After the frenetic action gumbo of The Mummy Returns – a hyperbolic action/adventure that placed exhausting action sequences next to career worst examples of CGI from Industrial Light & Magic – I’d imagine that it was rare that anyone expected (or even wanted) a third installment of the Mummy franchise, but in 2008, the series rose from a seven year slumber and took a trip to the far east with The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor.
However, this newedition of Mummy madness would come with some significant changes on both sides of the camera – something that – unless you’re Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2 – is remarkably hard to get over with an audience expecting to see the original cast…
Thanks to a drawn out prologue that feels like the first fifteen minutes of Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings if it had all of its soul sucked out, we are introduced to the ancient Chinese warlord known as Han, the Dragon Emperor; a dude known for burying his vanquished foes under the Great Wall Of China and whose fear of death leads him to get cursed by a witch who hoped to stop his reign of terror.
Jump forward to 1946 and we rejoin a modified version of the O’Connell family (more on that later) as they try to settle into life of retirement free from dusty mummies and frequent perils, but they find themselves struggling against their now-moribund existence. However, there soon will be plenty of action back in their lives thanks to their son Alex (grown from a precocious kid to smug himbo) who manages to stir the Dragon Emperor from his enchanted slumber during an expedition to unearth his tomb.
Reborn with a dick-load of superpowers and the ability to resurrect his army – transformed into the clay, Terracotta Army of legend – Han is aided by members of a rogue faction of the military led by a colonel who believes a half flesh, half stone magical zombie with dragon powers is just the being to lead his country out of the mess left by World War II.
In an adventure that takes the players from Shanghai to the Himalayas to the Great Wall itself, the O’Connells have to work through their various issues with one another while saving the world from being overrun by some serious Mummy issues, but luckily they have some help in the form of Lin, a mysterious woman conveniently of Alex’s age, who holds the secret of halting the Dragon Emperor’s reign of terror and whose lineage is directly connected to the sorcerer who cursed Han in the first place. Can the O’Connells go three for three against yet another ornate, supernatural zombie bastard?
There’s a few things in The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor that are worth celebrating: the action is as frequent and drawn out as it ever was (if that’s your thing), the movie chooses to switch locations from the streets of Shanghai to the snowy temples of the Himalayas in a concerted effort to move away from sand and it’s always nice to see Brendan Frasier hurl his body through another action movie while using those weird high pitched vocal chords he has while he screams. But while the movie has the restless, over stimulated energy of the previous movies – not to mention a welcome step up in CGI quality after the Barbie Doll texture of a digital Dwayne Johnson – even the most ardent fans of the series (may I humbly suggest Mum-maniacs?) may find their patience tested by this belated, pseudo return.
The first noticable change is that of director with Stephen Sommers who stepped out in favour of Rob Cohen, helmer of original Fast And The Furious and xXx movies; and Cohen is initially a savvy choice considering his back history of ridiculous action (Stealth), fantasy (Dragonheart) and delivering a very American view of Chinese culture (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story). While keeping things moving at the relentless pace of Dominic Toretto late for a family barbeque the movie, much like the second installment, just becomes a mush of action sequences separated by scenes awkward family bonding or endless exposition. It’s not that the action is bad, an early chase sequence has serious Temple Of Doom vibes (never a bad thing) and looks crazy expensive, it’s just there’s so much of it and all the chases, explosions, battles and abominable snowmen (you heard me) end up cancelling each other out into roughly two hours of noise.
It’s here we no come to the real problems of this third Mummy movie and one of them relates to the performance of Rachel Weisz – or should I say the performance that Maria Bello does of Rachel Weisz. I have no problem with Bello as an actress – she’s great in A History Of Violence for example – but slapping on a wobbly english accent and stepping into another actress’ shoes seems to be completely beyond her and it shows. Another issue is the forced comedy stylings of John Hannah’s comic relief character, Johnathan, which have degenerated to the degree of screeching for Fraiser to “Spank my arse” after his butt catches on fire or spouting a painfully awkward pun about a vomiting yak – think about it for a minute… you’ll get it.
However, maybe these things could have been diluted if the movie didn’t do Jet Li’s uber-villain so dirty. Overlaying a digital zombie over the top of Arnold Vosloo for two movies is fair enough, but having a martial arts mega star icon represented by a mo-capped clay warrior who frequently cracks his shell to reveal his Mummy face underneath for half the movie is unfathomable. But even when Li does finally show his face, he’s either only shouting orders or transforming into unconvincing CGI monsters which limits both his movie star quality and his legendary fighting prowess which makes you wonder why he bothered to be in the movie at all.
Loud, crowded and often more than a little silly, not even the appearance of Michelle Yeoh as a typically stoic sorcerer can stop the movie spiralling into being yet another shapeless dollop of action/fantasy that’s as disposable as McDonald’s value meal.
I understand, that not every film has to be about something, or even have a much deeper meaning than what’s flashing up on the screen, but then not every film should have a yeti who somehow knows what the sign for a fucking touchdown is after punting a guy over an arch, American football style.
Tomb of the dragged-on emperor…