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  • Returning to the Mummy
  • Lisa Hopkins
Review of: The Mummy Returns. Dir. Stephen Sommers. Perf. Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo. MCA/Universal, 2002.

On her arrival at a pre-election Conservative Party rally at the Plymouth Pavilion in May 2002, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher cracked a rare joke. “I was told beforehand my arrival was unscheduled,” she said, “but on the way here I passed a local cinema and it turns out you were expecting me after all. The billboard read, ‘The Mummy Returns’” (MacAskill). Predictably, this got a laugh from her audience. What, however, did she actually mean? The word “mummy” has two senses—an affectionate diminutive of “mother” and an embalmed corpse—and, depending perhaps on one’s own political affiliation, either might seem an appropriate description of Thatcher. The Guardian seemed to incline to the former when it headed its report “Tory matriarch goes on stage and off message,” which posited her as a kind of monstrous mother returning to smother and stymie the hapless William Hague, but The Independent quoted an unidentified former Tory minister as saying after the election, “I wish The Mummy had stayed in her box.... Every time she pops up, she costs us votes” (Grice), where the reference to “box” seems clearly to align her with a corpse. It is, perhaps, suggestive that the generally left-wing, anti-Thatcher Guardian should think of her as a mother, while a former Tory minister, who might reasonably be supposed to be more in sympathy with her, should think of her merely as a corpse: is the mother actually more menacing than the embalmed body?

At first sight, this ambiguity may seem to be entirely absent from the film to which Thatcher was referring, Stephen Sommers’s 2002 blockbuster The Mummy Returns, the sequel to his 1999 hit The Mummy, since the mummy in question is, in both films, male: it is that of the high priest Imhotep, condemned to eternal undeath after he murdered the Pharaoh Seti I because he desired the latter’s mistress, Ankh-Su-Namun. We see both their love and their death in a brief vignette at the start of the film, and then switch swiftly to the early twentieth century, where Brendan Fraser’s legionnaire becomes involved in helping Rachel Weisz’s Egyptologist search for Hamunaptra, the city where Seti is supposed to have concealed his treasure. Inevitably, Weisz accidentally brings Imhotep back to life, and he proceeds to regenerate by sucking dry the team of American adventurers who first disturbed his resting place. This seems a bit rough on them, since it was Weisz’s character, Evie Carnahan, who actually reanimated him, but then Imhotep has designs of another sort on her, since he proposes to sacrifice her to effect the resurrection of Ankh-Su-Namun. To this extent, Sommers’s Mummy obviously pays homage to Karl Freund’s 1932 film of the same name, where the heroine, Zita Johann’s Helen Grosvenor, is identified by Boris Karloff’s reanimated mummy as the long-lost princess Ankh-Su-Namun. The debt is also acknowledged when a severed hand moves of its own accord across the floor, though Sommer’s film of course leaves its predecessor far behind in special effects, even allowing itself a little self-congratulation when Kevin J. O’Connor’s disreputable Beni says to Imhotep, “I loved the whole sand-wall effect.... Beautiful, just beautiful.”

It goes without saying that Evie is rescued from Imhotep in the end by Fraser’s character, the relentlessly gung-ho Rick O’Connell, thus leaving the way clear for a sequel (the film was such an instant hit that studio bosses requested a second one immediately). The Mummy Returns was released almost exactly two years after its predecessor and brought together pretty much every character from the first film who wasn’t dead, plus two who were, since Imhotep and Ankh-Su-Namun both returned. It also added a new villain, the Scorpion King, played by the wrestler The Rock; gave Evie and Rick an eight-year-old son, Alex; and introduced Rick’s old friend Izzy (played by Shaun Parkes). Plot, as many reviewers...

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