I’m in a pulpy mood this week (like most weeks, but even moreso) so over the weekend my son and I rewatched The Mummy Returns. It’s a film that gets a lot of flack for some reason, but I loved it (and the first in the series). As I wrote in a mailing list thread back in 2001:
Put me in the love-it camp.
I think it may actually be the best pulp flick since Raiders, and probably the best PURE pulp flick ever.
It’s nowhere near as good a movie as Raiders, and it IS derivative as hell…but it’s so conscious and playful in its stealing that I can’t fault it. The writer/director clearly loves this sort of material and runs with it.
It’s also flawed in a lot of ways that have to be deliberate attempts to capture the shoddy (yet lovable) consistency of the pulps. For example, Frasier’s character now has a tattoo he’s apparently had since he was a kid. Did they put this tattoo somewhere where we couldn’t have seen it in the first film, like on his calf (to be seen when he’s pulling on his boots) or his shoulder (to be seen when his shirt rips in Doc Savage-style)? No. They put it on top of his wrist, which was plainly seen NOT to have a tattoo in the first film. Such an easy “flaw” was an easy one to address without problem, yet the tattoo is right there in all its glory, screaming INCONSISTENCY!
Or, rather, pulp-like inconsistency. The pulps are full of this sort of thing, as writers reached and dug for any new nugget to twist a story on. I’m a stickler for consistency — I’m the guy who watched carefully in each LETHAL WEAPON sequel to make sure Riggs’s tattoo (plot device in the first film) was still in place. It was. But this stuff is clear and playful homage to the source material, and I loved it.
The first two Mummy flicks were both obvious labors of love by Stephen Sommers, their writer/director. They were amazing showcases for CGI effects, but beyond that they had engaging stories full of pulp action, lots of comedy that did not descend into camp, and wonderful characters performed by perfectly cast actors. Brendan Fraser, as American soldier-of-fortune Rick O’Connell, was a perfect pulp hero, brash and cocky and capable. Rachel Weisz as Evelyn “Evy” O’Connell (né Carnahan) was the brilliant and (extraordinarily) sexy librarian who could hold her own in a scrap. Together they had incredible chemistry, crack comic timing, and the charm and natural repartee of a classic Hollywood couple (like Gable and Lombard, or Loy and Powell).
Throw in John Hannah as Evy’s sleazy but lovable brother, Arnold Vosloo as great villain Imhotep (whose ultimate fate, at the end of the second film, possesses pathos and tragedy), and a host of great supporting roles, and you have some flicks with great characters on the screen at all times. Even the kid who plays the O’Connell’s son, Alex, in the second film is brash and bratty without being annoying, a rare thing in a character like his.
The O’Connell’s adventures continued in a short-lived cartoon that was fairly good, and I remember it fondly as one of the few sources of pulp goodness I could share with my then five-year-old son.
He and I watched The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor last night. When I say it’s incredible, well, you’d darn well better believe that I am lying. Flat out full of shit. On a George W. Bush scale. Because it’s terrible. Continue reading