1999's The Mummy revitalized an old Universal franchise, and brought us the swashbuckling adventures of Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) and the bookish Evie Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) as they battle the resurrected corpse of cursed Egyptian priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). They did it twice - the second time in 2001's The Mummy Returns, this time taking place twelve years later (1933), with their son Alex (Freddie Boath) joining in the adventure. Now the O'Connells return yet again in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Taking place after World War II, we find the O'Connells bored with post-retirement.
Evie (now played by Maria Bello) has written two hugely successful mummy adventure novels, and Rick is (of all things) bored with being rich. When the opportunity arises to transport the fabled Eye of Shangri-La back to the Chinese government as a sign of good faith, they jump at the chance. Meanwhile, their son Alex (Luke Ford) has dropped out of college, and along with benefactor Roger Wilson (David Calder) has discovered the tomb of the "Dragon Emperor", Emperor Han (Jet Li), a ruthless conqueror who was betrayed by his best friend and cursed by the sorceress Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh). Luke brings the Emperor's sarcophagus back to Shanghai to present in a museum, and of course soon the O'Connells are reunited. There's a bit of betrayal that takes place, thanks to the corrupt Chinese General Yang (Anthony Wong), resulting in the resurrection of Emperor Han - but he needs to travel to Shangri-La and drink from the pool of immortality, and then he can awaken his terra cotta warrior army to re-conquer the globe. But of course, the O'Connell's - with the help of protector Lin (Isabella Leong) - will do their part to try to stop the Dragon Emperor from succeeding.
There are more than a few problems with this film, and it's hard to decide where to begin, so I'll go with the obvious one. It's been almost 10 years since The Mummy, and at 39-years old, Brendan Fraser still looks 29. That's very good for him, but it's hard to believe that nearly 25-years have passed since the events in the first film. He and 26-year old Luke Ford look the same age. It's just a bit of a stretch to believe that they could be father and son. Fraser and Ford both try to be macho and clever, but their performances just come off as hammy. Maria Bello replaced Rachel Weisz for this film, and they make a pretty bad joke at the beginning, to introduce her to the audience. I enjoyed Rachel's cuteness and bookish charm in the first two films, and found Bello (who I generally like) to be dull and uninvolved. Only John Hannah, who returns as Evie's brother Jonathan, was really entertaining.
And that's another problem with the film. You have Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, and for some reason, I couldn't feel excited during the fight sequences. Director Rob Cohen just wasn't able to put together something that instilled a sense of involvement and energy, for all the visual effects and action sequences in the film. There was great potential for a sequence involving a chariot race in the middle of Shanghai, but my pulse barely picked up. It's not like I was expecting much from the film - it is, after all, supposed to be just a silly fun movie - but I didn't feel like there was anything to latch on to. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh - I'll likely enjoy it a bit more the second time, because my expectations have been tempered. But still, it was difficult to feel that the film was anything fresh. There was a very clear formula as to where it was going, and when it got there, you didn't feel like it was anything special. There is a fight scene in the Himalayas involving three Yeti that was rather interesting, but even then, I couldn't get past the obvious predictability of where the fight was going.
Musically, composer Randy Edelman came up with some nice themes, and John Debney (who did some last-minute additional music when Edelman was unavailable for the fixes) helped beef up the action scenes with large-scale action music. That's all nice and good - if you can hear it. The music is mixed so low at times during the action scenes that you'll be lucky to hear it over the noise of the sound effects. Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (of "Smallville" and Herbie Fully Loaded fame), the story feels like it could have easily been a made-for-television film. And that's ultimately where you should bother to see it, if you have nothing else to do for two hours (plus commercials). It's a disappointing film that heralds the end of Summer 2008, and hopefully puts and end to the franchise as well.
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