Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, John Hannah, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong, Anthony Wong
Directed by Rob Cohen
It’s kind of funny that The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor would come out towards the tail end of the summer movie blockbuster season since much of it feels like it was composed from the parts of films we’ve seen already these past few months.
Set in China, an evil Chinese ruler seeks immortality with an evil; a heroic Chinese female warrior tries to stop him while falling for a young Caucasian hero, magic and kung fu abounds, and the film co-stars Jet Li. Hmm…
The supernatural villain must be stopped before he awakens an unstoppable supernatural army that’ll conquer the world. Sound familiar?
Our tomb raiding heroes are on a globetrotting quest in search of archaeological wonders and battling militaristic villains seeking to employ paranormal forces for their ill-gotten gain. And the main hero of the previous two films is now assisted by his adult son. Where have I seen that before?
Yes; it’s like Universal put The Forbidden Kingdom, Hellboy 2, and Indiana Jones into a blender and then dumped in some freshly squeezed Stephen Sommers man-milk to make a new Mummy Smoothie.
Thankfully, Stephen Sommers was not at the helm of this installment. Nonetheless, his legacy of stupidity is still felt from time to time. Brendan Fraser’s first scene has him catching himself in the neck with a fishhook while attempting to fly fish; this is immediately followed by him taking a pratfall out of a tree. A Yeti knocks a guy through the air between two pillars that look like goal posts leading another Yeti to raise its arms like a football ref signaling the field goal to be good. A nefarious Chinese general seeking to restore China to glory following Japanese occupation of World War 2 and conquer the world in the process by bringing an ancient Chinese emperor back to life still needs a British woman to translate ancient Chinese text for him. That resurrected immortal emperor will have power over the elements and even gain the ability to transform into Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster’s little brother and something that looks like a roided up version of one of the Where The Wild Things Are creatures yet still he prefers to just walk around and fight using kung fu in his human form the majority of the time. The heroes immediately give aerial chase to the flying three-headed dragon even though it had been established that their plane and its pilot are over a day’s journey away. And who can forget the scene involving a vomiting yak that exists solely so that someone can make the obvious joke, “The yak yakked!”
Know what happens when you direct a mega-bomb like Stealth? You get saddled with Stephen Sommers sloppy thirds, that’s what. If you think the villain in this movie is cursed then try being director Rob Cohen. Cohen gets a bad wrap for some of the crap that he’s made but he’s also the same guy who did Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and the HBO movie The Rat Pack. He’s not a bad director at all; just one who I don’t feel is at his best when he’s making big dumb action flicks. However, I think Cohen’s done a better job than Sommers; Cohen is far more disciplined a filmmaker than Sommers. Stephen Sommers strikes me as being like a variation of X-Men‘s Beast; the bigger the budget you give him the dumber he becomes.
Perhaps it can be chalked up to the power of low expectations but The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, though not great by any means, is fairly entertaining (up to a point) in an in-one-ear-and-out-the-other, use once and dispose sort of way. It’s not even anywhere near as aggressive in its idiocy as the previous two despite some moments already mentioned. It’s also rather depressing that a new Mummy movie would still prove more entertaining than a new Indiana Jones movie.
Now whereas the previous Mummy sequel led to a prequel spin-off movie based on that film’s new villain, part three more or less opens with it’s own capsulated prequel detailing the rise of the Dragon Emperor (Jet Li – Wasn’t he talking about retiring after Fearless?), his lust for conquering lands, Michelle Yeoh, and his quest for immortality. The last two result in him being cursed and transformed into a clay statue. The same fate even befell his massive army and even their horses; someone then took the time to bury them all for safe keeping.
The Dragon Emperor’s tomb is discovered in 1947 by college dropout turned tomb raider Alex O’Connell (the affably bland Luke Ford), the son of the Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz characters now an adult even he only looks about a decade younger than his parents.
Replacing Weisz and replacing Weisz’s poise with a sometimes ungainly degree of overeagerness is Maria Bello, looking remarkably like a younger Sigourney Weaver with her now raven-hair and struggling with an odd British accent that sounds like a cross between Angela Lansbury and Katherine Hepburn. Evelyn O’Connell is now a successful author of two pulp adventure novels titled “The Mummy” and “The Mummy Returns” – no doubt another case of the books being better than the movies.
Living the dull life of English aristocracy with doltish husband Alex, (Brendan Fraser, doing that special brand of overacting and yelling most of his lines as he so often does)…
Seriously, did we really need two dopey Brendan Fraser “ADD-venture” movies in one summer with him as a hapless explorer constantly imperiled by computer effects of vary quality?
The O’Connell’s currently marriage is currently in a bit of a rut after having retired from fighting mummies and spying on behalf of the Allies during WW2. Universal must have decided to skip The Mummy: Reich of the Aryan Mummy in favor of this.
Their boring life is once again given an adventurous spark when the British government asks them to return a rare gem smuggled out of China. So off to Shanghai they go to meet up with Evelyn’s fraidy cat brother Jonathan (the always hammy John Hannah), who even though he’ll repeatedly profess throughout the remainder of the film his intense disliking of mummies, he’s gone and opened up an Egyptian-themed nightclub in Shanghai called Imhotep. This would be like Chief Brody from Jaws being revealed as the owner/operator of the water park in Jaws 3.
The O’Connell’s meet up with their son and are not happy to find out what he’s been up to. But soon enough they’ll all be off on a brand new adventure when the gem revealed to contain magical resurrection properties that come in handy for bring non-mummified mummies back to life is stolen by a Chinese general played by Hong Kong movie veteran Anthony Wong.
In a more perfect world the more menacing Wong would have played the emperor instead of Jet Li. The Dragon Emperor is at his least threatening when he’s just Jet Li playing Jet Li with an evil sneer.
Fortunately, the clay encrusted emperor is stuck in his cursed walking statue form for most of the movie, sort of like a man-sized version of Daimajin with a clay shell that can be shattered and reform. One nifty moment in particular will have him break his own face off and hurl it at Fraser as a weapon. He also has control over the elements giving him the ability to shoot flames and create ice spikes in the snow. I found the Dragon Emperor in this state to be a more interesting villain than the Arno Vosloo’s Mummy or The Rock’s Scorpion King.
Funny how this Mummy movie that uses the word “mummy” more than any other film doesn’t really have any mummies in it. The Dragon Emperor and his warriors are more like terra-cotta golems.
As the Dragon Emperor seeks to break his curse and resurrect his immortal army, standing in his way are the O’Connell’s and friends, Michelle Yeoh as the also immortal one-time object of the emperor’s desire responsible for his curse, and a pretty Chinese girl (Cantonese pop singer Isabelle Leong) also out to make sure the Dragon Emperor never rises again.
That poor girl, she gets so shafted during the finale that not only does she not get to take part in the ultimate battle with the Dragon Emperor, the father she never knew shows up and she never even gets a family reunion. All this after Alex gives her a speech about not living her life on the sidelines. Was that sarcasm?
She also gets to play love interest for Alex and it’s rather depressing that the two of them have more chemistry than Fraser and Bello, so much more so I almost wish the film had left the two of them out altogether and just made this The Mummy: The Next Generation.
Now I did write “up to a point” earlier. That point comes not long after the midway point where the whole film felt like it hit a crescendo with a big fight in the Himalayas that also involved heroic Yetis that look less like Abominable Snowmen and more like albino Lycans from another Underworld movie. Everything that came after that felt flat, perfunctory at best. Seas of clashing armies slamming into one another – been there; archers filling the sky with arrows – done that. Yet another movie where a magic knife that is the only thing that can stop the all powerful villain – seen the hell out of it. The energy and imagination seemed to run out by this point along with the already threadbare logic. I mean an army of clay warriors are so brittle a group of union breakers with ball bats could probably smash them to smithereens but if they cross the Great Wall of China they’ll instantly become indestructible. Huh?
And when your movie features a martial arts fight scene between Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh that only lasts about a 90-seconds and is mostly shot in slow motion close-up, sorry, you’ve done your audience a real disservice.
2 1/2 out of 5