Do you remember the thrill of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time? There were amazing stunts and special effects, exotic settings, interesting villains and thrilling chases (not to mention a joke here and there). While nobody from my generation would say The Mummy Returns is better than Raiders, you might call it Raiders for Generation Z.
Off to a Good Start
The movie opens strong, with an ancient Egyptian battle between two massive armies of computer-generated soldiers. The scene (unnecessarily) gives us some background on The Scorpion King, the movie’s ultimate villain. More importantly, it allows the filmmakers to show what they can do with special effects, and it gives the audience a little taste of the adventure they’re in for. (Newsweek says it also introduces the plot for a third Mummy movie).
The movie cuts ahead to 1933, reintroducing us to Rick and Evie (Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, reprising their roles from The Mummy), the husband and wife Egyptologist/adventurers. Fraser and Weisz trade funny banter while recovering a golden bracelet with reputed magical powers. Reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s first scene in Raiders, the couple sets off a booby trap and narrowly escapes.
Before long they arrive back in London, and almost immediately a group of thugs shows up to steal the bracelet. The baddies then head to the British Museum, where they resurrect Imhotep, the mummy from last movie, who will use the bracelet to rule the world. Imhotep’s minions discover they don’t have the bracelet after all; Rick and Evie’s nine-year-old son Alex has it. An exciting chase through London follows, involving a double-decker bus, desiccated mummies, and bad Arabs in red robes.
The first 30 minutes is a real thrill.
Just Plain Goofy
The chase moves to north Africa because Alex has been kidnapped. At this point, the movie’s chaotic, exciting pace slows down. Sommers is still trying to create adventure, but some unintentionally goofy special effects sap the movie of its energy. Imhotep summons a gigantic wall of water. This wall is sent chasing after our heroes, afloat in a ridiculous dirigible. After exciting chases and hand-to-hand combat, this fanciful, Gilliam-esque scene seemed out of place.
Part of the problem is that for five minutes, the audience has no human faces to sympathize with. The special effects — the water and the dirigible — are too big. Any derring-do on this scale is unrewarding because it can’t be attributed to our heroes’ skill, luck, or friendship — it can only attributed to the imagination of animators.
Raiders for Generation Z
The pace of the movie finally recovers at the climax. Sommers intercuts multiple fight scenes. Evie fights Imhotep’s lover, Rick fights Imhotep and the Scorpion King, and even young Alex gets involved, using his knowledge and wits to help defeat the mummies.
The overall experience is a mix of adventure and comedy, that except for the few slow spots, is quite enjoyable. A friend summed it up well, comparing it to Raiders.
“When I was 12 and my dad took me and my brother to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Us kids were on the edges of our seats, and dad was laughing. Now here I am the grownup laughing at all that crazy stuff.”
The Mummy Returns doesn’t measure up to Raiders. But to kids these days, it is Raiders.