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The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Open with Extreme Caution

Posted by goldwriting on August 1, 2008

Yep, I have no idea where his front foot is either. It’s mummy magic.

Movies are almost synonymous with one type of food; popcorn. Summertime is equally synonymous with one kind of movie; popcorn cinema. This would be the type of movie where you walk in, sit down with an overly large tub of possibly-buttered delight in your lap and shut the brain off. Just watch the action, be wowed by the explosions and chuckle at the one-liners you would only joke about, but never believe you would actually hear someone say on screen. Now it may sound like I’m mocking these flicks, but I’m not at all, we eat these up with both hands every year and this summer is no different. How do you think Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made such a ridiculous amount of money? So, tonight I bore witness to another lasting franchise in the candy coated adventure world and it’s new arrival, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

The first two movies were helmed by franchise creator Steven Sommers, but this time the reins were handed over to another Universal Studios master-at-arms, Rob Cohen. Rob is no stranger to the multi-sequeled storyline, but usually he’s at the front of it instead of coming in during round three. He launched such franchises as The Fast and the Furious, xXx and The Skulls. He also directed one of the more stand out martial arts movies of the early 1990’s, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. With all those credits on his rap sheet, you’d figure this project would be akin to giving a professional conductor one of Beethoven’s classics, a walk in the park. Yet this stroll down popcorn lane proved to be a more windy road than imagined.

The story takes place many years after the last chapter and Rick and Evie’s son, Alex has taken on the family business of digging up and uncovering the most dangerous of mummified enemies. This new foe happens to be an ancient Chinese emperor who once controlled the five elements and tried to take over the world, which seems to be a bit of a habit for these mummies. Once he is reawakened, the ride begins and we are off once again, racing around the continent to try and stop him from becoming completely immortal. The basic premise works and personally I was glad to move the location out of Egypt, since I felt they had played that tune as long as they could. Yet once you move below the basic storyline, all the connecting points seem to fall apart. I’m a huge supporter in the “willing suspension of disbelief”, which we all need to fully enjoy any movie, but this suspension was pulled just a few hairs past the limit. So many things take place which are never explained, never set up and sometimes never paid off. Once the momentum really got moving, every other scene was spent trying to figure out how we got there and what was going on. It had a little taste of Wanted, which also jumped absolutely huge logic holes for the sake of making something look cool on screen, but that film, under the insane vision of Timur Bekmambetov, pulled it off much better.

As for casting, back in the day this was going to be the bread and butter of Brendan Fraser’s career (who plays our dashing hero and young Indiana Jones homage, Rick O’Connell), but since the first movie I haven’t felt that same magic from his performance. Ever since then it has all felt like a shadow or almost a parody of the moments he created in the original. Also, in the first two he starred alongside Rachel Weisz, but she didn’t return to the sand and savagery this time and the studios were forced to either write her out or replace her. They chose the latter. In comes Maria Bello as Evie O’Connell, the spunky and adventurous librarian-cum-swashbuckler. I think Maria is a fantastic actress and I was wildly supportive of her turn in A History of Violence, but this was not a good fit for her. Her action scenes felt forced and overly silly, on top of her accent sliding in, out and completely off the British continent. From the original chapters, the only person to bring the exact same level, for better or for worse, was John Hannah, as Evie’s charmingly opportunistic brother, Jonathan. New to this series was Michelle Yeoh, an immortal witch hoping to stop the Dragon Emperor, and Jet Li as the Emperor himself. Michelle was fairly strong in her performance, but Jet Li spent most of the movie walking around as an animated Terra Cotta statue, so it’s a little hard to criticize any lack of emotion from the part.

It can be argued that acting skills and story structure have nothing to do with popcorn cinema, it is all about the special effects. We are there for the glitz, the glamor and the wonderment of things we have never seen before on screen. Unfortunately this visual extravaganza didn’t break down any walls in that realm. The statue effect on Jet Li’s character skipped back and forth between impressive and amateurish, while the practical effects and explosions failed to really pop the eyes open of the audience. The one thing standing out amongst the crowd was the Yeti creatures (don’t ask how or why they appeared, just let that one go). These imagined visualizations of the abominable snowmen provided not only some much needed freshness to the flick, but some decent comedy as well. Numerous times there was laughter peeling through the audience, but half of it was laughing alongside the movie, while the rest was laughing at it. Big difference, same result: entertainment. As many problems as this does have, I can’t say I walked out unamused. The plot holes and logic issues leave the script looking like a well used target down at the local gun range, but the jokes were plentiful and they kept coming until you gave in and laughed.

Recommendation: As I’ve said before, this is an action movie, so it can only be helped by seeing it on the big screen, but on this occassion I might just suggest waiting for TV distribution and sitting really, really close to the set.

p.s. I was once again reminded about why I choose to go to the Arclight Cinemas as much as possible. Tonight they gave out posters signed by Rob Cohen to people sitting in random seat numbers. Plus, if that wasn’t enough of a bonus for the night, Rob Cohen himself was there to introduce the movie. He mentioned that he made the movie for us, the fans, the general public, and not for the critics and bloggers (like myself). He said it’s about sheer entrainment, so whether you think it’s good or it’s bad, if you laugh at it during any point, his job is done. For me the job was done, but it might not have been the job he intended.

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