The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Director : Rob Cohen
Screenplay : Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Brendan Fraser (Rick O’Connell), Jet Li (Emperor Han), Maria Bello (Evelyn O’Connell), John Hannah (Jonathan Carnahan), Michelle Yeoh (Zi Juan), Luke Ford (Alex O’Connell), Isabella Leong (Lin), Anthony Wong Chau-Sang (General Yang), Russell Wong (Ming Guo), Liam Cunningham (Mad Dog Maguire), David Calder (Roger Wilson)
Apparently too busy directing the upcoming live-action G.I. Joe movie, Stephen Sommers, who wrote and directed The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001), has stepped back into the role of producer and handed the reigns of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor to Rob Cohen, who is looking for some kind of redemption after Stealth (2005), his disastrous flop three years ago. And, while this third and awkwardly shoehorned entry into The Mummy series comes nowhere close to the badness evinced by that notorious crash-and-burn action spectacle, it has its own particularly stale odor of been-there-done-that, despite moving the action from northern Africa to China (which a map conveniently labels at the beginning of the film, telling you much about the filmmakers’ assumptions about their audience). Bursting at the seams with CGI mayhem and always bucking to remind you of how self-aware it is in its silliness, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor feels particularly desperate in vying for our attention, throwing out groan-worthy quips and ripping through action sequences like an attention-addled kid showing you his toy collection.
Like both previous movies, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor opens with a backstory set thousands of the years in the past, this time involving a war-mongering Chinese emperor named Han (Jet Li) who sets his sights on both world conquest and immortality. The first part of his plan goes pretty well, resulting in a massive kingdom protected by the Great Wall of China (under which he buries his enemies), but when he forces a beautiful witch (Michelle Yeoh) to show him the path to eternal life, she instead curses him after he kills her one-and-only love, turning Han and his army into terra-cotta statues that are buried beneath the sands.
We then leap ahead to 1947 where we find the intrepid adventurers Rick and Evelyn O’Connell (Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz) settled down into an immensely boring life of wealth and idleness (Rick is reintroduced learning to fly fish, which results in him catching a hook in his neck and eventually shooting a few trout with his pistol). Meanwhile, their now-grown son Alex (Luke Ford), who aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps even though their relationship is virtually nonexistent, is secretly working at an archaeological dig in China where he uncovers the tomb where Han and his army are buried. Rick and Evelyn are lured to Shanghai where they reconnect with Evelyn’s harried brother Jonathan (John Hannah), who now runs an art-deco nightclub, just in time for Han to be resurrected by a paramilitary general (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) who wants him to turn China into a great nation once again.
From there, the movie drags us along at a furious pace as we follow the O’Connell family up into the Himalayas where they first try to stop Han from discovering the location of the mystical Shangri-La and, failing that, try to stop him from getting there and wading into a pool that will solidify his eternal life and also allow him to morph into various nasties, including a fire-breathing, three-headed dragon. The O’Connells are aided by Lin (Isabella Leong), a beautiful ninja who has sworn to protect Han’s tomb because she knows what will happen if he is resurrected (she also provides a convenient cross-cultural romantic interest for Alex, who is as dull as his father is manic). More help comes from Mad Dog Maguire (Liam Cunningham), a roguish pilot, and (I’m not kidding here) a trio of cat-faced yeti who turn out to be great allies if you’re ever caught on the wrong end of an avalanche.
For all its sound and fury, this belated Mummy entry feels increasingly stale as it goes along. There is plenty of ridiculousness to go around, not only involving the aforementioned yeti (I mean, really--yeti?), but also a puking animatronic yak and the specter of Brendan Fraser pretending to be the father of someone who looks to be only a few years younger than he is. The opening scenes immediately establish Cohen’s inability to strike a balance between comedy and action, as he clumsily toys with Rick and Evelyn’s sedentary lives and gives Fraser too much room to delve into his rubber-faced, vaguely screwball antics. Once the CGI takes over and you begin to realize that the film is picking up momentum not by delving deeper into a satisfying plot, but rather by hammering you with increasingly loud action setpieces, it moves from slightly annoying to just plain mind-numbing. And by the time two mummified armies are squaring off against each other in a desert landscape, the familiarity becomes simply overbearing.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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