It's hard to see any reason why
this entirely unnecessary Mummy threequel got the green light, other than the fact that Indiana Jones was also pencilled in for a summer return - and where there are coattails to be ridden, you'll find Stephen Sommers. The director's first two Mummy movies were guilty pleasures of sorts; harmless, entertaining FX romps that filled a hole in the absence of any real adventures. Sadly for Sommers, now on producing duty, this has been a summer full of them. Like a fake suit hung next to a Prada original, Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor exposes The Mummy franchise for what it really is: a cheap and threadbare knock-off that doesn't feature a single original stitch in its material.
The plot is a flimsy excuse to lift the series out of its dusty desert setting and plonk it in a new exploitable environment, namely Ancient China. Retired adventurers Rick (Fraser) and Evie O'Connell (Bello) are lured to Shanghai on some colourful jaunt that sees them hook up with son Alex (Luke Ford) and Evie's brother, Jonathan (John Hannah). It's not long before Jet Li's badass Emperor is awoken from his 2,000 year sleep along with his terracotta army, so Rick and family take it upon themselves to save the world one more time and go for the hat-trick. "Here we go again..." just about says it all.
Really, the warning signs were obvious from the start. This is a Mummy movie directed by Rob Cohen, helmer of The Fast And The Furious (a movie about fast cars), xXx (a movie about extreme sports and explosions) and Stealth
(a movie about an emo stealth bomber). It's dumb squared; an intelligence free zone. Characters converse in impossibly cheesy dire-logue, choking on cornball one-liners short and stupid enough to fit only in comic-book panels ("You guys are mummy magnets!" etc). John Hannah's 'comic' relief sees him playing second fiddle to a vomiting Yak. And the less said about the Yetis the better.
Cohen is a director who has little idea of what his audience expect. The very least you could hope for from a Mummy movie is some big-budget action sequences, but Cohen manages to fumble even the most straight-forward battle scenes. Fist fights are turgid and slow, lacking any sense of danger; one sequence set on a snowy mountainside is sloppily edited and hard to follow; the final showdown between two undead armies might as well have had a high score at the top of the screen - CG rarely gets better than videogame cut-scene quality.
Worse, the cast look uncomfortable throughout and actors are rarely allowed to play to their strengths. Fraser and Bello spend most of the movie as helpless bystanders, while their obnoxious son - a character without any redeeming features whatsoever - gets a god-awful love story sub-plot that eats up the runtime yet literally has no bearing on the film's story at all. Li is a commanding presence as always, but is replaced with a special effect for the most part - and not even an impressive one, the same 'burns victim' FX as the previous two movies. The final showdown between Li and nemesis Michelle Yeoh should by rights be a pulsating affair, but - like the rest of the movie - is actually a crushing let-down: plodding, predictable and ultimately pointless.
Tomb Of the Dragon Emperor is not a film completely without merit. Production design is fantastic - '40s China looks especially beautiful (can you say Temple Of Doom?) - and the early sequence of Li's Emperor coming to life sets an eerie tone that the rest of the movie fails to capitalise on. Perhaps under the direction of a more competent filmmaker, it could have been passable popcorn entertainment - where you're laughing with a film, rather than at it. But compared to Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
- hell, even compared to National Treasure 2 - this Mummy comes across as a movie seriously lacking in every respect. Pray that this is a franchise that's dead for good this time. Ali