of Am Shere, and his warriors return to the sands. His bracelet, however, gets left behind, and it is that which forms the big prize in The Mummy Returns, for whoever wears the bracelet will find the way to Am Shere, and, if capable of defeating The Scorpion King in personal battle in the Egyptian Year of the Scorpion (alias 1933), will gain control of the Anubis warriors. Imhotep wants to gain control of them so that he can conquer the world; Rick O'Connell just wants to do whatever it takes to be rid of the whole lot of them so he can go back to his family life in London.
With all due credit to Brendan Fraser, who turns in a solid performance, newcomer Freddie Boath, who is quaintly amusing as Rick and Evie's eight-year-old son, Alex, and Alun Armstrong as The Curator, The Mummy Returns was "all over the place." The film reeks of "input" from studio executives anxious to cash in on any cinematic trend which might turn them a fast buck (or a hundred forty million or so of them). So many actors (or animated monsters) were walking on the walls and ceilings during the many (far too many!) fight scenes that I can only sum up this film as "Crouching Scorpion, Hidden Jackal." I do not mean that nickname as a compliment, either.
The fight scenes were a chore to watch. The frequent acceleration and deceleration of the performers and the various flying debris is ludicrous. Either director Sommers and cinematographer Adrian Biddle were constantly changing camera speeds during the fight sequences, or else editors Bob Ducsay and Kelly Matsumoto were busy in post-production adding and subtracting frames. Whatever the means, the results were mind-numbingly jarring and completely disconcerting.
Among the more idiotic distractions in the film were the trident-style swords with which the two princesses fight. That type of sword is called a "sai." It's from Okinawa . . . on the other side of Asia . . . and it hadn't even been invented in the days of ancient Egypt. Apparently, magic and curses weren't good enough for Pharaoh, so he sent someone to travel three thousand miles to the east and a few thousand years into the future to fetch some sais with which his daughter and his bride-to-be could stage their catfight for him. The Scorpion King's soldiers use good Egyptian kopesh swords and "eye-axes" to fight. Copper daggers weren't good enough for the women of Pharaoh? Oy. . . .
On a more positive note, someone involved in the production made some effort to maintain a little bit of authenticity. The Scorpion King, for example, actually calls upon Anubis using the God's correct Egyptian name ("Anpu"), the Egyptian soldiers were outfitted and armed properly (kudos to costume designer John Bloomfield). This balances out quibbles that purists such as myself might have with certain aspects of Allan Cameron's production design (such as the oh-so-important little model of the Temple of Abu Simbel looking, not as it did in 1933, but as it did sixty years later after it was physically moved in an international effort to rescue it from the risings waters of Lake Nasser caused by the construction the Egyptian High Dam). On the whole, except for those blasted sais, The Mummy Returns get passing marks from me for its looks and its sounds, but that still doesn't balance out all of the film's problems.
With the rise in theater ticket prices and the growing international audience of our page, our old NW2: Not Worth $2 (U. S. dollars) to W8: Worth $8 rating scale has become less useful than previously, so, in line with the scale used by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) we have adopted a scale of 1 star to 10 stars, with "1 Star" being a VERY bad movie, and "10 Stars" being a movie classic. Our On-Line Reviewer, however, has gone where IMDb has never gone before: he has added a score of Zero for those movies which are so bad that they are not even good "camp" -- movies so bad that not even "Mystery Science Theater 3000" could could make them worth watching.
On this scale, anything rated "7 Stars" or above is definitely worth the cost of a theater ticket, "8 Stars" is worth standing in line to buy a ticket, "9 Stars" is worth standing in line in a driving rain rainstorm or severe heatwave or moderate windstorm to buy a ticket, and "10 Stars" is a movie worth driving hundreds of miles to go see -- at least in Dr. Shea's own opinion. Accordingly,