“In case of hippos”
Well, The Librarian: Quest for the Spear must have been a big hit for TNT because its sequel received a much bigger budget. There are still many instances of poor CGI in Return to King Solomon’s Mines, but the majority of the piece is at least shot on location rather than behind green screen backgrounds (minus a really bad moment with animated bricks revealing a new portion of the Metropolitan Public Library). The opening is a legitimate chase sequence as Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle) and his Pancho-esque sidekick run from the bad guys with the famed “crystal skull” in hand. There’s a desert landscape, running horses, and even a river for them to cushion their fall off a tall cliff as well as provide the first real joke.
It’s this broad humor that producer Dean Devlin has relied on for the franchise thus far, something writer Marco Schnabel and director Jonathan Frakes have continued with now that creator David N. Titcher moved on. While the new filmmakers retain the comedy, however, they also play a bit too much with the mythology in order to make Carsen’s appointment as “The Librarian” a more fateful occurrence than we previously thought. Rather than simply earning the job because the library’s director Judson (Bob Newhart) liked him and his answers to the interview questions numerous others answered poorly before him, it seems Flynn’s past helped guide him to become who is today thanks to a long deceased father with some secrets of his own.
This latest adventure therefore has a dual format in tasking Flynn with recovering King Solomon’s book at the same time as pushing him to discover his dad may have been descended from a long line of its protectors. So he travels to Casablanca and Kenya to catch up with the nefarious General Samir (Erick Avari) who has stolen the map pointing to where the mines hiding it reside. Recruiting a partner who is as pedantic and know-it-all as he (Gabrielle Anwar‘s twenty-five doctorate holding Emily Davenport) Carsen makes his way across Africa and risks his life countless times to learn the latest lesson Judson has set forth for him. In the end that’s all this really is: a test for Flynn to find the courage and strength still yet to be fully awakened inside.
There are funny callbacks to the first film like a return of the blind date his mom (Olympia Dukakis) tried to fix him up with who’s now married (the husband provides a brilliant cameo), new sidekicks such as an indebted guide Jomo (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) and Flynn’s father’s best friend Jerry (Robert Foxworth), and a much more formidable foe in Samir. For example, the latter is shown threatening a man for information by bringing his family in to be slaughtered. That’s not quite the family-friendly atmosphere I was accustomed to with the film’s predecessor, but one has to evolve stakes in some respect for us to believe there are any to fear. I was therefore okay with the change because what’s the point of watching if we don’t think Flynn is ever truly in danger?
Return to King Solomon’s Mines proves a fun escapade into the desert with a lot of action, a little romance (despite it being completely manipulated through simple tropes like how two people who hate each other must eventually love each other too), and some revelations for the lead character to expand upon in subsequent entries. Forcing a destiny angle isn’t the way I would have gone since it pretty much destroys the original message of anyone becoming a hero no matter his/her lineage from Quest for the Spear, but I get why Schnabel felt it a practical way to go. It’s the type of cliché that allows for double cross twists running deeper than blood and an easy avenue to infuse a mystique of God’s will above the whole endeavor to remove the element of chance.
I’m not sure it was necessary since The Librarian‘s appeal is in watching a guy out of his element save the day through dumb luck and an encyclopedic intellect. That’s the kind of hero we can relate to and see ourselves becoming, not someone whose father might have also led a secret life. No, that’s a hero we dream of becoming and as a result often lose ourselves in the effort. In other words, the distinct charm of the franchise that sold TNT on putting it on the air loses a bit of its integrity. A larger budget to allow for practical effects when able instead of shoddy computer work helps us immerse into the world and perhaps not fully pay attention to the weakening of the mythology, but does weaken nonetheless.