The only reason I even gave "The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor", (unbelievably, the THIRD "Mummy" film) a try was because they try to in corporate the Terra Cotta Warriors into the mythology of this 'Dragon Emperor' and I have been fascinated with these statues ever since I first saw them. Was the few glimpses of these works of art worth the pain of watching the film? No.
"The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (did I mention this is the THIRD "Mummy" film) is a loud, obnoxious, non-sensical and features some of the broadest acting I have ever seen in a feature film. And I'm not even sure what to call what Brendan Fraser tries to do, but it isn't acting.
The best thing about these weak attempts to try to recreate the magic of "Indiana Jones" are the extended sequences establishing the back stories of the people who will become the Mummy. In this edition, the film opens with an extended sequence depicting the rise of the Dragon Emperor (Jet Li), who, like all Emperors, fears immortality. So, he finds a witch (Michelle Yeoh) and asks her to give him immortality. A complication occurs and the witch curses the Emperor and his army and they start spewing clay and a fire hardens the clay. The thought and planning that went into this sequence, to make it seem like a viable mythology, are not evident in the rest of the film.
But this thought and planning is probably necessary because I have never heard of the Chinese people making a practice of mummifying their dead. I just looked it up online and there do appear to be a few instances of this, but it doesn't seem as prevalent as in other cultures. So, this backstory is necessary to make the film happen.
Picking up in 1946, we follow Alex O'Connell (Luke Ford), Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn's (Maria Bello, taking over for Rachel Weisz) son, as he and a professor unearth the buried tomb of the Dragon Emperor somewhere in China. They open the tomb and enter, finding an army of Terra Cotta Warriors. But no emperor. As Alex begins to search for the Dragon Emperor, they begin to set off booby traps and Alex eventually crashes through a floor and finds the hidden Emperor. Before you can say "Indiana Jones ripoff", we join Rick and Evelyn in England. Evelyn is doing a book reading from her latest adventure novel, based on her own experiences with Rick fighting the mummy. Rick is trying to find excitement by fishing. Both are bored out of their senses and jump at the British Government's request for them to transport the "Eye of Shangri-La", a huge, pure diamond, back to Shanghai. Before you can say "too coincidental", they arrive in Shangai at the exact time their son, Rick arrives to ask his uncle, Jonathan (John Hannah) for some help. Rick and Eveleyn immediately get mixed up in Luke's dig and everyone begins running through the streets of Shanghai and the Chinese desert, trying to stop the evil Dragon Emperor from achieving his goal, immortality.
Director Rob Cohen is not a subtle director and all of these problems come to the forefront as soon as the film shifts to 'present day', London, 1946.
It's hard to out ham Brendan Fraser, the guy has made a career of playing loud, brash 'heroes' modeled on the Saturday afternoon serials once so popular in American cinemas. But Fraser has never taken these characters to a place that pays homage to this type of film while making them memorable for the modern day cinema. Like, oh, say, Harrison Ford. Fraser is all about shouting, big eye rolls, waving arms and much more manic movements. Early in the film, Rick is out fishing and having a difficult time getting into the relaxing aspect of the sport. Soon, he starts shooting the fish, shouting at them. The problem with Fraser (and his directors) is that there is never a middle ground for these guys. He is one emotion, then another. We never watch the emotions transform to the next. And this makes the characters seem cartoony and laughable.
As I watched the film, which has no credits in the beginning, I found myself trying to figure out who was playing the role of Evelyn. While it's hard to out ham Brendan Fraser, this actress was accomplishing the feat. In every scene they shared, if Fraser was showing a broad emotion, she was showing it more broadly. If his arms were waving around, she soon joined in. And her accent was also very "British" and I instantly got the sense she was using an accent some 'voice coach' helped her obtain. So, Evelyn was even more comic book-like than Rick in this film. A thought that boggles the mind. As soon as the film was over, I bolted from the theater and didn't catch the actress' name. The next day, when I looked up the film on iMDB.com, I was shocked to learn the actress was Maria Bello. The actress who made an indelible impact on one of my favorite films "A History of Violence" and has created an impressive resume of films. "The Mummy" won't be added to that list as her performance is easily one of the worst I have seen her in.
Luke Ford plays Alex O'Connell, Rick and Evelyn's son. When exactly did they have a son who is now in his 20s? I guess the first two "Mummy" films were set in the 30s, so it could have happened. But it just seems unnecessary. Why does Brendan Fraser need a younger, more brash sidekick? He seems to have this area pretty much covered. Why does he need a sidekick at all? Jonathan, played by John Hannah, filled this bill very well, and added some comic relief. So Alex seems like more of a distraction. Perhaps he is included to give Rick and Evelyn something to worry about. If this is the case, why do they seem to forget about him for large periods of time, when he is off trying to fight his own battles. Ultimately, this character seems like an unnecessary distraction.
Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh are both good. Li is a great martial arts performer and in this role, he is able to play a villain again, which is rare. As the Dragon Emperor, all of his lines are subtitled, making it easier for him to create a character because he doesn't have to worry about speaking English. He glowers and looks menacing and makes us believe this man is hell bent on dominating the world. Michelle Yeoh is always good and as Zi Juan, the witch who is summoned by the Emperor, she is also, by far, the most subtle of the actors in the film. When she is initially summoned to meet the Emperor, she is concerned because she knows that she must tread lightly. But as the circumstances go wrong, she throws all caution to the wind, to make sure her revenge is exacted. And she makes herself immortal, allowing her to come back in 1946, to ensure the Emperor doesn't escape from his tomb at any point. If he does, she wants to lead the effort to help ensure he returns there.
John Hannah, who used to be the one bright light of these films, providing some nice comic relief, is relegated to one scene in which a Yak throws up on him. The rest of the time, he runs around, frantically trying to keep up.
There are a few memorable action sequences, a chase through downtown Shanghai and a fight in the museum are most notable, but a lot of the action involves hundreds, thousands of CGI skeletons fighting each other. And the humans are peppered throughout this action. When you watch something created primarily through CGI, or computer generated animation, it is difficult for any of it to appear real. In fact, the huge battle at the end of the film appears more similar to one of Ray Harryhausen's creations for "Jason and the Argonauts" or "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad". They were memorable uses of the effects for this era, the 50s or 60s, and broke ground, but to make something similar in his day and age just doesn't work. It doesn't advance the form and simply makes it seem like they ran out of skill, time and money.
And Cohen leaves the story open for a fourth installment. Any ideas on where they are going to travel next? I'll give you two guesses…