WRITTEN BY Miles Miller & Alfred Gough
DIRECTED BY Rob Cohen
2008, 120 mins.
** (out of ****)
As a fan of the re-imagined Mummy series from Stephen Summer (Van Helsing), I was supremely disappointed with this lackluster, paycheck-cashing third installment. Seriously, there was more heart put into Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift then Mummy 3. There are two reasons why this flick isn’t a total loss: Brendan Fraser and the action sequences. Surprisingly, the presence of martial arts masters Jet Li (The One) and Michelle Yeoh (Babylon A.D.) doesn’t anything unique to the mix, nor do the du o give us a jaw-dropping fight in the finale – just a bunch of flips and narrow misses with swords. Really, this is just one giant movie that when the credits role, all you think about is what could have been. It’s not the worst movie I’ve seen all year, but it’s a huge disappointment when compared to the near-perfect previous two.
Years after the events of Mu mmy Returns, Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn O’Connell (Maria Bello) lives the comfortable life in retirement: Rick attempts to master the craft of fishing, while Evelyn is an acclaimed escapist romance novelist, basing the stories on her Mummy adventures. Meanwhile, Alex O’Connell, the grown-up version, uncovers the tomb of the great Han Emperor (Jet Li). The Emperor was given power over the elements of the world, but simultaneously cursed into damnation, with his followers, by a scored mistress. Bored with retirement, Rick and Evelyn venture to China to deliver a crystal to the same museum where the excavated Han Emperor is housed. Once there, some really bad bad guys show up and despite the best effort of Rick and Evelyn, the Han Emperor is resurrected in all his immortal glory. Thus, Rick, Evelyn, Jonathan (John Hannah), and Alex, along with his new attractive female Asian friend, embark on a journey from the Himalayas to the Great Wall, all to stop the Han Emperor from ruling the world! (though things get a little tricky with the Dragon Emperor’s ability to shape-shift into wolfs and…well, dragons…)
The sad part is, there was a chance it could have been a good movie. From the very first instant we hear Maria Bello’s atrocious, nails-on-a-chalkboard accent, the flick was doomed. And yet, I remained a little optimistic: Jet Li will surely kick some serious ass – why else would they cast him? Unfortunately, I have yet to stumble on an answer other then the simple fact that he is a ‘name’ actor that would pull in an even higher attendance number. When the movie was over, I felt robbed from what could have been Mummy 3; I ached for Stephen Summers to pop out of nowhere and say, ‘Ooops! That was the rough cut! This is my cut!’ and he would reveal to us a far superior movie with an intelligent script and Rachel Weisz in the lead (funny how one actor – whether present or not - is integral to the enjoyment of a flick). Obviously, that didn’t so much happen.
My mind’s buzzing all over the place right now, so my writings will be a little messy.
First off, the good: it was fun. Yes, it’s a word I chum out a lot, but that’s because I feel movies are meant to be enjoyed, not to be analyzed minutely - pondering why a director made a certain choice in framing a scene instead of a more commonly used angle (especially with a movie like this; if it was a blatant ‘give me a Oscar!’ type flick like There Will Be Blood, then discuss all you want!). So Tomb succeeds in that regard. Car chases on New Year’s in Shanghai, explosions all over the place and the Dragon Emperor spitting out fire or ice with his hands; giant Yetis in the Himalayas pulverizing the bad guy troopers; a lackluster and disappointing but miledly entertaining duel between Li and Yeoh at the films climax; and a few cool Brendan Fraser kick-ass moments are definitely the highlights.
Unfortunately, even this positive thing comes with negative strings: bad direction. Now, I have no trouble following the action in Bourne Ultimatum (2007), with all of its erratic camera movement, but for some reason, I could hardly make out what’s going on during the New Year’s chase in Shanghai; I lost a sense of geography or why people were doing what they were doing. The climatic battle sequence at the end where two armies of undead warriors duel for the sake of all mankind is actually quite a bore – makes the finale of Eragon (2006) far more enticing in comparison.
The other aspect that saves this movie from being a total waste is Brendan Fraser. Although Fraser is noticeably not on his A game as he was for Mummy Returns, he nonetheless pours some life into this corpse of a movie. From the terribly cheesy-but-simultaneously-humorous (although I won’t admit it) lines to the John McClane-ish fights, Fraser owns this franchise. For those who grew up with Indiana Jones as their action/adventure icon, Rick O’Connell is mine. I was nine when the first Mummy came out, and he simply personified coolness – holding cats in the air, or wielding a sword and slashing mummies, or sporting off hilarious one liners, Rick O’Connell was godly. The dude still kicked major ass in the sequel, and perhaps I’m biased, but I think Fraser maintained his Indiana Jonesy-ness in this one.
Now with all this praising out of the way, let’s address Maria Bello. From the second she was onscreen and I heard her voice, my heart nearly died. To say her impersonation of Rachel Weisz (if she was even attempting; I’m not sure what the hell she was trying to do) is horrid, disastrous, dreadful, and deserving of a Razzie award alone is not a understatement. Her voice and that annoying, Botox-like smile that would make Jack Nicholson’s Joker proud creeps the shit out of me; it must be how Harry, Ron and Hermione felt when they looked at Professor Umbridge’s toad-ish face in Order of the Phoenix (2007). Suffice it to say, this was a real revelation after first encountering her in A History of Violence (2005), where I thought she was a great actor and someone to admire; now, I don’t know what to think. Gah. Another strike against the actress which only puts further credence to the poor casting choice: she shares zero chemistry with co-star onscreen husband Brendan Fraser, making their scenes awkward and their romance never believable for a instant.
John Hannah returns as Evelyn’s brother Jonathan, and aside from looking far older than the rest of the cast, he delivers all his quirky, sometimes chuckle-worthy one-liners with ease. After all, this is his third outing (making him the only one next to Fraser who has been in all three), so he appears quite comfortable with the character. New comer Luke Ford sort of grew on me, but occasionally, I get glimpses of such a wooden performance it would put Hayden Christensen’s work in Episode II to shame. Ford wasn’t terrible, and there are moments where you can get the vaguest feel of a father/son bond, but he was completely unconvincing when it comes to the romance department. During the course of the movie, Alex O’Connell falls for the daughter of Michelle Yeoh’s character, but this whole them being immortal thing puts a damper on the relationship. Never once is this romance realistic or believable – same as Hayden and Natalie Portman, if I were to continue the Star Wars references. Jet Li is given nothing to work with other then to look menacing and give a deadpan, serious stare which is supposed to be sinister. But it’s Jet Li, and the dude’s cool, so any lack of acting I can deal with – I just wish he was utilized better.
The main fault lies in the screenplay, written by Smallville co-creators Alfred Goughh & Miles Miller. It appears the duo viewed the two films, took notes (eg, "funny line, action, romance, funny line, action, funny line, action, romance, funny line!" and repeated the steps a few times over - but hugely lacking the level of intelligence the first two had (yes, I said intelligence). There's probably some plot holes, but honestly, unless they're quite obvious, I don't really pay attention to them, so I'm rating the script by the story and dialogue.
Gough and Miller also add Yetis and shape-shifting mummies into the mix, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that just yet. For some reason, I can deal with a three-headed, fire-breathing dragon moreso than four ten-feet tall Yetis (maybe it's my experience in the world of Godzilla films). When compared to the other two, these elements are ginormously out of place, but yet fit into the context of this story. It just feels like it's 'Mummy In Name Only', if you get my drift. Obviously they couldn't bring Imothep back (probably spelt that wrong), but this didn't fit the world Summers created, and instead felt like a spin-off attempt while using the name brand.
It seems they tried, truly really, but director Rob Cohen couldn't have any of that. With the exception of a bad performance or two...or four...a huge reason why Tomb of the Dragon Emperor falls flat is the direction. As I stated in the opening, there is no substance - there's no care. It's like McG's Charlie's Angels vs. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle: one was excellent, the other felt like he didn't give a damn and just ordered the DP to shoot anything with the three leads in the frame doing something sexual. It just felt lazy - and that's something I hate above all else. If Roger Corman's name is attached to a project, it's forgiveable, but for a big-budget summer blockbuster, I expect a little life in my flick; at least hire some good actors!
Well, Universal got their cash, everyone received their paychecks, so all is good and done in their little world. Director Cohen (Stealth) indicated the potential for more Mummy installments, starting off with the Jonathan and his Peru situation mentioned in the flick’s last moments. I’ll probably be there, and I’ll probably dish out the cash to see it. Sure, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was a massive disappointment, but it wasn’t terrible (Bello aside), so I wouldn’t mind seeing if they do better…or at the very least, I’ll be entertained. Though they sure as hell better not make it all about bloody Jonathan; great bloke with fantastic comic timing, but I couldn’t suffer a whole movie with him as the sole protagonist.