An unnecessary and tiresome return to the Mummy series, Rob Cohen’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor may not be any good but it isn’t much worse than the previous entries.
Brendan Fraser and John Hannah return as, respectively, dashing hero Rick O’Connell and his comic-relief sidekick Jonathan Carnahan, and while that’s the lone connection to the earlier films – there aren’t even any mummies here (the baddies are an Asian emperor and his army, cast in stone for 2000 years, and while the characters refer to them as mummies, I’m not so sure that’s accurate) – this is virtually the same movie.
As a display of mindless effects and action scenes, you get what you pay for; anyone eager to see The Mummy 3 after having seven years to contemplate The Mummy Returns shouldn’t be disappointed.
A numbing 10-minute prologue, complete with non stop voiceover narration, sets up the needlessly complex backstory to this otherwise simplistic film: in 50 B.C. China, sorceress Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh) entombs ruthless Emperor Han (Jet Li) and his massive army in stone before he gains the power to, uh, take over the world and doom mankind.
2000 years later, in 1946 Shanghai, college dropout Alex O’Connell (Luke Ford) unearths the Dragon Emperor only to be double-crossed by a Chinese general who wants to resurrect him and, uh, take over the world and doom mankind.
Meanwhile, Alex’s parents Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn (Maria Bello), eager for some adventure after years of retirement, have conveniently brought to Shanghai the mystical stone that can resurrect Emperor Han and lead him to Shangri-La, where he will gain immortality and shapeshifting powers. Oh, and Lin (Isabella Leong), who has protected the tomb for the past millennia, joins our heroes as they attempt to fend off the Dragon Emperor.
You can probably guess what happens next. The Dragon Emperor is resurrected, leading a chase through Shanghai streets on Chinese New Year complete with a fireworks gunplay and Rick ending up on a headless horse; we then travel to the Himalayas as our heroes take on the Chinese army and the Dragon Emperor with the aid of some benevolent Yetis (?) while Han discovers the path to Shangri-La, gains immortality, transforms into a three-headed dragon, and kidnaps Lin; then back to the Emperor’s tomb, where he resurrects his vast army of stone warriors to do battle against a vast army of undead skeleton warriors, both of whom crumble into a pile of sand upon contact, with our heroes caught in-between. Or, in fewer words, a bunch of mindless CGI effects propel the film to its inevitable conclusion.
Cohen has effectively replaced Stephen Sommers in the director’s chair, and while this film is certainly missing the atmosphere of the earlier ones, it does feel like a more accomplished package overall. While the movie is all eye-candy, it is watchable.
Action scenes are well-executed and mildly compelling, though you might expect some martial arts in a film partially sold by Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh; you’d be wrong, except for a climatic sword fight between the two and a hand-to-hand fight between Li and Fraser, both of which are atrociously choreographed and edited.
Cast fails to make much of an impression, with Fraser’s Rick O’Connell, perhaps, the weakest leading man ever to headline a blockbuster trilogy. Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz, feels embarrassed with her overdone British accent, though she still lights up the screen – just a little – whenever she’s around.
Ford is entirely bland, and his romance with Leong is completely unconvincing – though he does seem to have some chemistry with Bello, who’s playing his mother. Hannah fares best, providing familiar groan-inducing comic relief. Li and Yeoh are the most accomplished actors here, yet they’re hardly in the film, the filmmakers making no use of their natural talents when they are.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor passes by quickly enough and provides some harmless fun, though it’s entirely meaningless and instantly forgettable. I’m glad I’m writing this review hours after seeing the film, as most of it has already slipped away.