I suppose one could be forgiven for some feelings of déjà fu while watching The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor. The film features a middle-aged archaeologist/explorer whose days of fantastic adventuring are in the past, on the far side of the grim realities of World War Two. He has a son with which he has a strained relationship and only finds renewed vigor for life once he and his lady love embark on another great globetrotting adventure that will end in a flurry of mind numbing computer generated effects. Sounds like a brief for Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, the movie that helped launch this summer’s blockbuster season. However, this new installment in The Mummy series marks the beginning of the season’s winding down. It is a muddled mess of a movie that encapsulates every bad trait of a big, goofy popcorn flick without any of the smarts, wit or fun.
The archaeologist/explorer in question is Rick O’Connell (Brendan Frasier), who has found that marital bliss has given way to stagnation in his wife’s palatial home in the English countryside. His wife Evelyn (Maria Bello, taking over the role from Rachel Weisz) has at least kept herself occupied by turning their two previous adventures dispatching the Egyptian undead into a pair of bestselling pulp romance novels. (A scene where Eve distances herself from her literary counterpart to an inquiring fan yields the film’s only clever line of dialogue.) The two spring back to action when their son Alex (Luke Ford) becomes entwined in a plot by a Chinese general to raise from undead imprisonment the first Chinese emperor (Jet Li), whose hidden army of soldiers recalls last month’s Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.
There’s a lot going on in Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor but none of it good. While the first two films balanced humor and thrills, this new installment is joyless and dull, lacking any verve whatsoever. Most of the blame can be placed on a subpar screenplay. The sense of fun from the first film has been replaced with jokes about vomiting yaks and field goal signaling yeti. For a character whose backstory is imparted in the film’s opening ten minutes, the character of the revived Emperor Han is amazingly non-existent compared to the antagonist from the first two films.
Despite the deficiencies in the screenplay, the ultimate blame for this disaster must be placed on the shoulders of director Rob Cohen. He barrels things along with no real sense of pace or rhythm, lurching from one sequence to the next. The special effects work, most noticeably the computer generated creatures our heroes encounter, are shockingly bad for a summer blockbuster. It is not a good sign when the Abominable Snowman of Pixar’s cartoony Monsters, Inc looks more realistic than the supposedly scarier version of the aforementioned yeti, who show up here when the script has placed its heroes in too tough a situation to extricate themselves from.
In addition to wasting the talents of a Hong Kong action star like Li in the terribly underwritten role of Emperor Han, Cohen wastes another opportunity when it comes to Li’s character facing off against the immortal witch who cursed him to his undead status. The witch is played by another action star, Michelle Yeoh, who last appeared on screen with Li in 1993’s The Thai Chi Master. If fans of the two were looking forward to an exciting reunion on screen, then they are in for a disappointment. Their showdown at the end of the film is badly choreographed, photographed and edited. But by this point, the film has been such a disappointment that one more flubbed thing doesn’t even matter.