Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure,Comedy The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Seven years ago Universal Pictures was sitting high atop a successful franchise that had re-imagined one of their classic movie monsters with the one-two punch of 1999’s “The Mummy” and 2001’s “The Mummy Returns”. Following those two CGI-intensive action/adventure films Universal opted to do a prequel starring wrestling superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the titular character in “The Scorpion King”. Even though The Rock showcased an impressive screen presence, his film managed to only be a moderate hit at the box office, actually proving to be somewhat of a disappointment when compared to the box office haul of its predecessors. The seven year sabbatical that Universal took from this once lucrative franchise, most likely prompted by the lagging returns of “The Scorpion King”, prompted many critics and moviegoers to wonder whether there was even a need to have yet another installment in ‘The Mummy’ series or should the franchise be left alone to rest in peace.

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is set several years after the events of “The Mummy Returns”, as Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello taking over for Rachel Weisz) are living a peaceful, if not boring life free of being chased by the undead. Meanwhile, their archaeologist son Alex (Luke Ford) has discovered an expansive tomb dedicated to a despotic emperor of ancient China (Jet Li), and with his discovery, Alex is set to become just as famous, if not more so, than his parents. However, when the curse that had been placed on the dreaded emperor and his army is lifted, these once lifeless, terra-cotta soldiers are now reanimated and ready to wreak havoc on a strange new world while in search of the fabled Shangri La to attain immortality for their leader, the Dragon Emperor.

Earlier I mentioned that there were some questions that arose as to why a third Mummy film should be made, mostly this was due to the series’ perceived lack of depth and lasting appeal on the part of most critics; plus, over time audiences would most likely not care as much for further adventures after being so far removed from the characters. Now, I know you could easily make the argument that Star Wars successfully returned after an almost twenty year absence, and the same for Indiana Jones; however, there is one major difference between those two franchises and that of ‘The Mummy’, none of the characters featured in the latter are nearly as iconic as those in the former. All that aside, I for one was happy to see that another Mummy film would be coming to theaters, and I was glad to hear that Brendan Fraser would be reprising the most recognizable role of his career, that of archaeologist/adventurer Rick O’Connell. While I was excited for the release, there was some trepidation due to the fact that while enjoyable, both “The Mummy Returns” and “The Scorpion King” were not nearly as good as the first film that reinvigorated the classic monster franchise, “The Mummy”. So, with that in mind, I did wonder if this third attempt would be able to at least equal the follow-up films or possibly achieve what I believed to be impossible, and recapture the freshness, humor, and fun that made the original so enjoyable.

The story for this third entry, as written by Al Gough and Miles Millar (TV’s “Smallville”), was fairly solid throughout, but there were some weak points that surprised me. As a fan of the TV series “Smallville”, I know that Al and Miles knew how to write good character drama mixed with some action and CGI, and based on their work on the hilarious sequel “Shanghai Knights” with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson, they also know how to handle comedy as well. For some reason in the early portion of the movie, the dialogue seems awkward and lacking any sense of direction, especially between the two leads, to the point that I wondered if the movie was ever going to find its footing and get things rolling. I understand that the opening thirty minutes, at least the parts pertaining to the lives of Rick and Evey, were setup in such a way to show their discomfort with their current life of peace and quiet, as they longed for the action and adventure we had seen them experience in the previous films; however, I feel that given the experience Al and Miles bring to this film, they should have been able to make these scenes work much better and not feel so out of place with the pacing of the rest of the movie. I must point out, that during the opening thirty minutes or so of the movie, the parts not related to Rick and Evey worked very well, giving the audience a building sense of excitement in regards to what is in store when the emperor is inevitably reborn.

Even though the early parts of the movie felt uneven, once the emperor was reanimated the movie definitely finds its pace and really moves along quickly from one CGI-intensive action sequence to another. This isn’t to say that the story is completely put on the backburner in favor of more action scenes, but it does seem to take a little bit more of a back seat to the amped up CGI/martial arts heavy fight sequences than either of the previous films had allowed. One thing that didn’t take a backseat to the action was the comedy; in fact, I felt that there was maybe a little too much comedy, especially of the slapstick variety, than what had been included in the other films in the series. At times it seemed that the movie was intended as more of a comedy than an action/adventure due to the obvious attempts at slapstick, which were funny (some more so than others), but a few of the bits went too far over-the-top and felt somewhat out of place.

The acting is what you expect in a movie such as this, nothing outstanding by any means, but solid given the genre. Brendan Fraser (“The Mummy”) seems to thoroughly be enjoying himself (aside from his early scenes in the movie) once again as adventurer Rick O’Connell. Even after a seven year absence, and two previous outings, he manages to bring the character to life with such excitement and charisma that he still is a lot of fun to watch onscreen. Also returning from the previous two movies is actor John Hannah as Evelyn’s rascal of a brother, Jonathan, who just so happens to own a night club conveniently located in China. John’s involvement in the movie was a mostly welcome source of humor amidst the action packed proceedings. I know that I complained a moment ago about there being too much comedy in this entry; however, my complaint was with the more slapstick related comedy. John’s one-liners were generally well placed within the various fight scenes to break up the onslaught of action bombarding the viewers; although there were a few instances where I felt his witty commentary on the situation would have been better left unsaid. Maria Bello (“A History of Violence”) was decent as Rachel Weisz’s replacement for Evelyn, although some of her line readings seem strained, as if she were struggling to make the words sound authentic in the British accent she was forced to adopt for the character. Aside from the perceived awkwardness of her accent, Maria genuinely seemed to be having a ball, especially throughout the various action scenes. Sadly, the character of Evelyn seemed a bit marginalized compared to what Rachel was given to do with her in the previous two films, which is a shame given how good of an actress that Maria is. Another new addition to the series was actor Luke Ford as Alex O’Connell, while Luke does a good job in the role; I personally feel that he wasn’t an appropriate casting choice given that he appeared to be maybe 5 years younger than Brendan Fraser, who was supposed to be his onscreen father. Martial arts experts Jet Li (“Unleashed”) and Michelle Yeoh (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) seemed wasted in their thankless roles as the Dragon Emperor and the witch that cursed him. Basically, their casting felt like nothing more than a stunt to get more butts in the seats due to the setting of the film being in China this time around. Neither role gave either of the two all that much to do, but their inevitable confrontation was entertaining to say the least, though I do wish it could have been a little bit longer.

Lastly, we come to the extensive visual effects work done for the movie by the talented people at Rhythm and Hues Studios and Digital Domain. There were some complaints by critics that the CGI looked too fake, or not even up to the quality of most big budget films of today. Personally, I disagree with these critics almost 100%, but I must admit that early on in the movie when the emperor is being transformed into a statue, he kind of resembles animated pudding instead of mud or whatever he was supposed to be. Combine the “pudding man” effect (that’s what I’m calling it) with some horribly rendered fire that consumes him seconds later and what you have is a poorly done visual effects sequence that draws way too much attention to the CGI, to the point that most people are looking for any other flaws that can be spotted; instead of just enjoying the rest of the movie. I for one was one of those people that looked for other flaws within the CGI for a little while (truth be told, probably through the whole movie), but I normally do that in CGI intensive movies and it has never taken away from my movie experience before, and I don’t believe it did here either. Other than that weak moment in the visual effects, the remainder of the film looked great, especially the yetis; although, I do wish they would have been involved a little more in the movie, but I’m not in charge.

Overall, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is entertaining for the most part; it does struggle to get going in the early moments of the film, but once Rick and Evelyn step back into their adventure clothes, as it were, the movie really gets going. Director Rob Cohen (“The Fast and the Furious”) injects the film with his usual fast-paced visual style that has served him well in the past and continues to do so here. While not nearly as good as “The Mummy”, this third installment in the series does come close to matching its predecessor “The Mummy Returns” and surpasses the quality of the initial spin-off “The Scorpion King”.

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is rated PG-13 for violence.

2 thoughts on “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”

  1. awful, awful movie. not a single redeemable thing about it in my opinion. I’m glad others found some fun in it, but I hated every second of it, and think it was the worst film of the year.

  2. I would say the movie was not all that bad. The cast should have remained exactly the same and some work could have been done to at least add humour in it. Good storyline in comparison to facts. Ending promises of another movie in the series.

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