THE MUMMY: TOMB
OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR
STARRING: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li,
Maria Bello, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong and Anthony
2008, 112 Minutes, Directed by:
latest Mummy film, coming a full and unforgiving seven years after the
last Mummy film, is actually not much of a film at all: it's a deafening,
blinding department store Blu-ray demo reel that's spun wildly out of control!
It takes a Herculean effort to be known as the least appetizing entry in the
Mummy franchise, but then again, a studio isn't exactly fishing for quality
when they hire Rob Cohen to direct.
Now retired from their
adventuring days, Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn O'Connell (Maria Bello,
replacing Rachael Weisz) watch as their son Alex (Luke Ford) continues on their
reckless, globe-trotting ways. When Alex uncovers the lost tomb of Emperor Han
(Jet Li) and his Terracotta Army, it reawakens the fierce ruler from the
afterlife, sending him on a quest for immortality. With a new mummy on the
prowl, Rick, Evelyn, Alex, nightclub owner Jonathan (John Hannah), and a
spiritual warrior (Michelle Yeoh) team up to prevent Han from reaching
Shangri-La and ruling the world with his infinite undead army.
Considering that 2001's
Mummy Returns grossed more than its 1999 predecessor, it boggles the mind to
consider how Universal Pictures just simply sat on their hands and watched the
demand for a new chapter in the O'Connell family saga wither away through a
miserable spin-off (2002's The Scorpion King) and
the merciless passing of time. I mention the long absence because Tomb of the
Dragon Emperor spends an inordinate amount of expositional time reminding
the viewer what once lit up the imaginations of past summer movie-going crowds,
as if completely panicked nobody will remember that once upon a time Brendan
Fraser plus undead CG demons equalled box office gold.
"It's a deafening, blinding department store Blu-ray demo reel that's
wildly out of control!"
While I was no fan of Mummy
and downright loathed the wretched Returns, Tomb takes the
franchise to a stunning new low. Director Rob Cohen (you know, the visionary who
made Stealth, Fast and the Furious, and xXx) replaces
Stephen Sommers here, and if there's one guy who could make Sommers appear as
cinematically resonate as Spielberg, it's Cohen.
As lead-footed a filmmaker as
the factory churns out, Cohen picks up on the same beat of noise pollution that
was left hanging in 2001, only he manages to craft a sequel more obnoxious and
defeating than previously anticipated.
It's a rotten, stubborn
directorial endeavor, and since Cohen has little appreciation for legitimate
big screen magic, Tomb suffocates under the filmmaker's bile-slicked
mandate that every single frame must contain a screaming or explosive element.
Tomb is a hallow fireworks display (often literally), using the
characters as anonymous action figures instead of trying to hammer out a decent
narrative to employ their established appeal. The sense of archaeology and
sun-baked puzzling from the previous films is rubbed out, as are the wide open
spaces, replaced in Tomb with tight, unconvincing sets plucked right out
of a Sci-Fi Channel Original.
Weisz probably made the right
decision to bolt when she could, though her warmth and romantic glow is missed
from the inert picture. Bello isn't a satisfying replacement; she's woefully
miscast trying to match Fraser with limp quips and dreadfully-accented
exhilaration, missing the doe-eyed fairy dust Weisz sprinkled before.
And speaking of replacements,
how is the audience supposed to believe the pre-teen, thoroughly British Alex of
Returns grows up to be a twentysomething American cowboy/tomb raider in the new
Ford's dreadful attempt to swallow his native Australian accent doesn't
help the transition. Neither does the fact that Fraser and Ford look like
brothers, not father and son. Ah, but I'm sniffing around for logic, and that's
the wrong course for a Mummy movie.
Tomb journey sends the characters to the Himalayas, where they battle
Han's goons with the help of a few towering Yeti (who apparently feed on a
steady diet of American football), allowing Cohen to blow his sets up; to the
streets of Shanghai, where Cohen can smash cars and blow them up; and finally
the Chinese countryside, where Han's CG soldiers fight a different set of CG
And yes, Cohen blows more things up. The man loves all things that go
boom. It's a repetitive cycle that pushes the actors to the background, even
reducing Li and Yeoh to mere cameos (watch out, the marketing is deceptive) when
those two icons should've been front and center for the entire run of the film.
The world didn't need a third
Mummy motion picture, and it certainly didn't need one that descends
further into mindless action and insipid screenwriting. Tomb of the Dragon
Emperor is a terrible film, but even more insidious, it makes one wish for
the good old days: when Stephen Sommers found time to ruin summer entertainment
through his own brand of blaring, big screen misery; when the mummy was played
by a doughy, hairless, spray-tanned, completely unthreatening South African
actor; and when Brendan Fraser was actually considered a humorous presence by a
There's the magic of Rob Cohen
for you: he makes one extraordinarily nostalgic for the awful . . .
- Brian Orndorf