- Rob Cohen
- Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Russell Wong, Liam Cunningham, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong, Michelle Yeoh
- 112 min.
- Release Date
Brendan Fraser is Hollywood’s ultimate bad movie leading man. There’s something about his relentless intensity and cartoonish expressions that make him perfect for one-note characters, hence his placement in Encino Man, George of the Jungle, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Occasionally, he takes on great material like Gods and Monsters or The Quiet American, but these roles are far removed from his usual camp fare. His most successful turn is The Mummy franchise wherein he plays Rick O’Connell, a dumber version of Indiana Jones who would probably die within the first few minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark (should Rick survive until the end, he’d without a doubt throw open the Ark of the Covenant, spout some horribly brash one-liner, and then have his face melted off). After the lackluster-but-profit-earning sequel The Mummy Returns, Fraser dons his dim-witted adventurer garb once again for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Each Mummy movie begins with a lengthy prologue. This one makes less sense than the others. It tells of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (Jet Li) and his obsession with immortality; he hires a beautiful witch named Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh) to find the secret to eternal life. While doing so, she’s also bedding the Emperor’s top General, much to the displeasure of the Emperor, who then kills said General, and earns himself a damning curse where he and his army are fired into stony Terracotta statues. But like all nonsensical curses in this franchise, his deems that should he be awakened, he’ll have the power to rule the world. How convenient for him.
Present day. Years have passed since Rick and his wife Evie last tackled a mummy. (Note: Evie is now played by Maria Bello, from A History of Violence, who despite her impressive roster of edgy roles is no replacement for Rachel Weisz.) Since then, their lives have become dreary. He spends his time looking dreamily at his old legionnaire costume; she’s become a pulpy adventure novelist on the subject of—you guessed it—mummies. Meanwhile, their grown-up son Alex (Luke Ford) follows in his parents’ footsteps and uncovers the Emperor’s tomb.
Ever since learning about the real Qin Shi Huangdi (here dubbed “Dragon Emperor”) in college, I’ve been fascinated with the mythology involved, largely because China remains adamant against opening the Emperor’s final resting place to this day—ever since some of the ancient legends about the tomb have proven true (an X-ray confirmed something like rivers of mercury, early China’s “elixir of life”, meandering throughout the mausoleum). Access to and vast photographic record of the Emperor’s Terracotta Army are currently available to scholars, but the Emperor’s tomb will go on untouched. It’s one of history’s last great secrets. And so, I’ve oft-thought such a tomb would make a ripe discovery for cinema’s most accomplished archeologist, the aforementioned Indiana Jones. Alas, Alex O’Connell beat Indy to the punch.
Anyway, one thing leads to another, mom and dad join son, and the Emperor is released from his snooze with all the powers of the elements: He tosses fireballs, generates ice shards, and shape-shifts into a three-headed dragon (is that an element?). These effects are created with impressively low-grade computer graphics, justly aligning the film with the series’ enthusiastic cheesiness and penchant for video game imagery.
Scenes in a Shanghai nightclub remind us too much of the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, prompting me to question when these movies will realize they’ll never live up to their obvious inspiration (whatever happened to drawing from the title’s source: The Mummy (1932) starring Boris Karloff). Mid-movie we venture into snowy mountains to find Shangri-La, where “Abominable” Yeti snowmen save the day (I’m as confused about that statement as you are). By the end, the Dragon Emperor’s Terracotta Army is reanimated and fights an epic movie battle, complete with arrows showering from the sky, against the likewise reanimated slaves that built China’s Great Wall, themselves fighting for the good guys.
Director Rob Cohen (Dragonheart, xXx) takes over the reigns for Stephen Sommers, director of the first two, but he’s no improvement. Characters still virtually wink at the camera and spew lines like “Here we go again.” Fraser remains entertaining, if you buy his perpetual twenty-something act; he’s approaching forty-years-old soon, and one wonders if he’ll continue to play boyish characters with limitless vigor for the next forty. Bello doesn’t quite fit and feels awkward waving a sword and forcing a British accent. Ford is a welcomed addition, only because he seems to mesh with the script’s need for heroes with a blind drive for adventure.
People who will enjoy The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor are those who find merit in Sci-Fi Channel Originals, or who form eager goosebumps when they learn the History Channel has a show called Jurassic Fight Club. They take pleasure from redundant in-film references to the previous Mummy movies. And for them, it’s great news when the movie’s finale suggests the next mummy excavation takes place in Peru. I am not one of those people.