“The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor” Review

The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

– for adventure action and violence.
Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, Luke Ford
Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: August 1, 2008
Official Site

Plot Summary
Doomed by a double-crossing sorceress to spend eternity in suspended animation, China’s ruthless Dragon Emperor and his 10,000 warriors have lain forgotten for eons, entombed in clay as a vast, silent terra cotta army. But when dashing adventurer Alex O’Connell is tricked into awakening the ruler from eternal slumber, the reckless young archaeologist must seek the help of the only people who know more than he does about taking down the undead: his parents. As the monarch roars back to life, our hero finds his quest for world domination has only intensified over the millennia. Striding the Far East with unimaginable supernatural powers, the Emperor Mummy will rouse his legion as an unstoppable, otherworldly force…unless the O’Connells can stop him first.

Film Review
In 1999, Stephen Sommers brought the classic monster movie tale of The Mummy to the big screen as an updated action/adventure film with a touch of horror and campy humor for good measure. The film was dark and violent and often creepy as well as adventurous and entertaining. The mixture was enough to be a pretty big box office success, earning a sequel from Sommers and the cast in 2001. The sequel was bigger, but dumber, losing the structured feel that the first possessed being based on an original tale. Everything was more fantastical, losing any kind of basing in a real world setting, and The Mummy Returns turned out to be a rather forgettable sequel.

The problem with The Mummy films, which have been accused as being Indiana Jones rip-offs from the start, is that the story focuses way too much more on the subject matter of a mummy than on the characters and archaeological concept. The Mummy Returns was the series’ first mistake, when if they’d taken it in the direction that Spielberg and Lucas did following Raiders Of The Lost Ark, it could have launched an entirely new series following Brendan Fraser’s exploits as Rick O’Connell. O’Connell is very much cut from the same cloth as Indiana Jones, but different enough to stand on his own. O’Connell, in the first film, was funny and heroic and just an all-around likeable leading man. From the start of the sequels with the introduction of a son for the O’Connells, we already have the dynamic of the characters in the first film altered too much. And for the third installment, which is helmed by a different director entirely, Rob Cohen, The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor now features the O’Connell son Alex all grown up and an adventure seeker himself like his now-retired parents. Sommers repeated too many things from the first Mummy to try to recreate the magic for a sequel while Cohen grasps desperately at different but even more erroneous straws for the second sequel. While Sommers had just a slight idea of what might have worked in the first film to make a second film at least feel ever just a teensy bit like the first film, Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor just feels like a rip-off of a rip-off or nothing more than a copy of a copy of a remake. What we find left in Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor is like sifting through dirt while mining for gold. Cohen sifts through all the parts of the first Mummy film to help viewers realize in the end that the aspect that works best out of all of the films was Rick O’Connell himself and, if only Rachel Weisz was still in the mix, his relationship with Evie. Weisz was smart not to return for this complete mess, but recasting her instead of finding a way to write her out to make this more of a father/son escapade proves to feel awkward and sophomoric at best by replacing her with Maria Bello. Never once does Bello resemble Weisz’ stint as Evie. She’s much too important of a character to the series to try to replace. Never once does it feel like Rick and Evie are the same couple as before. All of this not to mention that when we’re witness to all these strange and completely forced and contrived family tensions between father and mother with son, we feel like we’re very much on the outside looking in on an argument that we’ve come into at the very tail-end of and never fully get an understanding of why there is a problem to begin with. Why does there need to be this subplot of Rick feeling like a crummy husband and father with his son resenting him? Why does Cohen have to neuter Rick’s character outside of any action scene involving a gunfight or sword fight? We hear in a small piece of dialog that Rick and Evie had helped out the country with espionage and jobs during the war. Surely there was a better and more interesting plot to pull from in there somewhere aside from another mummy story — which would fall prey, then, to one too many jokes about itself to help excuse its very existence. I can appreciate poking fun at oneself for the sake of fun, but when it’s just NOT funny anymore and doesn’t serve as an excuse for sheer stupidity or randomness (a puking yak that Jonathan falls in love with? What in the world?!), it loses its humor and seems much too desperate.

There are moments in Cohen’s Mummy – which feels considerably less cartoony at times than Sommers’ first sequel – that feel like they’re more in the right tone and feel than Mummy Returns. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far in between and often just visually different, but not when it comes to the special effects. Cohen relies on the ill-conceived idea that bigger is better, following in Sommers’ footsteps from Returns and tries to make this far more fantastical. At least it’s never again mentioned that Evie is reincarnated or Rick is some kind of chosen one (yes, I’m still a little miffed about all that), but instead, we have Yeti (AKA abominable snowmen) that look entirely too CG and fake, and who apparently celebrate tossing baddies across the screen by doing football end zone cheers. Oh and this particular mummy – who’s not an Egyptian mummy, but a sort of Chinese “mummy” (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – can shape-shift into an overly done three-headed dragon (and the transformation begins with a digitally rendered image of Jet Li’s face that is on par with The Rock’s CG face at the end of Returns) or some kind of random, bear-like beast. It’s all much, much too fake looking, which is inexcusable for being almost ten years since the first film and our highly advanced growth in such technology (Transformers, anyone?). I won’t even get into Li’s flashback transformation either. It’s sad Jet Li got into this mess in the first place as he ends up being completely wasted in the role. While Arnold Vosloo was the perfect Egyptian mummy, he was actually given things to do in both films besides just running around and glowing red or barking orders at a completely human general who can apparently survive bombs that would kill anyone else. Li’s Emperor’s only drive is world domination while Imhotep was at least driven by his desire to resurrect the woman he loved. While Li is great star power for a third Mummy film, it’s an embarrassment for him to be associated with tripe like this. His climactic battle with O’Connell is even a complete disappointment, which Cohen can’t even give good direction by using blurry slow motion between kicks and punches. Sommers at least had some interesting one-on-one matches. And don’t get me started on the haphazardly directed car chase sequence.

To make matters completely worse, the soundtrack is uninspired, boring, and overly cheesy. You can’t force adventure on an audience with a lackluster score. Jerry Goldsmith provided an incredible score for the first film that was altogether chilling, creepy, and adventurous. It was truly unforgettable and added a lot to the film, which made it even more unfortunate when he wasn’t made a part of the sequel in 2001, having been replaced instead by
Alan Silvestri. Randy Edelman steps in here for the third outing, having done memorable work in the past on Shanghai Noon, but receiving nothing but disposable films to work on since. Tomb is no exception, and Edelman’s score only hurts what is already an ailing production. No cues from the two previous films show up again, which is a travesty, and it only cements Tomb as second-rate at best.

Content is probably the most mild out of the three Mummy pictures. Sure there are plenty of CGI dead corpses running around in broad daylight, but none of it is scary or even really handled all that intensely. Language is mild, with the worst being a handful of uses of the “a” word and a pair of “S.O.B’s,” but there is a surprising addition of innuendo in this film that wasn’t really present in Sommers’ films (I’m not counting the naked-with-just-paint-on Anak-Su-Namun in the first film, but more so dialog here). We also see Evie in her nightgown briefly as she tries to come on to Rick, only to find he’s sitting in his chair asleep (which concludes that scene). By way of violence, there’s plenty of it, with only a few instances being particularly gross or even slightly gory (see the content breakdown at the end of this review for details). Compared to the scarabs scurrying under peoples’ skin in the first two or grotesquely depicted instances where Imhotep sucked his victims dry, the worst of Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor is considerably more toned down or entirely synthetic in execution. However, it’s still not suitable for a younger audience — although the intelligence of the script may be.

I could probably write on and on about what I thought was wrong and disappointing about Rob Cohen’s latest travesty entitled The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor, but I’ll save both you and me the time and wrap things up here. With contrived family tension and romantic drama between Alex and a mysterious girl trying to stop the Emperor from coming back to life (ugh, please… do we need forced romance?), often painful effects or over-the-top action and monsters, even more embarrassingly campy and stupid moments and dialog, and a weak and amateurish script (from the guys who somehow also brought us the far more superior Spider-Man 2 script?!), The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor seems to fail in almost every way possible. Considering there’s been seven years between Returns and Tomb, there seems little room to make excuses for messing up a third
installment (but the same could be said for the nineteen year gap between Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull earlier this summer). Still, I have to admit some of the action sequences were fun – mainly when things were attempting to be played straight, and it was fun to see Rick O’Connell in action once again, but I just can’t help but feel insulted and cheated by this unsatisfying summer blunder. Save the money you would waste on this and buy a better movie or go see one you enjoyed for the second time. Should anyone actually decide to bring these characters to the big screen yet again (which I doubt after this one seems destined to crash and burn miserably at the box office), here’s a tip — drop the mummy storyline, get a real director and a script worth filming, and give people something worth watching. Fraser works as O’Connell… we just need a story worth telling and a movie worth watching.
John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/1/08)

Parental Guide: Content Summary
. Sex/Nudity: When Evie complains about writer’s block, Rick suggests she meet him upstairs for a little “inspiration” (meaning sex); Evie then comes downstairs in a robe and nightgown and sees Rick sitting in his armchair. She tries to talk about their previous adventures in a way to entice him but she finds him asleep; In Jonathan’s nightclub, Alex sees a woman and starts to go after her but Jonathan warns him that she’s been around with a lot of guys (using a double meaning); Alex tells Evie that he’s had plenty of experience with women (implying maybe that he’s romanced a few — sadly, he’s not much older than his late teens, early twenties in this movie)
. Vulgarity/Language: 7 “a” words, 2 “S.O.B,” 3 “h*ll,” 2 “d*mn,” 1 “G-d,” 2 “b*stard”
. Alcohol/Drugs: Jonathan runs a bar in Shanghai and there’s alcohol served; After getting roughed up, Jonathan drinks from a bottle while Rick drinks a glass of alcohol; Mad Dog sees the mummy as a flying dragon and asks Rick if he should quit drinking (Rick shakes his head “no”)
. Blood/Gore: In a flashback, we see the Emperor with what looks like mud or clay pouring out of his eyes and then his mouth and then engulfing his face and body. Something similar happens to his soldiers; A man is sprayed with some kind of acid from a trap in the ground and we see his face start melting and look red, raw, and burned; We see Rick flyfishing and get a hook accidentally caught in his neck (which we then see him pulling on on his skin and see it still sticking out of his neck later; We see a couple drops of blood fall from Evie’s finger; A character is stabbed (we see the blade sticking out of their stomach. When their wound is being tended to, we briefly see the bloody scar. We then see a scar on their back and stomach afterwards; After an explosion, we see a man’s face is half burned and bloody; A woman’s face after the same explosion appears a bit bloody as well; A person has blood on their hand after having been stabbed; We see mummies and carcasses in various states of decay (most seem very digital and fake in appearance). The Emperor’s face is shown in various states of decay with chunks of his face missing and looking charred in appearance underneath; We see a digital image of the inside of the Emperor as a knife plunges into his heart. His face then starts to burn and decompose and lava shoots out of his eyes and face before he explodes
. Violence: Lots of action violence — stabbings, shootings, etc. We see a lot of resurrected mummy corpses as they fight each other, slicing each other to bits, etc…

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