Movie Review | The Mummy Returns
Movie summary: The mummified body of Imhotep is shipped to a museum in London, where he once again wakes and begins his campaign of rage and terror. (IMDb)
The Mummy Returns feels very much like the kind of movie Hollywood would make these days after a successful first film: one that thinks more is more and ends up suffering horribly as a result. There is so much excess in this movie that it really does make you wonder how it was released in its final form - definitely no match for the still-fun original.
Hell, the main trio from The Mummy all return and, even though they're by far the best thing about this movie, they seem fairly aware that this movie is not all that good and none of their performances make you feel like they're putting in their best work this time out. None of them is bad per se, but neither is this their finest hour.
It might have something to with how much CGI there is here - unlike the first movie, The Mummy Returns is drowning in VFX and the actors may have suffered from being asked to perform regularly by acting with literally nothing in front of them. Acting with CGI might be more commonplace now, but it must have been pretty jarring to go from one major VFX character to many.
Last time it was Arnold Vosloo's Imhotep as the greatest threat to the world, but here it's the Scorpion King, featuring Dwayne Johnson in one of his first big-screen appearances. Unfortunately, Johnson only appears for real in once scene showing how his character got the name, before being replaced by a CGI monstrosity for the final showdown.
Remember how bad the many Agent Smith's looked in the second Matrix film, being pretty poor CGI characters for that time? At least The Matrix Reloaded had the excuse that there were dozens and dozens of them - the Scorpion King is a single character, yet looks worse than any of the Smiths by a vast, vast margin.
Yes, he does have a CGI army too, but they're practically cut and paste jobs, too indistinct from each other for any of them to stand out and could be justifiably of a lower quality - rendering the final fight laughable with a terrible CGI character doesn't have that excuse. But this is the 'more is less' problem with this movie - the army is such a non-issue that it's insane they sacrificed other areas of the movie for it.
Of course, you have to remember that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings was looming on the horizon and it feels like this movie was trying to get ahead of the curve and failing miserably at it. Hell, even if you'd prefer to imagine it intending to compete with the then-new Star Wars prequel trilogy, it still doesn't stand even compared to the disappointment of The Phantom Menace.
Basically, the constant CGI is a mess, but I don't think the VFX teams were helped by a script that apparently wanted to chuck everything at a wall and see what stuck. There is so much here that should've been cut, scenes that should have been more ruthlessly edited, characters suddenly having connections to the villains thanks to ancestors or past lives - it's ridiculous how much fails.
Honestly, it would be best to remember The Mummy franchise as a one-movie experience. The harshest criticism I can make of this film is that it's so bad it makes the first movie seem worse by association. Come for moments - literally seconds - of chemistry between the returning cast, leave disappointed at the terrible movie their characters are in.
The Mummy Returns is not a good movie by any measure, with everything stripped away that made the first movie greater than the sum of its parts. Sparks of the old chemistry among the leads provide the only bright spots, but it doesn't stop the feeling that they're not really interested in what's going on - outside of that, this is simply a sequel that has dated for worse than the original.