The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
The problem with mummy movies has traditionally been that mummies aren’t especially scary to anyone over the age of about 11.
The current resurrection of this venerable monster was achieved on the back of what were then innovative and eye-popping CGI effects in the 1999 movie and its 2001 sequel. Throw in Brendan Fraser’s genial heroics, plenty of Indiana Jones-inspired action, and charismatic supporting work from the likes of Rachel Weisz and bad guy Arnold Vosloo, and you had yourself a solid, if uninspired, hit.
It’s taken a leisurely seven years for a second sequel to plod to our screens, and it arrives with a couple of notable absentees. Weisz bailed (did she read the script perchance?), and has been replaced by Maria Bello (from A History Of Violence), who affects a mostly credible cut-glass British accent as best-selling author, Evelyn O’Connell.
But where’s the mummy, honey? Han, the dragon emperor – an ossified Chinese tyrant – hardly qualifies. Played by Jet Li in the prologue, but largely impersonated by a walking fossil thereafter, he’s a bit of an also-ran in the personality department, even after he picks up bonus shape-shifting powers (one of numerous just-go-with-it plot developments).
In a scenario that will feel uncannily familiar to anyone who saw Hellboy 2 recently, Ricochet O’Connell and Co. attempt to prevent Han from restoring his Terracotta Warriors to life – an impregnable force, but only once they’ve crossed the Great Wall. Why? Because that way Rick can face an invulnerable enemy and defeat it too.
As usual he has plenty of help from Evelyn, but Rick is inexplicably sidelined almost from the off by his son Alex, now an AWOL undergraduate moonlighting as an ambitious archaeologist. Played by 26-year-old Aussie Luke Ford, Alex explains why Evelyn has aged so precipitously, but it’s impossible to buy boyish 40-year-old Brendan Fraser as his dad.
Why the filmmakers decided to skip down this generational path is another mystery – it’s not like Fraser is an old geezer with a slipping fan base. Maybe – and this is just speculation – he indicated this would be his last Mummy picture, and Luke Ford is being groomed to take over the franchise. Certainly Fraser doesn’t seem engaged by what’s going on around him. Unfortunately young Ford doesn’t make much impression either, despite the opportunities thrown his way (mucho machine gun mayhem and a tepid romance with a 2000-year-old Oriental ingenue, Isabella Leong).
Dumb things keep on happening. Immortals die. Mortals come back to life. John Hannah is allowed to trade quips with a yak. In one gloriously far-fetched sequence the O’Connells are saved by the timely intervention of several abominable snowmen, the yetis that guard the gates of Shangri-La. They make a lot of noise, but they’re last seen carrying a wounded Ricochet on a makeshift stretcher.
Director Rob Cohen (Stealth) seems to have lost his way big time. Like the yetis, he cranks the volume up to 11, shuts his eyes and hopes for the best – but you can’t make a movie on special effects alone, and “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is stuck with a screenplay more appropriate for an episode of Scooby Doo.
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