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Rick O’Connell and Brendan Fraser provide toughness without toxicity in ‘The Mummy’ movies
No character can top Indiana Jones, but Rick can definitely stand proudly beside him.
We once thought that no archeological adventurer could ever come close to Indiana Jones. Who could beat the man in the hat? Who could match Harrison Ford's charisma and charm? Why would we ever want to see anyone else go hunting for treasure?
That was before Rick O’Connell entered our lives in 1999. In The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (all currently streaming on Peacock) Rick was not a successor to Indy. He’s not Indy at all. We fell for him for completely different reasons, and we didn’t expect it.
No character can top Indy, but Rick can definitely stand proudly beside him. Brendan Fraser is the main reason why. It was true in 1999 and it’s true now. Whether he’s in a scene with Evie (Rachel Weisz), Jonathan (John Hannah), or any of the series’ multiple villains, Fraser is iconic.
His arc, as Fraser plays it (especially over the course of the first two movies), makes him stand out. Rick doesn’t reset like James Bond. He changes. He’s a rogue when we first meet him, chock full of guns and focused only on treasure. He’s selfish. He knows about history because it informs what he really wants to know about.
“I know my treasure,” he says early in the first movie.
He’s a survivor, some kind of mercenary, and no woman is gonna tie him down! He gets put in prison for having “a very good time.” Thankfully for him, he’s a human map to the City of the Dead. Evelyn Carnahan decides to free him and use him as a guide on her own quest.
He’s repellent to her, simply repellent! Bad manners, filthy looks, we’re almost set for a Humphrey Bogart/Katharine Hepburn riff from The African Queen. Rick shows up on the docks freshly shaven and in nice clothes; Evie’s attitude changes immediately.
She has the brains, but she has no experience in the field. She needs a blunt instrument, and that’s exactly what Rick is. He’s a blunt instrument who can clean up real nice. Evie is naive, and when Rick rolls out his very large cache of weapons, she asks if they are going into battle.
Rick doesn’t pack a whip and a single pistol. He packs many pistols, plentiful shotguns, an array of dynamite sticks, and at least two or three knives. He also makes things up as he goes, but he prepares for the worst. He isn’t a believer necessarily, but he knows evil and he knows danger. Both are very real. This is not going to be the scholarly expedition that Evie is expecting.
She can’t help but become a little enchanted with this swashbucker, and he gets enchanted right back after she borrows some clothes following their boat escape. The two of them crush on each other for the rest of the first movie, and though Rick began their relationship with an unsolicited kiss through the bars of a cell, he doesn’t do anything so coarse ever again.
He’s coarse with everyone else in the movie, usually shooting at them, punching them, yelling at them, or barely tolerating them. Not with Evie.
With Evie, Rick is cute. Even when he's exasperated with her.
With a different actor in the role, this would not work. Fraser had (and still has) a particular set of skills that enables him to walk that tightrope.
A perfect example is the scene where he gives Evie a little set of archeological tools. He’s almost embarrassed to give it to her. His energy is that of a middle-school kid giving someone a valentine. She lost all of her tools, and he wants her to have this. He’s not trying to get anywhere with her; he has no agenda. He can barely look her in the eye. The kit might as well say “I like you” on it. As he walks away, he gives a rough “what are you lookin’ at” to someone, letting us know that butt-kicker Rick is still there. He stole this set of tools from one of the feckless Americans, but so what? A little bit later, Evie approaches the campfire and there’s nowhere to sit. Rick has no problem telling someone else that they’re in her seat.
The chemistry between Weisz and Fraser is electric, and Rick really doesn’t care about treasure in this movie. He cares about taking Imhotep down, and he cares about saving Evie from doom. They fall for each other quickly, but we wouldn’t say that Rick has been tamed. His talents and energies are now focused in more positive directions. He’s a blunt instrument when he’s fighting Imhotep, but he’s a finely carved violin when he’s with Evie.
This goes up a level in The Mummy Returns, as he and Evie are married with a young son. Fraser has even bigger challenges here, and one of the biggest things he has in common with Indy persists: he’s not immortal. We see the scratches, the bruises, and the cuts. He gets his a** handed to him from time to time, but he always gets back up. Sometimes they do things Evie’s way (hammer and chisel), but every now and then Rick’s way is called for (crowbar).
He’s a father in the sequel, so Rick's former selfishness is well and truly in the dust. To hell with fortune and glory, Rick is content to be one of the greatest fathers and husbands in any adventure movie. Evie gets him into trouble more often than not, and his son Alex (Freddie Boath) takes after her in that. Alex himself has to undergo a journey past his own cocky selfishness in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. He’s not as good as Rick, but he pretends not to care. It’s only when Rick is seriously injured does Alex let some of his walls down. Rick survives, obviously, and he re-captures the spirit of adventure that both he and the Evie of this movie (Maria Bello) have lost.
He has to find that loving feeling again. Even though he’s working with a completely different co-star, Fraser makes it work.
A selfish rogue turns into the ultimate family man. We root for him because Fraser tends to bring that out in us. Rick O’Connell is as tough as they come, yet he is free of toxicity. He’ll punch the hell out of you and he’ll look adorable while doing so. He doesn’t need to prove his machismo to anyone, and he’s unimpressed with anyone who does. It doesn’t feel right to call a character who carries around 50 guns on him “wholesome” but we’re tempted to use the word.
“Healthy” might be better. In Fraser’s hands, Rick O’Connell became a healthy role model; an action star who walked the talk in a positive way.
Apologies to Brandan Fraser for writing this, but he’s a damn cute blunt instrument. The Mummy movies are pulp fun, but that doesn’t mean that this fictitious adventurer can’t be a positive role model.
The world could use more Ricks. We’re lucky that it has Brendan Fraser. May their examples be an inspiration.
The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor are all streaming on Peacock. Take that, Bembridge scholars!