Review: The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

August 3, 2008 at 10:14 am 2 comments

In 1999, director Stephen Sommers released The Mummy, and update of the old Universal Pictures black-and-white classic.  It was basically a flashier, albeit more shallow, poor man’s Indiana Jones.  It featured an adventurer (more mercenary than archaeologist), buried treasure, plenty of action, and lots of undead Egyptian mummies. And it was damn entertaining.  Brendan Fraser plays Rick O’Connell, a gun-for-hire who must guide a beautiful, and clumsy, Egyptologist Evie (Rachel Weisz) to Hamunaptra, a lost city believed to house the Book of Amon-Ra, a tome with magical abilities.  Instead, they awaken an evil priest, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), who basically wants to rule the world.  Our heros then spend the rest of the time, and the sequel The Munmmy Returns, stopping Imhotep.

With the spinoff series The Scorpion King already a mildly succesful franchise, Sommers returns to produce the third entry in the main series, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) helms this latest that’s just slightly bigger and flashier than the previous two.  And probably somewhat better.

The story revolves around Rick and Evie’s son Alex discovering the tomb of Emperor Han (Jet Li), China’s Dragon Emperor who attempted to unite, by force, all the factions of China.  With his friend and second-in-command General Ming (Russell Wong), he succeeds, but realizes all he worked for will be for nothing if he isn’t alive to rule.  Han hears of a witch who knows the secret to eternal life, then sends Ming to find her.  Ming finds the witch Ziyuan (Michelle Yeoh), but falls in love with her.  Han, who wanted Ziyuan all to himself, kills Ming, but not before Ziyuan curses Han and his entire army.  Alex unknowingly becomes a pawn in a plot to reawaken the Dragon Emperor.  Rick and Evie (played here by Marie Bello) arrive in China to stop this latest mummy threat, and save their son.

The movie, which runs just shy of 2 hours, is better paced than the previous one, primarily due to very little ‘downtime’ once the second act starts.  The first act is really devoted to re-establishing the main characters since roughly ten years have passed since The Mummy Returns; Rick and Evie are living the good, retired life in England, while their son Alex is at college (supposedly).  Evie’s brother Jonathan (John Hanna) owns a nightclub in Shanghai (appropriately named “Imhotep’s”).  Evie herself is now a successful novelist, having written two adventure stories based on her exploits from the previous movies.

The second and third acts feature everything from lost cities, car chases, explosions, Yetis, and of course, lots of undead mummies.  Rob Cohen keeps the action brisk, never really stopping until the scene is over, and yet keeping the audience aware of where everyone is and what they’re doing.  The action, as a whole, starts off slow, but pick up to culminate in a battle between Han’s re-animated terracotta army and General Ming’s army of oppressed victims during Han’s rule.  The Yeti battle was great fun to watch, and it’s a nice change of scenery since most of the movies take place in very brown, sandy locales.

Brendan Fraser and Company are OK, acting-wise.  Fraser is one of my guilty pleasure actors; he’s not that great, but for some reason he’s fun to watch on screen.  Though he has done more serious fare (Crash, The Quiet American), Fraser seems more at home in these summer blockbusters.  Fraser seems to have grown use to spitting out horrible one-liners, delivering them with self-assurance, as if to say, “I know this dialogue’s cheesey, but hey, someone out there will laugh.”  Maria Bello is an odd choice to replace Rachel Weisz, who left over differences with the script.  She’s a fine actress, and I think better than Weisz as a whole, but there’s something about her that didn’t sit right in this role.  Maybe it was the accent.  Still, as the movie went along, I didn’t mind her so much, and even found her a little more natural shooting and fighting than I did Rachel Weisz.

Michelle Yeoh is great in everything she does.  Here, she’s not really given much to do, and her big fight with Han was kind of a letdown (I’ll get to that later).  Still, she looks good and kicks some ass.  Her co-star, and Hollywood newcomer Isabella Leong, who plays Lin, is also stuck in the same position: look pretty, and kick ass when the script calls for it.  There’s a love story between her and Alex that doesn’t work (but who expects it to, anyway?).  Jet Li and Russell Wong are nearly unnoticeable physically, since most of the time the time they’re being CG’d to look like something else.  Li also isn’t given a lot of time to show off his skills, except for maybe two scenes.  The other times he’s shape-shifting into some mythical creature.

What I didn’t like about this movie are really just small things.  Alex, who in The Mummy Returns is a little boy, now has an American accent.  He had a British accent in the previous movie, plus the character is assumed to have grown up in England, so why all of a sudden the switch?  He was a bit off-putting, only because the character is supposed to be a younger version of Fraser’s, and here he just comes off as a young arrogant American.  Maybe with a British accent he would’ve been more tolerable.  I hope, if they do another one, they lessen the screentime of this character.  John Hanna has some funny bits here, as usual, but really he wasn’t needed.  I would’ve much rather seen the return of badass Medjai warrior Ardeth Bay (Oded Fehr).

Now, the fight scene with Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li.  This had all the potential to be awesome.  Set against the backdrop of a massive pitched battle between two undead armies, the two immortal warriors would be locked in a desperate battle for the future of humanity.  What we get are some dizzying close-ups, fast cuts, and unnecessary slow motion.  What I hate about Hollywood martial arts fights is that they think the showing you the punches and kicks up close will ‘draw you in’, when in fact they sort of take you out.  In Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? there’s this incredible rooftop fight between Chan about 3 or 4 bad guys.  The camera pretty much stays in a wide-to-medium shot, and with very little cuts.  You can clearly see the fight scene as it’s happening, and it’s one of the best choreographed fights I’ve ever watched.  Here, Yeoh and Li spin, jump, punch, kick, slash and do all the usual martial artsy stuff, but it all seems like a slow-moving mess.  Pull the camera back, don’t cut away, and DON’T USE WIRES!  I know wire-fu is a staple of Asian action films, but this movie is not one of those films!  Yeoh and Li and talented enough to work without that stuff, and it looks silly here (even with the 3-headed dragons, Yetis, and fighting mummies).

Overall, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is harmless popcorn fluff for the summer audiences.  Those dissapointed with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may want to give this one a shot.  It’s better than The Mummy Returns and almost as good as the original.  If The Dark Knight left you drained, and are still looking for some solid, mindless entertainment, this movie wouldn’t be a bad choice.



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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. media boy  |  August 5, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    Sounds like Tomb of the Dragon Emperor met everyone’s expectations; fun overall, but Brendan Frasier tries too hard to act, so he has an unnatural feel on screen

  • 2. Kristina  |  July 29, 2010 at 6:38 am

    I have to disagree with the review. I loved The Mummy Returns. But I also agree they shouldn’t have switched the characters the way they did. I loved the previous Evelyn, it would’ve been cool if they inquired Imotep and Ardeth Bay into the 3rd movie. I gave this movie 3 stars.


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