THE MUMMY RETURNS: 4K UHD Blu-Ray (Universal, 2001) Universal Home Video
Perhaps, the great curiosity afflicting Stephen Sommer’s sequel to his highly successful, The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001) remains its misleading title. This is not, as that title would suggest, the continuing saga of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), but a prequel for another movie, based on the completely fictionalized legend of Mathayus - The Scorpion King (Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson). It seems Mathayus was a great warrior who sold his soul to Anubis to become immortal. Alas, the deal came at a perilous price – eternal servitude to the God of the dead. Rest assured, Vosloo resurfaces in this continuing saga. But his importance in the screenplay, again, exclusively credited to Sommer, gets marginalized, first, by competing story lines, and, second, the unwelcome inclusion of Freddie Boath’s Alex O'Connell, as the cute and mischievous offspring of our heroic twosome from the first movie. When last we saw Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and Rick O’Connell, they were sailing off into the sunset aboard a crude airship, with Evelyn’s lovably corrupt brother, Jonathan Carnahan (John Hannah) in tow. But now, time has passed – enough for the sexually charged and feuding duo to have reconciled their differences, wed, and produced a blonde moppet who possesses about as much good sense as what God gave a lemon. Honestly, the grotesque incompetence Boath’s precocious and meddlesome 'kidlet' displays, deliberately to inveigle him at the heart of this plot, is sincerely grating on the nerves. Not entirely certain what it is about screenwriters of a certain generation who believe all sequels need to have annoying children as the hero’s sidekick.
Apart from its misnomer, The Mummy Returns manages to commit every cardinal sin a movie ‘sequel’ can. Afforded $100 million to produce it on a grand scale, Sommer’s The Mummy Returns netted a whopping $433,013,274 worldwide, assuring The Scorpion King prequel, set up here, would have its own movie in short order. The plot begins with another pre-title sequence. We are in Egypt again - circa 3067 BC. Mathayus - the Scorpion King leads an impressive army on his merciless quest to conquer the world. A valiant warrior, Mathayus is nevertheless beaten by fate and the elements, exiled, presumably to perish in the heat of the desert in search of Ahm Shere. Pledging his devotion to Anubis in exchange for his soul and the power to defeat his enemies, Mathayus is afforded a lush tropical oasis as his home base, and provided with a deadly legion of jackal-like warriors. The Army of Anubis, led by Mathayus sweeps across Egypt. However, at war’s end, Anubis claims Mathayus’ soul, his army returned to the Underworld.
Fast forward to 1933. Rick O'Connell and his wife, Evelyn are exploring ruins with their son, Alex, who mimics his mother’s proclivity for clumsily stumbling into danger at a moment’s glance. The couple unearth the Bracelet of Anubis and, after some daring do, barely escape the imploding temple with their treasure. Alas, in London, the bracelet locks onto Alex’s wrist, projecting visions to compel him to make a pilgrimage to Ahm Shere. Before any of this can take place, Evelyn is taken prisoner by an Egyptian cult who have already resurrected Imhotep, using the Book of the Dead. The cult’s desire is to exploit the mummy’s power to defeat Mathayus. In exchange, Imhotep will be afforded command of Anubis' jackal armies to conquer the world. The cult, led by Baltus Hafez (Alun Armstrong), includes thug muscle, Lock-Nah (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Meela Nais (Patricia Velásquez), the spitting image of Imhotep's lover, Anck-su-namun. Rick and his son set out to rescue Evelyn, accompanied by her brother, Jonathan, who manages to steal the mysterious golden Scepter of Osiris, and, Medjai leader, Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr). However, the plan goes awry when Rick frees Evelyn, but loses Alex to Lock-Nah. Recognizing the bracelet and its power, the cult hurries its pilgrimage to the desert to learn the true location of Ahm Shere, pursued by Rick, Evelyn and his friend, Izzy Buttons (Shaun Parkes).
Relying on Alex’s bracelet to guide them safely to Ahm Shere, at each length of the journey, Alex leaves clues for his parents to find. Imhotep uses the Book of the Dead to allow the soul of Anck-su-namun to possess Meela. However, the possession also affects Evelyn, who is now able to unlock secret memories of her own past life as Princess Nefetiri, once - the bracelet's true keeper, and, Pharaoh Seti I's daughter. On the edge of an oasis, Imhotep uses his demonic powers to crash the airship carrying Izzy, Evelyn and Rick. While Izzy stays behind in hopes of making the necessary repairs, by nightfall, the O’Connells infiltrate the cult’s base camp. Mercilessly, all are felled by an attack from pygmy mummies. Rick retrieves Alex while Ardeth Bay kills Lock-Nah. Father and son escape the pygmies, who murder virtually all of the cult members except for Baltus, Imhotep and Anck-su-namun. However, time is running out. Rick and Alex must make it to the hidden pyramid before dawn or the bracelet will kill Alex. With only mere moments left, Rick and Alex survive their ordeal, taking refuge inside the pyramid. The bracelet releases Alex. However, Anck-su-namun suddenly appears, plunging a dagger deep into Evelyn, killing her instantly. Along with Imhotep and Baltus, Anuck-su-namun retreats into the pyramid. Now, Baltus puts on the bracelet and revives Anubis’s armies. Anubis takes hold of Imhotep's powers, forcing Imhotep to fight as a mortal.
Rick attempts to thwart Imhotep’s resurrection of the Scorpion King, but is too late. Now, Mathayus arises – half man/half scorpion to do battle with Rick. Meanwhile, just beyond the oasis, Ardeth and a small contingent of the Medjai prepare to take on the impregnable minions of Anubis. Inside the great temple, Rick narrowly avoids being killed by Mathayus, who inflicts a mortal wound on Baltus instead. Recovering the Book of the Dead from Anck-su-namun, Jonathan and Alex will Evelyn back to life. Now, assuming Nefetiri’s spirit, Evelyn confronts Anck-su-namun. Meanwhile, Rick discovers the real purpose of Jonathan’s scepter, the only weapon capable of killing the Scorpion King. Ardeth drives the Medjai into a vanguard of Anubis’ warriors, decimating the lot, only to discover scores more preparing to surround them. Mercifully, Rick claims the scepter, transforms it into a spear, and, vanquishes Mathayus back into the underworld. This, in turn, causes Anubis’ armies to evaporate and the oasis to consume itself. Rick and Imhotep are cast over the edge of a large precipice, in danger of being swallowed into the abyss. Sacrificing her own safety to rescue Rick, Evelyn pulls her husband back from the brink. But Anck-su-namun, ever out for only her own good, abandons Imhotep, who, heartbroken at her betrayal, chooses eternal damnation instead. Anck-su-namun does not escape, but falls into a pit of scorpions where she too perishes. Scaling the pyramid as it rapidly sinks back into the quicksand of time, the O'Connells are spared when Izzy arrives, using his airship to rescue them. From his perch high above the deluge, Ardeth Bay salutes Rick and his family before riding off into the sunset.
The Mummy Returns is an ambitious undertaking, yet awkwardly realized, suffering from too many narrative threads, momentarily brought together in Stephen Sommer's convoluted screenplay, only to bunch into a noisy claptrap of CGI-generated mayhem in the final act. There is too much plot here, too many unanswered questions. The story wildly veers all over the map. If the mummy has, in fact, returned, it is only as a guest host to introduce the Scorpion King to audiences for Sommer’s follow-up movie. And yet, given that the character of Mathayus receives his own prologue here, and book-ends the action set piece to close out the show, he otherwise is afforded precious little to do elsewhere. We are then introduced to the problematic ‘reincarnation’ narrative – Evelyn – a.k.a. Nefetiri vs. Meela/Anuck-su-namon. Any one of these plot points would have been worthy of developing into an entire movie on its own. Cumulatively, they play as truncated vignettes – mere ‘coming attractions’ for a longer movie that never actually comes into being. The SFX in The Mummy Returns easily outdo anything seen in its predecessor, but to what purpose? If Sommer had ambitions for his sequel to become an epic he has sorely forgotten the crux of its story lies in a thousand-year-old curse and a villain, too oft relegated to the proverbial backseat of his own movie. As a result, The Mummy Returns is simply bigger, rather than better.
Apart from its digital effects, The Mummy Returns was shot on 35mm film, and this newly remastered 4K UHD Blu-ray really delivers the goods. What’s here: extraordinarily rich and vibrant colors, exceptional flesh tones, wonderful detail, with finite precision in ultra-hi-def. What’s not: all the ugly edge enhancement that plagued the original standard Blu-ray release. Universal Home Video has gone back to basics here. I really have to give the company props for their work in 4K thus far. While their commitment to Blu-ray remains spotty at best, and was never solid to begin with, virtually every one of Uni’s 4K discs is a winner; The Mummy Returns being no exception to that rule. So, prepare to be dazzled by remarkable image clarity, a light smattering of film grain, and exquisite contrast. Nothing to complain about here. The audio is DTS:X or 7.1 channels of pure adrenaline-rushing sound, benefiting the action sequences and Alan Silvestri’s heart-palpating score. Uni has afforded the 4K virtually NO extras. Mercifully, they have provided a copy of the tired old Blu-ray. This has not been mastered from the same 4K remastered files, but is, in fact, the original Blu-ray release, retaining an awful and digitized image, but all the extras as before, including an audio commentary from Sommer and executive producer/editor, Bob Ducsay. A 20 min. featurette on the making of the movie, plus featurettes devoted to the various visual SFX, a music video, and 6 mins. of outtakes – all directly ported over from Uni’s original DVD release. Ho-hum – nothing new here. Bottom line: while glossier, flashier and more overwhelming at a glance than its predecessor, The Mummy Returns isn’t nearly as much fun. It looks the part, but lacks the heart, substituting spectacle for substance. The UHD 4K Blu-ray is perfect. Judge and buy accordingly.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)