Best Action Scenes of All-Time: The Mummy Edition - The Part-Time Critic

Monday, February 7, 2022

Best Action Scenes of All-Time: The Mummy Edition

*Mummy Wallpaper by from FANPOP

The Mummy was one of the surprise hits of 1999. The film was a reboot, from relative unknown Stephen Sommers, of Universal's Mummy horror franchise but in the vein of Indiana Jones or better yet The Adventures of Robin Hood. The movie didn't start a new trend in action like it's 1999 counterpart The Matrix or bring back the most beloved franchise of all-time like 1999's A Phantom Menace, but it did capture a certain joyous spirit that has made it a staple of re-runs on television and spawned a franchise loved by many. There are a total of five main entries (not counting two direct-to-DVD Scorpion King sequels) into this series and 27 distinct action scenes by my count. The original hit film, although it's not what I'd call a classic - was able to combine adventure, horror, and action elements together with an Errol Flynn like whimsy alongside a good visual eye for f/x and action. That's incredibly tough to pull off! Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz had nice chemistry and the film was easy just so easy to watch and enjoy. The result was the birth of a crowd pleasing franchise people wanted more of. 

Coming just two years later was The Mummy Returns - an ambitious attempt to re-capture the magic formula and do so on a grander scale. The film has its moments, but too much of it feels half-baked or too rushed for what they were trying to accomplish. Another six months to a year for re-writes and CGI work would have done it wonders. No single sequence needed it more than the finale with the Rock as a Scorpion. Despite the all-time embarrassing CGI - the Rock would go on to get his own spin-off in the from of Scorpion King sequel in 2002. Initially, I didn't like the film, but upon further review, it's quite an enjoyable little tongue in cheek action film set in the ancient world. You could do a lot worse with a free lazy Saturday afternoon. In 2008, the third entry into the main series arrived and it had two big changes: first is that directing and writings duties do not include Stephen Sommers (Rob Cohen took over directing), which is a step down. Second is that Mario Bello is substituted for Rachel Weisz  - which is a step down as well as Bello just doesn't have that whimsical charm needed God bless her). Try as it might, the film just suffers from trying to be like a Sommer's Mummy entry (the money is all there on screen), but without the particular Errol Flynn adventurous whimsy Sommers had in his best moments. It tries (again, they clearly spent money to make it look good), but it can't overcome the poor script, average directing, and a convoluted finale. The franchise sat dormant as Universal had grand plans to reboot it as part of their "Dark Universe" - an MCU like inter-connected universe of horror films. The resultant reboot in 2017 with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe was a massive failure critically and financially. It's easily one of the worst major Hollywood films I've ever seen. Don't waste your time - it's not even good in a guilty pleasure way. It's exactly like a lifeless mummy - it's just that bad. For those interested in knowing before you get into the ratings, here's how I would rank the five films:

5. The Mummy (D) 2017
4. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (C-) 2008
3. The Mummy Returns (C+) 2001
2. The Scorpion King (C+) 2002
1. The Mummy (B+) 1999

Links to clips begin around #5 in the sequences below - as these are really the only sequences I'd say are worth your time anyways. Otherwise, you're wading through a lot of average stuff. Enjoy and feel free to comment!


All Mummy Franchise Action Sequences Graded & Ranked

GRADE: D

27."Finale: London Sandstorm, the Dead, Swimming, and Slaps" -The Mummy (2017)
- Commentary: Can I be honest with you? When I first saw this film back when it came out it bored me to death and put me to tears. I want to do these action reviews as honestly as possible and not just watch out of context clips, but try and rewatch and review every movie/action scene. When I rented this film again and we got into the finale I had to back up and restart it multiple times. It's so long, so convoluted, bounces around from idea to idea without any of them geling, that I grew to truly hate this sequence. At one moment there's a sandstorm, the next swimming around underwater with dead people, then Cruise is getting slapped around, then he's the Mummy, then....zzzzz....zzzz. I'm sorry, I try to be objective, but so much of this bloat is so unncessary and so boring. Just when I thought it over I looked and saw FIFTEEN minutes still on the runtime. It's easily the complete nadir of the entire franchise. 

GRADE: C-

26. “Imhotep Summons a Wave to take Down the Derigible” -The Mummy Returns (2001)
- Commentary: Meant to be the update of the “Sand Wave” from the original film – the ambition here just outdid the grasp of the visual effects team. Sand is much easier to simulate than water and the water here does not hold up. Combine with the live action footage on the derigible and this action sequence is a bit lame with serious suspension of disbelief problems and jarring CGI. One of the worst moments of the series.

25. "Cruise vs. Mr. Hyde as the Mummy Escapes" -The Mummy (2017)
- Commentary: The movie was already unengaging and lost, but this scene officially put the nail in the coffin. Russell Crowe, Dr. Jekyll, decides he must kill Cruise's character and he allows Mr. Hyde to come out and do the job. While he and Cruise have a visually decent, but ultimately mindless and meaningless fight, the plot goes to heck. The Mummy begins to control others and gets herself out. By the end, Cruise is doing his trademark running sequence (which while admittedly stunning with glass breaking all around him) - but when done in a movie like this that sucks just makes it feel even more cliche. Blech.

24. “Finale: O'Connell, Imhotep, and the Scorpion King Battle” -The Mummy Returns (2001)
- Commentary: For a film that badly wants to follow the template of the first one – can it recreate the magic of the first’s finale? Nope – not even close. The first finale recognized its roots and the narrow scope allowed it to play out like an Errol Flynn adventure but with state of the art sets and visual effects. Unfortunately, the choice to go bigger has hurt the franchise. Yes, there are flashes of the original’s adventure – but when giant CGI armies (that haven’t aged as well as the handful of CGI mummies in the first) are going to war – I’d say you’ve lost the humble beginnings. On top of this is perhaps one of the most notoriously bad visual effects of all time – the Scorpion Rock. The final version of the Scorpion King looks like a boss out of a Playstation 2 video game and it is incredibly distracting. I feel bad saying all this because there’s a lot of time and effort on the screen – some of the choreography with O’Connell and Imhotep is good, the sets rock, and even Weisz gets a decent moment. However, the finale is bloated, long, and taken so seriously, that all of these other problems feel like fatal flaws. That the Scorpion King is killed by a golden stick that turns into a spear that Jonathan just so happened to keep around is the dumb deus ex machina cherry on top.

23. "Mountain Showdown: Good Guys & Yeti's vs. the Emperor & Bad Guys" -The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
- Commentary: This sequence is a frustrating one. There is a place high in the Himalayas where the Emperor needs to put a diamond to reveal the location of Shangri-La and the O'Connell's want to stop him. There simple plan is to try and hold them off with guns, but if they can't they'll blow the spot where the diamond goes. The bad guys show up, push them back, and Jet Li's Emperor overpowers all of them. To counteract this, one of the ladies helping the O'Connell's calls on Yeti's to help. Just out of the blue, no seeds for this sown earlier, just calls them down. They come to help and the CGI here is not good - nor is the humor - one of them makes a feel goal joke. This sequence on paper could have been a great one, but it's edited to heck, filled with tight shots that obscure the geography, and has one "well that doesn't make much sense" moment after another. Just a lot of stupidity from the writing, the staging, and the direction - despite a lot of money and promise.


GRADE: C

22. “Emperor's Grave is Found Along with a Ninja Protector” -The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
- Commentary: Another mini-action sequence from this film with just 1-2 nice little visuals from a ninja until it settles into just a struggle with a painfully slow elevator dropping that might or might not crush someone’s head. Then it’s basically over.

21. “Opening: Emperor Jet Li Takes Out Would Be Assassins” -The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
- Commentary: Decent Jet Li looking action, but it’s just a small teaser of his martial arts skill.

20. “Opening: Scorpion King Army Battle at Thebes” -The Mummy Returns (2001)
- Commentary: Not much to say here except that they spent a lot of money outfitting the Scorpion King’s army for a thirty second sequence. The city of Thebes looks nice in the background too. Just a small part of the opening prologue here – nicely staged, but short.

19. “Medjai Attack the Dig Camp at Night” -The Mummy (1999)
- Commentary: A small band of the Medjai raid the dig camp and try to run them off. After some pretty basic action the scene ends with O’Connell lighting a stick of dynamite to run them off. It’s a bit of a letdown because our heroes here are just rather nonchalantly at times killing off members of the Medjai. Seriously, like ten or so seem to die in this raid only for them to retreat. Later, the leader of the Medjai joins the heroes and this kind of death is just glossed over. A bit of an overlooked aspect.

18. “Escaping Imhotep's Slaves but Losing Evy” -The Mummy (1999)
- Commentary: This sequence has always felt a little transitional and rushed to me. The group here looks to escape Imhotep and his brainwashed slaves who ambush them at the Cairo Museum. The action here doesn’t really pick up until they get in a convertible car and try to escape in the streets. A key member of the group is pulled down and the team eventually hits a dead end. It feels a bit awkward and arbitrary. Like the writers just didn’t know how to get from A to B so they wrote this scene to do it.

17. “Opening: Scorpion King Saves His Brother from Barbarians” -The Scorpion King (2002)
- Commentary: If you didn’t see The Mummy Returns then this is your introduction to the character of the Scorpion King…and rather than the blood thirsty war-monger we got there, this is a wise-cracking Arnold-esque butt-kicker. Scorpion King’s brother is captured and is about to be killed, giving the Rock a chance to enter and take out a bunch of guys by himself. There are a couple nice stunts, good looking set, but the humor and wisecracks don’t feel earned yet. It comes off more like a quick action scene from a television series than from a film.

16. "Escaping a Sacrifice in the Abbey & Ending in a Ditch" -The Mummy (2017)
- Commentary: The directing name of the game here seems to be two-fold: keep it dark and keep it visceral. This sequence is to see Tom Cruise's character escape being sacrificed by the Mummy and getaway with his female doctor friend but the Mummy and her minions are too strong for them. Unfortunately, the desire to make the escape sequence grounded and visceral means we get a lot of in your face shots with Mummy minions (what else to call the random undead following her?) while Cruise is trying to drive away - but the CGI here is not up to par. It's obvious, distracting, and the whole thing is a mess of tones - kinda like the entire movie.

15. “Attempting to Retrieve the Bracelet at O'Connell's Mansion” -The Mummy Returns (2001)
- Commentary: This sequence likely deserves better than a C grade – but there is just something off about it. First, it kinda just happens out of nowhere with our characters stumbling into it – not in good way – but arbitrary way. The bad guys come off as a bit imbecilic when they finger Jonathan for O’Connell and then take a bit before they come to their senses. Second, Ardeth Bay arrives just in time – luckily – and Evy all of a sudden is remembering fight abilities. Evy’s thing is explained later, but it all feels so arbitrary. I like the mansion, the fights are decent, and Fraser again shows that charisma, but there’s just something off here and the kid being a bit oblivious and underwritten is the least of it.


GRADE: C+

14. “Sandstorm Melee: Mathayas vs. Memnom's Band” -The Scorpion King (2002)
- Commentary: Ever wanted to see The Rock have a “Rambo” moment where he takes out men one by one? Well here it is – except it’s in a sand cavern/cave filled with traps. It’s fun to see Mathayas get a moment on his own terms and be overpowered.

13. “Mummy Comes to Life & Chases Off Diggers” -The Mummy (1999)
- Commentary: The sacred book of the dead is read from by Evy and it brings to life the Mummy Imhotep. A plague of locusts blow in and send the group into the tombs where they encounter the flesh eating scarabs and the revived Mummy. The CGI still holds up well and the practical sets they built look quite adventurous. This is a decent sequence, but nothing special.

12. “Opening: The Battle of Hamunaptra” -The Mummy (1999)
- Commentary: This action sequence kicks off The Mummy franchise and its better staged than I remember. An arab Taureg army is sending a calvary charge against a division of the French Foreign Legion positioned behind a wall in the ancient ruined city of Hamunaptra. As the calvary close in, soldiers begin to desert, and we are introduced to our lead, Rick O’Connell, who is promoted as the cowardly commander runs away. Volley’s are ultimately fired, but the Taureg’s bust through and O’Connell must retreat into the ruins where he is cornered and about to be executed before supernatural shenanigans scare away his pursuers. It’s a short sequence, but impactful and sets the tone.

11. “Finale: The Undead vs. The Clay Army at the Wall” -The Mummy: Tomb of the Emperor Dragon (2008)
- Commentary: The convoluted title of the film mirrors the convoluted action finale here. Essentially, it’s two undead ancient CGI armies fighting one another on a desert battlefield. The live action heroes and villains kind of weave their way between the armies and we get some pops of action with them amongst the general battle. Ultimately, it ends up in an action shootout/fight between Jet Li’s emperor and Brendan Fraser and son. It’s not great, but it’s better than it ought to be. 

10. “Pygmy Mummy Mayhem” -The Mummy Returns (2001)
- Commentary: Here’s another example where the ambitious reach of the sequel exceeded the grasp. You could see the idea being great on paper – what if we did a nightime sequence just like that moment in The Lost World where the velociraptors attack in the tall grass, except instead of raptors they are little pygmy like mummies that will be both scary and adorable. The opening moments work well until we get a full glimpse of the pygmies and the sequence breaks down. You can tell a lot of care was put into this, with special lighting, sets, and some fun ideas – but the CGI pygmies do not stand up. They look a bit silly and definitely bring down an otherwise fun little sequence. 

9. “Akkadian Assassination Attempt is Betrayed” -The Scorpion King (2002)
- Commentary: The sorcerer Memnom has been sweeping the lands and the battered clans hire a small Akkadian group, including Mathayas (the Rock), to assassinate the sorcerer. In this sequence they sneak into the sorcerers camp taking out a few guards along the way. As they approach Memnom’s tenet, guards laying in wait are revealed and the Akkadians are captured except for Mathayas who is able to get into Memnom’s tent, but is captured after a struggle. Workman like sequence, nothing special, but enjoyable.

8. “Mathayus vs. Balthazar” -The Scorpion King (2002)
- Commentary:  Ever wanted to see The Rock fight Michael Clark Duncan in an ancient setting? Here’s your chance and it ain’t half bad – though it is pretty basic stuff. High production quality and that we don’t a million edits make for a particularly entertaining fight. 

7. “Reincarnated Attack: Nefertiri vs. Anck-su-namun” -The Mummy Returns (2001)
- Commentary: An ambitious idea – making Evy the reincarnated Nefertiri – throughout the movie she remembers her past as she encounters the bracelet of Anubis and the reincarnated Anck-su-namun. In this flashback, she remembers a show fight put on for the pharoah between the two. Technically, it’s quite impressive – the ladies start out with sai’s and eventually ramp up to bigger weapons as the fight intensifies. Knowing that Nefertiri is meant to be Evy is hard to stomach though – given how being clumsy was a defining characteristic of her introduction in the first movie. It’s almost as if…they thought up the idea later! Anyways – taken alone – it’s an entertaining fight.


GRADE: B-

6. “Gommorah: Memnom Assassination & Sorceress Kidnapping” -The Scorpion King (2002)
- Commentary: Mathayas breaks into Gomorroah where Memnom has his palace. Through a roundabout way we get a decent tour of the city, its brothel, harem, markets, and other assorted rooms. The assassination attempt of Memnom goes awry and Mathayas ends up in the room of the sorceress whom he kidnaps and eventually escapes with. This is a solid action sequence that really makes Gommorah feel like a real place.


5. "Mayday: Bird Strikes Take Down a C-130 Plane" -The Mummy (2017) CLIP
- Commentary: This is easily the best thing to come out of the way too serious and ill-considered reboot. This is a short sequence, but it very vividly and intensely portrays the crash of a large military plane from the moment two engines give out due to bird strikes to the moment an entire flock flies through the cockpit it all looks real. The plane spins and nose dives and a panel of the plane gives way. I remember seeing a kind of behind the scenes thing where Cruise was doing his "gotta be real" stunt principle on this and they really took the plane up and get lots of realistic footage of the main actors being tossed around the fuselage of a plane. Well, whatever they did paid off because the thing looks fantastic all the way until the crash. Unfortunately, Cruise's annoying character is like a bull in this scene just running everyone over - otherwise I'd consider this even higher.



4. “Paddle Wheel Boat Shootout & Fire” -The Mummy (1999) CLIP
- Commentary: I’m a bit of a sucker for early 1900’s “Egypt” and being on a paddle wheel boat on an Egyptian river is almost automatically a win already for me. The sequence is limited and not that intensive, but when the Medjai group who protects the ruins ambushes the ship – a fire and shootout breaks out. O’Connell gets some nice one-liners here and though the shootout and fights are standard, the setting and laid back charisma of Brendan Fraser elevates the sum of the sequence into something better than its parts. This one just feels straight out of a dime store adventure novel doesn't it?


3. "Rick Chases Emperor Jet Li's Chariot Through the Streets" -The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) CLIP 
- Commentary: This is the closest that the third film gets to re-capturing some of the adventure and whimsy of the original film's action sequences. In this sequence the O'Connell's try and stop the resurrection of the Chinese Emperor (the titular Dragon Emperor), but ultimately fail. Jet Li takes the form of a living Terra Cotta Warrior (it looks pretty good) and his iron chariot take life with lava giving them visual life. This effect is pulled off really well and during this entire chase sequence always looks believable. The emperor and chariot bust out of a museum and onto the streets - which look incredibly recreated for the time period - they didn't skimp on money here. The O'Connell's commandeer a fireworks truck and shenanigans happen throughout the streets as they chase them down. In general, this is a decent adventurous chase that's weighed down by some bad acting, the missed presence of Rachel Weisz, and workman like directing that hits a couple bad notes in what other wise should be a fun sequence. 


GRADE: B+

2. “London Chase: Mummy Guards vs. Double Decker Bus” -The Mummy Returns (2001) CLIP
- Commentary: This is the standout action sequence from the ambitious sequel. The director decided to go for broke and while there are bigger sequences in the film, none are pulled off as well as this one. The mummy guards from the original film are back and after the O’Connell’s get away from the British Museum in a double decker bus - the servants go after them. There’s some nice CGI here (that doesn’t look too dated) of the servants running along the buildings to evade gunfire – but they eventually catch up and we get a nice set piece of gunfire and fist fighting in the confines of the two decks – all the while the bus careens through London. The music here evokes a sequence from Indiana Jones rather than the original and I think this one feels more at home there…apart from the supernatural mummies that is.


1. “Hamunaptra Finale: Showdown with Imhotep” -The Mummy (1999) CLIP
- Commentary: This finale sequence is the embodiment of the best the franchise has to offer. That’s right, the best action sequence in the franchise can’t even bust out beyond B+...which I think is actually fitting given that its roots is as a silly B-adventure story with horror and action elements mixed in. The tone that worked best was always tongue in cheek with the actual visuals taken seriously and this finale absolutely nailed the line this franchise had to walk in order to raise above its roots and become something more. The Egyptian sets here are big and adventurous and Fraser using a sword to battle with CGI mummies and guards looks good enough to be taken seriously, but silly enough to be light-hearted and swashbuckling (there’s even a few Errol Flynn throwbacks here). The surrounding characters get their own little moments as well – but its Fraser’s charisma and the Errol Flynn throwback adventure aesthetic with added visual effects that makes this one a keeper. It’s the best of the franchise and if you can only devote 20 or so minutes to the entire thing – make it this.


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