Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Mummy Returns (dir. Stephen Sommers, 2001)

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Spoilers follow, though this film is far from unpredicatable anyway!

The first time I saw this film, on a borrowed video, I watched something like four times in three days. I honestly couldn't tell you why! (I think I might have had flu or somthing). Whereas The Mummy was a quality action-adventure film, The Mummy Returns is deeply, deeply silly. There's a mad hot air balloon with a boat-thing strung underneath it, an army of skeletal pygmies, The Rock as a badly CG-ed scorpion, and Brendan Fraser's American serving in the French Foreign Legion turns out to be from an orphanage in Cairo and is actually an ancient Magi, while Rachel Weisz's English librarian suddenly turns into Xena Warrior Princess as she starts remembering a past life an as Egyptian princess who, for reasons passing understanding, has been trained in martial arts.

And yet, it is still fun silliness. The leads are as likeable and watchable as ever and Fraser and Weisz have really nice chemistry as a refreshingly happily married couple. The humour is still there, the handsome men are still there, and the whole thing looks pretty good (slightly outdated special effects notwithstanding). Evie's death produces an odd moment that doesn't quite fit the rest tonally, but the audience can be pretty confident that she isn't going to stay dead and the whole thing just has a sweetness about it that's lacking from an awful lot of films lately (especially 'darker and edgier' sequels - Pirates of the Carribbean, I'm looking at you. Though I haven't seen the fourth one yet, so maybe that one lightens up again).

In the film's opening sequence, the Scorpion King offers his soul to Anubis in exchange for life. Anubis as the featured god makes sense, as he was god of the dead and the underworld (which is why the airline in True Blood is called Anubis Air), plus he gets an army of jackal-type creatures, which is fun. His minion, the Scorpion King, can be killed with the Spear of Osiris, who was another god associated with the dead and the underworld, so that sort of makes sense, in a way.

Desert oasis in Tunisia

The concept of 'offering your soul', though, strikes me as a rather Christian thing that doesn't really seem to fit ancient religion. Anubis is associated with death and the afterlife, so he'll presumably get his mitts on everybody's souls at some point. The idea of a god wanting to take your soul in return for something strikes me as an idea that only really works if you only have two choices, as in the Christian idea of selling your soul to the Devil, as opposed to God. Maybe I'm wrong though - does anyone know any mythologies with a larger pantheon where a person might offer their soul to one god exclusively? It's certainly not an idea I've come across in ancient religion (unless it was part of the secretive mystery cults, where you might expect a better afterlife thanks to your service to the god in this life - but since you would still worship all the other gods when necessary as well, you weren't really giving your soul to one in particular, just offering them extra service).

At the beginning of the film, I got quite excited to see Evie actually doing some proper archaeology, brushing a relief with a proper little archaeologist's brush. Five minutes later, however, Rick turns up and whacks half the wall down. Then a bad guy tramples on the relief as it lies on the floor. Ah well. Digging in the sand for weeks in order to turn up a few tablets like in real archaeology just wouldn't be very exciting. And archaeologists in earlier eras really were much less careful with ancient stuff than modern ones are (Heinrich Schliemann famously destroyed half a dozen levels of archaeological remains at Troy, trying to get to the mythical Bronze Age city).

I wonder why the Scorpion King had a little series of pictures demonstrating exactly how to kill him on his wall? Interesting choice on the interior decoration front, that one.

This is a daft film, and I'm not quite sure why I thought it warrented so many viewings in one weekend (I must have been delirious) but it's still good quality family fun. It even features a non-annoying kid with a British accent! Alex is genuinely likeable, which is a great relief and is down to both good writing and an occasionally stilted but generally endearing performance from Freddie Boath. The moment when the handsome Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr) is about to fight an enormous army of jackal things and they turn to dust just as they reach him is also really quite awesome. When all's said and done, this is a film with hot men fighting each other in the desert, Rachel Wesiz kicking bottom, quality comic relief from Boath and John Hannah and a mummy vs a giant, badly CG-ed scorpion thing. Really, what's not to like?!


Some handsome men
 

6 comments:

  1. By the 30s archaeologists were pretty much all fairly careful. At least when it came to digging. There were some pretty ham-handed restorations by people like Evans. There were actually archaeologists who were worse than Schliemann. At least when he got to the levels he thought he wanted he was sort of careful. There was an Egyptologist (I think it was Belzoni) who dynamited his way into tombs.

    On Stranger Tides is darkish, though not necessarily edgy. It has more laughs than either 2 or 3, but there's still some gruesome stuff. Not as dark as the book its very vaguely based on, though. I don't think you'll be able to get a post out of it. It does have mermaids in, but they don't seem to have been conflated with sirens for once. Although one is named Serena, so they might have been going for that.

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  2. Ooops, that was me just now.

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  3. Yeah, I thought they were probably better by the 30s, though perhaps not quite up to post-war standards of taking care of stuff.

    Going to see On Stranger Tides next week, looking forward to the funny bits! I keep wondering if I should do something on the underworld from film 3, but I already did an underworld post a while back.

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  4. Make sure you sit all the way through the closing credits. There's a final scene afterwards that may have implications for the next film.

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  5. @Demetrios: I think that final snippet of a scene at the end of Stranger Tides was just for laughs...
    and those mermaids were a lot like sirens to me since the idea is they lure men to watery graves with their singing...

    As for The Mummy Returns, definitely not as good as the first, but like you said still a lot of fun and WAY better than the third.

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  6. Saw Stranger Tides yesterday, I liked it, especially the mermaids - nicely creepy! (Though the vampire fangs did take me out of the film for a moment!)

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