The Mummy Returns (2001)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 5/4/01
Director: Stephen Sommers
Writer: Stephen Sommers
Music: Alan Silvestri
Special Effects: Industrial Light & Magic
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Oded Fehr, Patricia Velasquez, Arnold Vosloo, cameo by Dwayne Johnson (The Rock)

Exciting, but dumb. A gorgeous and visually stunning adventure romp that's plagued by an unbelievable amount of really awful special effects. It's also the absolute BEST female action film I've ever seen come out of Hollywood. Western filmmakers take note: This is how you do it - with respect and reverance, and absolutely NO bullshit. Well done, Mr. Sommers.

If "The Mummy" (1999) was "Raiders Of The Lost Ark Lite," then "The Mummy Returns" is "The Temple Of Doom Lite." Exceedingly violent, the film cranks up the action, assaults the viewer with poorly realized special effects, and delivers a disjointed, confusing, and far-fetched story that merely serves as a vehicle for our intrepid heroes' continued adventures. Unfortunately, the film isn't as fun and refreshing as the original and comes off as being a slightly pretentious rehash tainted with unappealing romantic mush. Summarizing the plot is almost pointless. For whatever contrived reasons, Imhotep's (Arnold Vosloo) lover Anck Su Namun (Patricia Velasquez) has been reincarnated and decides to dig up her old boyfriend. At the same time, Rick and Evelyn O'Connell (Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz) discover and desecrate the tomb of the Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson), and set into motion his resurrection and the destruction of all mankind. Way to go, guys. A globe trotting chase and an immense battle between the forces of good and evil goes down.

First of all, Rachel Weisz and Patricia Velasquez do a spectacular job with their action scenes. Full of strength, confidence, conviction, and defiance, not only are their fight scenes extremely well executed, but the director doesn't play down their importance by adding ridiculous and disrespectful male chauvinism. This is what female action cinema is all about, and what the Asian film industry has been doing for decades. I hope that this is a good sign of things to come. On the down side, Rachel Weisz offers up a ridiculous amount of gratuitous cleavage and wears more black eyeliner than I thought humanly possible. Distracting and tacky at best. The impossibly sexy Oded Fehr returns as the mysterious Ardeth Bey and thankfully gets a much bigger role this time around. His intense magnetism once again steals the show. Brendan Fraser is his typically goofy charming self, although the strength of his character seems to be overshadowed by the rest of the cast. Arnold Vosloo seems tired and uninspired, but has a very nice hand-to-hand fight with Brendan at the end of the film. And then there's Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) who shows up for maybe a minute in the film, only to be replaced by a silly looking computer generated creature for the effects laden climax. Haven't we learned by now that a climactic confrontation with a CG critter emotionally detaches the viewer from the action and is just downright uninteresting? Apparently not. And speaking of uninteresting and bad special effects, the film is just full of them. Unbelievably bad compositions are strewn throughout the film, making you wonder just what the hell happened during post production.

However, there are a number of good effects to be found among the glaringly bad ones, and the sets and cinematography are beautiful. Alan Silvestri delivers an epic and energetic musical score that nicely complements the exciting pace of the film. The fight choreography is very good, but somewhat spoiled by intrusive editing and the oh-so-annoying strobe effect caused by using high shutter speeds. And what is up with the pygmy mummies? Directer Stephen Sommers' response to Ewoks, I suppose, and totally unnecessary. In fact, the entire film is unnecessary and probably shouldn't have been made. Unfortunately, the marketing leeches aren't about to let go of this franchise, and are continuing to bleed it dry with a spin-off film featuring the Scorpion King that is already in production.