In many ways, I can absolutely believe it’s been 20 years – two whole decades! – since Imhotep jumped aboard that red London bus in The Mummy Returns.
Having absolutely loved studying the Egyptians at school – particularly the more graphic aspects of mummification – The Mummy Returns was released at a pivotal time for me, and indeed many other nerdy 10-year-olds.
This was a film that combined my childhood obsessions with ancient history, curses and adventure stories with something a bit more morbid and scary. A taste of the sleepover horror sessions to come.
Despite the unrelenting silliness and pun-filled dialogue, this was a film that genuinely frightened me, with Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) – a reanimated, time-ravaged corpse who exhibits surprising swiftness and strength – being possibly the scariest character I’d seen onscreen at this stage.
In the days of The Walking Dead, the gaping holes in Imhotep’s papery, CGI flesh really don’t seem too spooky, but back in 2001, they really did the trick nightmare-wise and gave me a genuine fear of being locked in museums overnight.
Here was a confronting image of death and decay that honestly felt very possible to me; the often-complicated lore of The Mummy Returns interwoven with my own wide-eyed, romanticised understanding of ancient history.
And into this potent mix strode Rachel Weisz as the unforgettable Evelyn Carnahan/O’Connell, a charismatic yet endearingly sweet character whose long Coca-Cola waves and quick wit I still envy to this day.
Now, I’ll concede that not all critics were breaking out in applause upon the release of this movie, with its daft humour and admittedly-cluttered antiques attic of a narrative being very much of its time.
‘A p*ss poor mummy movie indeed that doesn’t deliver a damn thing worth preserving’ was how Peter Travers dismissed it in his one-out-of-five Rolling Stone review. Meanwhile, Rita Kempley of The Washington Post wasn’t much more forgiving, blasting the action sequences as ‘uneven and repetitious’.
However, I would argue that this sequel remains memorable to so many of us on account of the fun, enthusiastic performances from both Weisz and Brendan Fraser, who played wise-cracking adventurer Rick O’Connell.
Thanks to their easy onscreen chemistry, Weisz and Fraser completely convinced us that these characters still fancied each other many years into marriage and parenthood; that they were able to flirt up a storm even when outrunning the undead with their eight-year-old son in tow.
To this day, many of us still hold a place in the adventure-movie-loving part of our hearts for the classic ‘opposites attract’ pairing of Rick and Evelyn.
I would argue that this affection remains particularly strong towards Evelyn, who remains a cultural touchstone for the sort of girls who once longed to wander around mysterious ruins with a flame torch in their fist and a shimmering golden belt around their waist.
Smart, driven and interested in the world around her, Evelyn provided a much-needed comforting presence for girls who suspected their nerdy obsessions made them more awkward than desirable, being abashedly, unapologetically geeky in the best possible way.
Evelyn is the sort who is more than happy to go into gory detail about mummification in front of a new crush (‘They take a sharp, red-hot poker, stick it up your nose, scramble things about a bit, and then rip it all out through your nostrils!’) and we love her all the more for it.
So many bookish girls over the years have warmed to Evelyn for taking such pride in her profession as a museum librarian, with her drunkenly defiant ‘I… am a librarian’ making for one of the most memorable scenes of The Mummy (1999).
With her sensible shirt and wiry glasses get-up, the Evelyn of the first movie fitted many of the tropes of being a librarian. However, she also managed to subvert many of the less-flattering stereotypes, balancing her earnestness with an adventurous nature, vivacity and humour.
It was a great character part. Normally women in action movies are just ditsy bimbos. She was a damsel in distress, but she was a librarian in distress, which is funny in itself.
And I got to do all my own stunts. I didn’t do that many but there was one bad one where I had to turn round to shoot a rider on a horse. He was on a pulley that yanked him off and he broke both his arms. They still used the shot though – this is not a charitable industry.
It’s testament to Weisz’s natural warmth that Evelyn is a surprisingly relatable character who, despite being a reincarnated Egyptian princess, is no Mary-Sue stereotype who gets everything right on the first try.
Like any ordinary human would be, Evelyn sometimes becomes understandably frightened of the various scary situations she finds herself in, but is ultimately able to triumph through the power of knowledge.
She’s also the undisputed movie icon of having a bad day at work, with that disastrous library shelves toppling scene from the first movie (‘My girl, when Rameses destroyed Syria, that was an accident. You are a *catastrophe*!’) still leaving me wincing with empathy upon a rewatch.
I know I’m far from the only one who felt a pang of recognition at Evelyn’s clumsiness, with this character showing that you absolutely can save the world even if you’re the sort of person who sends things flying on occasion.
There is perhaps no better evening that tonight to stick on The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. The perfect rip-roaring watch, whether or not you have a working knowledge of hieroglyphics.