Hey folks, the following reviews are all notably more filled with spoilers than my review that I just posted, but have varying opinions... Though the only review that I'll actually take issue with is Alexandra DuPont's... I love the dear sweet, and most of her problems fall into my "Give ILM 5 more months with this film" Category... But I disagree with some of her points rather aggressively. First, John Hannah is used exactly enough... if they had used more of him, the film would've been weighted down with too much comedy like the first film and then lose it's tonal consistency like the first film. Too many characters and location changes? NO WAY! This is a rollicking adventure film... very much at the pace of a Star Wars film where tons of characters and locations are flying by... making us feel like we are in a fantasy world and not just a couple of studio sets. I quite like the concept of the Scorpion King design, but again feel and wish ILM had another 5 months with it, as it could be improved greatly with time. She complains about arbitrary Sorcery powers... ahem... The Book of the Dead is a very strongly established relic in Egyptian mythology, and gods stripping those of their powers is commonplace in all mythologies. The interuption of the fight between the Vosloo and Fraser is quite reminiscent of the fight between Tom Baker and Sinbad.... being interupted by Cyclops/centaur and Gryphon. And it still works for me... afterall, we saw them fight in the first film. The British Museum is a typical fictional location of evil... after all the plunder of the world's treasures is often related to being EVIL. However, in Mark Frost's LIST OF SEVEN ritual that takes place there.... Things get much larger than they do at this location. ALSO, Guillermo Del Toro has written a wonderful script for LIST OF SEVEN and it is in development at FOX I believe... if memory serves. Anyway... without further ado, here's Alexandra.....
Harry. Assorted gentlemen. In the interests of brevity (and of getting this review of "The Mummy Returns" in somewhat earlier than the competition), I'll be adopting an extremely stripped-down format this time around. And anyway, this sort of protein-free thrill-ride flick really does invite plus-column/minus-column analysis -- the movie, after all, contains few if any "larger themes" or "through-lines" or "political statements" meriting a more writerly analysis. Also, it's 1 a.m. So do please bear with me.
There are extensive spoilers in the following text. You have been warned.
I. THE MOVIE IN QUESTION
"The Mummy Returns." Writer/director Stephen Sommers' sequel to his 1999 summer smash. Heavily promoted; expected to rake in untold heaps of cash.
II. SO WILL IT RAKE IN UNTOLD HEAPS OF CASH?
Everyone in America will see it once, I'd imagine. For the record, the preview audience cheered like a pack of rabid, scabbed dwarves, but preview audiences will do that.
II. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF "THE MUMMY" (1999)?
I'm on record as a fan, proudly own the extras-packed 1999 DVD, and have frankly never understood the vitriol heaped on the film in AICN Talk Back. I thought it was a light, funny, effortless monster movie -- a sort of diet "Indiana Jones" that filled a filmgoer's need (a filmgoer's "Indiana" jones, if you will) for serial adventure -- and, technically, a thrilling ILM tribute to the Harryhausen style. (You can read my writeup of the new, two-disc [and sort of superfluous] "Ultimate Edition" DVD over at www.dvdjournal.com, BTW, if you're so inclined.) Would have loved to see an actor of slightly more gravity in the lead role -- Bruce Campbell, say -- but Brendan Fraser has his charms, as does Rachel Weisz.
III. SO WHAT'S THE UPSHOT ON "MUMMY RETURNS"?
You remember how "The Mummy," while fun and cheery as hell, felt a bit like an entire meal of desserts -- packed as it was from front to back with effects and too many characters and relentless action toward the end? Well, multiply that vibe by a factor of six, and you've got an idea of the sort of insulin-shot-necessitating tone of "The Mummy Returns." I certainly can't say I wasn't entertained: The film delivers exactly what it promises, and there are even some refreshing additions/extensions to the franchise, not to mention a general gleeful tone throughout.
But what TMR lacks -- and this is important -- is a truly satisfying narrative through-line. The quest plot-frame is sort of convoluted, and the F/X porn is laid on so thick towards the end that, after a while, you sort of find yourself in this dully sated hypno-state -- amused, but not moved. If that makes any sense.
IV. SO WHAT SERIAL-ADVENTURE/"TEMPLE OF DOOM" TROPES
WERE MISSING FROM "THE MUMMY" (1999)?
Scorpions. A jungle setting. Jules Verne-esque flying contraptions. Large-scale desert battles set in ancient Egypt. An opening sequence set in a booby-trapped temple. A precocious child. Extensive damsel fu. Extensive aerial sequences. Numbing excess.
V. ARE ALL THOSE TROPES HERE?
In abundance. I fully expect Nazis and a mine-cart chase to show in the next film, if a sequel is merited.
VI. WHAT'S THE STORY?
Already extensively covered on this site, so but quickly: (1) We learn that the ancient-Egyptian Scorpion King (The Rock) sold his soul and can be unleashed on the modern world -- along with his dog-faced Army of Anubis -- via a magic bracelet. (2) Flash-forward to the 1930s; Rick and Evie (Fraser, Weisz) and their precocious son stumble across the bracelet. (3) The boy stupidly puts said bracelet on his wrist. (4) As a result, the O'Connell family finds itself fighting a cult dedicated to (a) resurrecting "Mummy I" bad guy Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), (b) resurrecting the Scorpion King and the Army of Anubis, and (c) having Imhotep kill the Scorpion King -- thus giving Imhotep power over the dog-faced army and allowing him to run roughshod over the earth. Kidnapping, too much traveling (much of it via a boat attached to a balloon) and a whole lot of mummy fu ensues.
VII. WHAT DID YOUR LITTLE BROTHER MAXIMILLIAN HAVE TO
He felt this movie's biggest antecedents were anime (which he accuses of suffering from a general excess of action and thematic malnourishment -- flame him at will), plus "Young Sherlock Holmes." He also said the Army of Anubis looked like, and I quote, "an army of RuPauls," and I must admit he has a point: On their little dog feet, the giant dog-men sort of tottered like they were on heels.
VIII. QUICKLY: WHAT WAS GOOD?
1. A superb chase/fight in London featuring a double-decker bus and those four undead Egyptian guards Fraser fought so memorably in the first film. Also, a battle in the desert with the Army of Anubis is really well-staged, essential RuPaul-esquesness notwithstanding.
2. Extensive "damsel fu" with katana swords. On a related note: There was more Patricia Velasquez (sp?), which the fanboys should love. Film very empowering to women in general.
3. Pygmy cannibal mummies. As Moriarty noted, this is unexplained, but funny and sort of scary.
4. Rick and Evie are married and in love. Very "Thin Man," as director/writer Sommers pointed out himself in a recent interview, and sidesteps all the new-love-interest/relationship-in-trouble traps that plague so many sequels.
4. Positive Arab role models.
5. Funny exchange: Oded Fehr character says, "It is written that blah blah blah...." Evie's reporbate brother (John Hannah) replies, "Where IS all this stuff written down?"
6. There are multiple love stories. The Imhotep/Velasquez-character romance arc is significant and tragic, and takes some unexpected turns.
7. Rachel Weisz looks somehow prettier, older, more sophisticated, and dresses in fabulous ersatz Mideast fashions. Abundance of cute tops.
8. Child actor not annoying. Handful of scenes with visibly annoyed cult captor who wants to kill child are funny -- forming amusing mini story arc.
9. At one point, Fraser character teaches himself to
kill monster by reading hieroglyphics like how-to
IX. AND NOT SO GOOD?
1. Too many characters, locale changes. Sommers sort of drunk on an abundance of options with this sequel. Hurts efficiency, coherence, and general satisfaction of narrative.
2. This is a seriously geeked-out criticism, but I've read that the "Mummy 2" producers were worried about missing their deadline due to effects delays, and God help me if it doesn't show. There are a LOT more effects here -- and some of them, while well-designed, seem relatively quickly rendered. This is particularly true of the balloon-boat sequences, and even more particularly true of the balloon-boat sequence where they're being chased by a magic wall of water.
3. On a related note: During the balloon-boat sequence where they're being chased by a magic wall of water, no one makes the wry observation, "What's the problem -- we're in a flying BOAT!"
4. One nimble, well-developed villain character literally TRIPS to death -- into bed of ... well, I won't spoil it.
5. "Villain face howling in giant supernatural wall of dust/water/ashes" sort of abused this time around.
6. Hate (hate!) to write this, but Scorpion-King-centaur monster kind of silly, video-game-ish. Also: Scorpion King monster interjected at the end just when we're rooting for Imhotep/Rick final duel.
7. Inconsistent, arbitrary sorcery powers. Need a resurrection? Here's a magic book! Need Rick and Imhotep to fight as equals? Take away Vosloo's powers for no reason! And so forth.
8. Too much exposition. Scratch that: Too much exposition on FLYING BOAT -- including abandoned, midichlorian-like subplot of Rick being some sort of reincarnated Magi warrior for eternal good, including mysterious tattoo.
9. John Hannah underutilized.
10. And finally, a bit involving mummies and secret evil rituals in the British Museum is, I'm sorry, lifted directly from Mark Frost's incredible thriller "The List of 7." Do I have a witness? (BTW, here's a serious suggestion, studio executives: Interest Sommers adapting Frost's book. Seriously. It's the best pulp pastiche thriller of the 1990s.)
Respecting Sommers' enthusiasm, despite my snarkiness,
You know the drill. First time caller, long time listener. Anyway, a friend of mine was able to nab a couple of passes to the premiere of The Mummy Returns, so we and our girlfriends were off. In a nutshell, it was an excellent summer action flick with a big fat budget. Without giving any of the key scenes away, let me just say that the effects were top notch. The crowd I saw the movie with seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did. They jumped and cringed in all the right places. They laughed at all of the cheesy one liners (although those were thankfully kept to a bare minimum).
As far as the acting goes, Brendan Frasier does a great job running from and shooting at computer generated beasties. Given the right movie, I could easily see him being the next big action star. Everyone else does well with what they're given. Oh, and not to dissapoint any of you wrestling fans out there, but don't look for The Rock to steal the show, seeing as how he just about has a cameo appearance. Although it was a cool part.
All in all I can say that they're definitely starting the summer with a bang. This is summer escapism to the highest degree. Take it from me: guys, grab your girlfriend and go see this movie. It's a great popcorn flick with a few surprises that'll have them cuddling close.
If you use this, Harry, just call me Dijonaise.
And now for an account of the premiere night before last....
Long time reader first time writer. . .I am writing to you about the "Mummy Returns" premiere that we saw last night at the Alfred Hitchcock theater at Universal Studios put on by the "Kids Cancer Connection" nonprofit organization. My wife and I had heard about the event thru your website and ended up bidding on and winning a pair of tickets for $355.00. Unfortunately, our first visit to a "Hollywood Premiere" was extremely disappointing.
I would like you to review my email and let me know if the problems my wife and I encountered last night are "common" problems with events such as this and whether or not we just "expected" to much. To begin, we were not contacted about our winning tickets till late Sunday evening by a representative from the company. . .they had sent us a brief email asking us to provide our credit card via "email" early on Saturday but we refused. Since you and I both work in e-commerce you can understand my concerns about sending unsecured credit card info over a simple email server. When they finally did contact us for payment. my wife specifically confirmed details about the event with the representative that turned out to be fabrications. Bring a camera that you can use for pictures, bring something they can autograph as you will have time, and don't worry about missing anyone because all the stars (in particular Rachel Weisz, John Hannah and the Rock) would all be in attendance.
Well Harry, unfortunately that was not the case. We got there on time, waited in line and my wife and I were one of the first 10 to get in the foyer to meet the stars. . .not only was the Rock, John Hannah, and Rachel Weisz nowhere to be seen. . but the grabbed the camera out of my wife's hand threw us in front of a pair of stars snapped a quick picture and told us to get into the theater. . as we had plenty of people behind us. I was not happy about it and my wife especially was disappointed. The funny thing is that that the person who grabbed the camera wouldn't even wait for me to get in the picture. . my wife was yelling at her to wait for me to get in the picture but she went ahead and snapped it anyway. I think Arnold Vosloo noticed this as he made it a point to shake my hand before I was hurriedly "rushed" into the theater. . but I found the whole situation was very embarrassing from a publicity point of view as "Kids Cancer Connection" was using the event for fundraising purposes.
I admit Harry that my wife and I genuinely enjoyed the movie and I am sure she will cherish the "one" hurried picture that she got with Brendon Fraser, Oded Fehr, and Arnold Vosloo, but when I pay $355.00 for two tickets to an event it is only fair you receive somewhere close to the experience promised. Last night was certainly not the case. My wife and I are in agreement that we should not and will not be asking for a refund. The event was for a charity that my wife and I feel privileged to support and I certainly would not ask them to refund our money in the face of such a worthy cause. However, I do think it would not be too much to ask for them to admit to those of us in attendance that this was "not" what was promised. It was a severe misrepresentation and certainly something that has already bought them bad publicity on ebay (as of this writing there was one "negative" and one "neutral' comment on their ebay account resulting from last night's activities").
Anyway, thanks for listening Harry .. my wife and I both enjoy your site and as busy professionals our time is precious. We make it a point to check your site whenever we can.
And here's another that was at the event....
I went to the Charity screening of the Mummy Returns last night. This was the one on the ebay with the proceeds going to Kids Cancer Connection and hosted by Oded Fehr.
What I wrote is more of an open letter complaint, in fact I did forward it along to Kids Cancer Connection. But it does detail the night's proceedings.
Please post this on your site because I think everyone should be forewarned that you may not get what you think you're paying for. Even when dealing with a charity, in the future people should attempt to get a detailed guarantee that what is being represented to them is what they shall receive. Remember: buyer beware, even when a charity is selling.
To whom it May Concern:
Initially, I really did not want to complain about the events of the last night. I tried to convince myself that although I was ripped off, it was by a charity, so at least my money went to a good cause. However, since it was a snow job by a charity, that should make it even worse. If we can't trust an event run by a charity, who can we trust?
Let me first point out that the entire night we were treated as if we were in a prison camp. Security and staff were extremely rude, we were herded and ordered around, and my friend who went with me was not even allowed to get popcorn. During our less than half second photo shoot, I didn't even get a chance to turn around to see who I was standing next to before I was being pushed into the theatre to the wail of "First three rows, please."
I understand that sometimes, due to celebrities' schedules, they may not be able to attend an event like this. The Rock not being able to make it at the last minute, I can understand. But considering that Rachel Weisz was still in London, and John Hannah did not attend the premiere the night before, it seems that there was some false representation in the ebay auction. I think you could have notified everyone who won the auction that these people would be unable to attend. In fact, no one even told us they would not be there until we were escorted into the theatre, where it appeared that it would be safe to make this announcement and not cause a protest.
You represented to us that from 6:45 to 7:30 we would have time to be with the "celebrities." Then there was the claim that someone else was using the theatre and we would not have time to do this, along with the statement, "There may be time for autographs after the movie." Immediately I knew that there was no truth at all in this statement, and it was just a lame attempt at smoothing things over. Instead of the 45 minutes promised, we were given 10 seconds with the stars of the film.
I understand that when you go to these events, that you only have time for a quick picture, an autograph, and perhaps a quick handshake. However, we got a group picture with the celebrities along with some other people in the group that I don't even know, and a handshake from Oded Fehr after the movie. Also, after the film your organization has the gall to bring Mr. Fehr back up to announce that there will be more things for us to buy on ebay. Have you people no shame?
I'm just a college student, and when I spend a lot of money on one event, I am greatly limiting my budget for the next few weeks. I did not pay $200 to watch a film and get nothing else. Saying to myself, "Well on the bright side, at least the money went to charity," does not make things any better. Charities should be held to the same accountability that a private organization would for putting on event such as this.
Please don't bother with an apology. I heard that enough last night, and it is apparent that the apology is just as fake as everything else last night. Besides, I even got a filmed apology from the Rock (which I find amusing that he had to think for a second about which charity this was for). If you were truly apologetic, perhaps your staff could have acted with some courtesy last night.
Kids Cancer Connection may have gotten away with this one, but I assure you that all you have done is hurt yourself if you plan on doing another fundraiser like this as well as all other charities that try this as well. Since, if you can't trust a charity, who can you trust?
The real morale here is to have the charity screening be separate from the Premiere. For example... when we handle these things in Austin... We keep the audience limited and small... The responsibilities of the Celebs to a bare minimum... and the enjoyment and attitudes very laid back and friendly. Whenever you get the numbers up over a thousand or so... you begin to run the risk of the 'exclusiveness' being turned into a madhouse with angry donors.... which is never a good thing, after all... you are there to serve them as they are no longer 'guests' but 'Paid Patrons' and the rules change there.