When Rick O’Connell and his beloved Evie sailed off in a ramshackle dirigible at the end of 2001’s THE MUMMY RETURNS, moviegoers everywhere wished and hoped they would see their tomb-raiding, mummy-obliterating friends again. Well, 7 years later their wish has been granted, though its as if Imhotep himself granted the wish. With the painful absence of original costar Rachel Weisz, original mummy Arnold Vosloo and original writer/director Stephen Sommers, THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR will leave audiences shaking their heads sadly, wondering why they even bothered.
The evil Dragon Emperor (a mostly silent Jet Li) is determined to find the secret to immortality so he and his army can rule for all time. But long, long ago a witch (Michelle Yeoh) cursed him by turning him into chocolate and statue-fying him… which apparently makes him a mummy. Flash forward to 1947 and intrepid adventurers Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn O’Connell (Maria Bello) have hung up their hats to enjoy a quiet married life in England. But a supposedly simple secret mission brings them to Shanghai and throws them into the path of their more adventurous son Alex (Luke Ford), who has just uncovered the remains of the Emperor and his army. Faster than you can say “predictable turn of events”, the Emperor is resurrected and it’s up to the O’Connell clan (with the help of brother/uncle Jonathan) to stop the “mummy” and save the day.
It’s difficult to decide which aspect of the film is most ridiculous. I suppose it could be the title, which is misleading. There isn’t actually a mummy in the film. Sure, there are ancient figures raised from the dead, but they’re more like cursed zombies than mummies. Unless they cut out the actual mummification process, that is. Regardless of the villain’s post-life status, Li pales in comparison with the evil and all-powerful Imhotep. Aside from the desire to rule and control all, there’s really nothing to the Emperor. And how exactly he got all his magical powers is really anybody’s guess.
The other newcomers don’t fare very well either. Although Maria Bello is a fine actress in her own right, she seems next to useless trying to fill Weisz’s shoes. The key ingredient to the success of the first two films was the endearing charisma between Fraser and Weisz – Bello can’t help but fall short. And the last time we saw Alex O’Connell, he was a plucky British schoolboy with a sharp tongue and a taste for trouble. This time around, he’s still got a taste for trouble, but he’s been morphed into an All-American boy (rather odd, since he appears to have been born and raised in England) that’s nothing more than a blander version of Fraser’s character. Yeoh manages to make the most with what’s she given… which is basically nothing. But it’s always nice to see her.
There is none of the excitement, old-fashioned thrills or plain old fun jokiness of the first two films. This is likely due to Stephen Sommers’ absence; while it’s true his style of comedy and filmmaking spelt doom for VAN HELSING, it was perfectly acquitted in the world of THE MUMMY. In his place is Rob Cohen, who recently gave the world XXX and STEALTH. Working from an unexciting, unfunny and basically inept script, Cohen shows none of the visual grandeur or old-fashioned decadence that made the franchise so successful. Instead he employs an overabundance of handheld camera shots, which looks incredibly cheap in an epic such as this.
The final moments seem to promise yet another addition to the franchise (in the worst possible way, of course), but since the filmmakers have forgotten nearly everything the first film was about, they would be better off not wasting the time. One could assume, should another film come to pass, that it can’t possibly get any worse. But I have a sneaking feeling that, should the present team reunite, they would finally manage to surprise us.