'Mummy Returns' with a vengeance

JOHN POWELL

, Last Updated: 1:45 PM ET

In the production notes for "The Mummy Returns", writer-director Stephen Sommers is quoted as saying: "By the time we had finished making 'The Mummy', we had all these ideas for a sequel that would tell the story with a much larger canvas and feature the next generation of special effects. I wanted to bring back a lot of the same characters in an entirely new adventure without relying on old tricks. I really wanted to outdo myself."

It may be hard to believe, but Sommers definitely has. Not only is "The Mummy Returns" bigger in scope than the fun-filled original, but it is better in every way imaginable.

The breakneck storyline rockets us through a myriad of time periods and settings, and by the time we have traveled from the shifting sands of Egypt to the winding streets of London, we truly feel as if we have been on an epic adventure.

The grotesque gallery of monstrosities conjured up by Academy Award-winner John Berton and his crew in the labs of Industrial Light And Magic has also been enhanced. Whereas in the first installment there were bothersome bugs, ancient corpses, and The Mummy himself to challenge our heroes, in the sequel there are more of the same plus wickedly evil pygmies, mummies who scamper along like spiders, fearsome jackal-like warriors, and the centerpiece of the sequel, The Scorpion King.

"The Mummy Returns" takes place eight years after freelance mercenary Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), Egyptologist Evelyn 'Evie' Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), and her brother Jonathan (John Hannah) stopped the all-powerful Mummy (Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep) from taking over the world. Rick and Evelyn have since gotten hitched and now have a son named Alex (nine-year-old newcomer Freddie Boath).

Alex embodies the best of mom and pop. He has his mother's smarts and his dad's sense of adventure. Of course, the little ankle-biter is prone to getting into trouble, and does when he tries on the Scorpion King's gauntlet, a mystical item sought after by the resurrected Mummy.

Old rag-face and The Scorpion King are destined to duke it out for supremacy, and the gauntlet could tip the scales in Imhotep's favour, since anyone possessing it has the power to control a supernatural army of Anubis's creation. Mom, dad and their friends race against the sands of time to save Alex, foil the Mummy's scheme to gain immortality, and send The Scorpion King back from whence he came. Talk about a busy day at the office.

Unlike, say, a dizzying Michael Bay-Jerry Bruckheimer production, which throws so much at us that don't have space to breath or make sense of it all, writer-director Sommers has achieved a perfect balance with "The Mummy Returns". He neatly juggles the multitude of characters, plots, and settings without muddling up the works or overloading his audience with tumultuous effects and stunts. Though there are plenty of those to be had.

Sommers is a conservative filmmaker who wastes little screen time. He's got a lot of ideas to pack into the film, and he does it well. It's one harrowing predicament after another, culminating in a finale that features not one, not two, but three major battles occurring simultaneously.

The lone disappointment is The Scorpion King. For the first five minutes or so of the film, he appears in human form and is played by World Wrestling Federation superstar The Rock (Dwayne Johnson). Then we don't see The Scorpion King again until the very end, and when we do he is a computer-generated half-man, half-scorpion creature.

It's peculiar that, even though The Scorpion King is slated to star in his own feature film in the near future, The Rock is given so little screen time and during it doesn't even utter a word of English. All that we know about him is what others dig up throughout the course of the story and what the narrator tells us as he describes the noble warrior selling his soul to Anubis, an Egyptian god of the dead.

The final transformation of The Scorpion King is also poorly done. While the scorpion body is a sight to behold, The Rock's computerized head looks as if it were made out of play-dough rather than the flesh and bone it is supposed to be. It's back to the drawing board for The Scorpion King, it would seem.

Still, if you got a kick out of Sommers' original take on Karl Freund's 1932 horror classic, you're gonna get wrapped up in this rollicking sequel.

This is a movie year that has hobbled out of the starting gate. "The Mummy Returns" will surely be the film that gives the box office the boost it needs.

The Powell Factor

An ineffective Scorpion King + more bugs than you can shake a can of Raid at + one double-decker bus chase scene + Brendan Fraser for saying ..."Oh, I hate mummies" + two huge field battles + Rachel Weisz cracking skulls + Freddie Boath for saying to The Mummy ... "My dad's gonna kick your ass!" + one flood trap + attack of the pygmies + The Mummy's tidal wave + Brendan Fraser for saying ..."It's not easy being a dad" + one hand gets chewed up - The Rock's cameo appearance + one hell hole + Brendan Fraser for saying to The Scorpion King ..."Go to hell, and take your friends with you" + John Hannah's comic relief + Anubis's army from hell = A rare find.

(More on: The Mummy Returns).

(This film is rated PG)


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