The Mummy Returns (2001) — Bad CGI. Why’d it have to be bad CGI?

“You know, a couple of years ago this would have seemed really strange to me.”

Justin’s rating: The Rock ‘n roll

Justin’s review: Not only was 1999’s The Mummy a fine piece of cinematic entertainment, it also made a great case that Brandon Fraser’s Rick O’Connell was the heir apparent to the Indiana Jones throne. Like Indiana, Rick stepped out of ’30s pulp adventures to go tomb raiding with quips, a revolver, and derring-do. Fraser proved himself to be a legitimate action start who reportedly threw himself physically into the role to the point of causing his body lasting damage.

Before he had broken himself entirely, Fraser came back for a second go at this franchise, this time with his wife Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and precocious son Alex. In a dig, the family discovers some artifacts connected to the mythological Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson in his first role), who courteously comes back to life. Also the Mummy returns, too, because darn it if he’s going to fully surrender the antagonist’s role with his name right there in the movie title.

There’s a treasure, a destiny, Evelyn having flashbacks to a previous incarnation (?), and a scrappy Rick trying to come out on top of it all.

The Mummy Returns is the kind of sequel that many of us like: It has the original cast coupled with the original director (Stephen Sommers), and it builds off of the foundation from the previous film rather than start over or go a wildly new direction. Unfortunately, it’s become best remembered for the absolutely atrocious CGI that attempted to create human features before computers were ready for it. The effort resulted in this PlayStation 2 abomination showing up to ruin the party:

Sigh. Yes. It’s terrible, and I’m not going to defend it. Even without the CGI, Johnson is more of a novelty than an acting asset. I felt like he hijacked this series, and this is where it began. Sigh.

Even still, this is a pretty great ride. You don’t often see whole families of adventurers heading out together, and even the kid here is somewhat tolerable. I think it’s Brandon Fraser treating him with fond affection, and how can we not like someone Fraser does?

The Mummy Returns crams in comedy, action, and even a bit of horror. Whatever entertains, it’s thrown at us, usually with Rick running pell-mell through it screaming and brandishing twin revolvers. Evelyn gets quite a few action girl moments of her own, too, and her connection to Rick gives both depth.

But it’s all messy, quite messy. Reportedly, ILM was so embarrassed at the half-done special effects that it begged Universal to push back the movie to do it right. Universal did not, and so a lot of this messiness ends up on the screen. Only Sommers’ ambition and the actors’ enthusiasm keeps this from sinking. It’s just a shame, because if those shortcuts weren’t taken, this could’ve been a lasting classic rather than a passable entertainment.

Didja notice?

  • Doesn’t seem smart that if you’ve got a city with walls that you’d actually bring your army out in front of those walls to fight, but what do I know?
  • Ah yes, the old “two sides run at each other until they clash in confusion” type of battle.
  • People wandering the desert will do so with their weapons but no other supplies
  • Scorpion eating and CGI oasis creating
  • Snake kickin’
  • Never understood why so many of these ancient temples had self-destruct sequences
  • Bugs under your skin
  • Egyptians could create holographic wrist-mounted projectors
  • Rick bursting into a room where his brother-in-law is being held with a knife to his throat and an asp about to strike
  • Snake throwin’
  • Hey, it’s Marta from Arrested Development!
  • Making out with a mummy

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