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.
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 a heaping dose of 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, forsaking 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 concepts. The Mummy Returns was the series' first mistake; if they'd only 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 way 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' turn 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. To make matters worse, we fall prey to witnessing to a series of strange and completely forced family tensions between the parents and their son, and it all feels like we're very much on the outside looking in on an argument that we've come into at the very tail-end of. We 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? It's not like it's anything any fan would want to see in a Mummy movie either. 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 feel too 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 from Returns), 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)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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