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The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (12A)

Rachel Winterbottom discovers that some things are better left buried

Written by . Published on August 22nd 2008.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (12A)

It was cheesy, ridiculous, filled with dodgy CGI and doggedly followed the Indiana Jones formula for old-school adventure. But all these factors and more only served to make this archaeological escapade more endearing in the eyes of cinema-goers. It’s a film that resides unabashedly amongst the Godfathers, the Pulp Fictions and The Shawshank Redemptions in your average DVD collection. The Mummy – it’s a guilty pleasure.

This is a series that’s as tongue-in-cheek as it is silly, and at times it really has achieved greatness in the genre. But abominable snowmen? Well, that’s just preposterous.

However, if The Mummy’s grave was disturbed for The Mummy Returns and dug up for the unfortunate prequel The Scorpion King, then Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has left it desecrated.

Belying what’s to come, the opening scenes are nostalgically familiar. Swap pyramids for haystacks, priests for wizards, and hieroglyphics for ancient Chinese and we’re on familiar ground. Instead of pharaohs we now have emperors and this particular one, Jet Li’s Emperor Han, has been cursed by sorceress Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh, Memoirs of a Geisha) to spend eternity as a terracotta statue.

Set in 1947, 13 years on from The Mummy Returns, it’s the turn of O’Connell’s son, Alex (Luke Ford), to have the honour of digging up the ‘mummy’ when he unearths the terracotta Emperor Han. The suitably roguish O’Connell Jnr is soon joined by his parents who are craving another adventure.

No Mummy film is complete without a curse that results in a bad guy getting his comeuppance by being granted immortality and an exciting array of powers. This film is no exception. The O’Connells are easily tricked into awakening the Emperor from his 2,000 year slumber. Already boasting control over the five elements and the power to take off his face and throw it at enemies, terracotta Han is soon trying to reach the waters of Shangri-La so that he can add the gift of eternal life to his repertoire.

Brendan Fraser (the only man who looks good with curtains outside of the nineties) is back as explorer Richard ‘Rick’ O’Connell. When it comes to gallivanting, some outfits never go out of fashion and Fraser seems content to let his character’s old adventurers’ costume do the acting for him. Fans don’t expect much from Fraser-as-Rick other than some of his signature hammy one-liners and his bar room-brawl fighting techniques. Yet even though that’s all there as standard, Rick O’Connell has undoubtedly lost his spark. In his case, clothes do not make the man.

The film mourns the loss of its leading lady, Rachel Weisz – who presumably had better things to do. In her place as Evelyn is Maria Bello, painfully enunciating her way through a British accent. Her presence is jarring as she and Fraser awkwardly go about forging an onscreen relationship that should have been established in the two previous films.

Been there, done that seems to be the overall tone with this third outing, but no one seems more tired of it all than John Hannah, reprising his role as Evelyn’s layabout brother, Jonathan. Ironically for a character with two-dimensional origins, Jonathan seems to be the only one who has moved on, until he is once again dragged along for the ride without any real reason other than he was there the first few times.

Where the second Mummy film played visual one-upmanship, mimicking the first film scene by scene but with bigger and better effects, this third film contents itself with mopping up the best scenes from the first two and ham-fistedly trying to out-do them. Again. What Director Rob Cohen actually manages to do is out-ridiculous his predecessors. And what could be more ridiculous than mummies and Scorpion Kings? Yetis. Yes, that’s right – Yetis. This is a series that’s as tongue-in-cheek as it is silly, and at times it really has achieved greatness in the genre. But abominable snowmen? Well, that’s just preposterous.

You can’t help feeling like the characters have all been forced out of their time. The once lovable-lout Jonathan trudges wearily from one snowy landscape to the next. The O’Connells are busy trying to ignore the fact that their relationship is suddenly based on gaining cheap kicks from superficial adventures. And their insipid son, Alex, is easily outshone by any particularly arresting set piece. It’s all a bit depressing really.

If you’re thinking of going to see this film you need to ask yourself what you want out of it. If you like cheap thrills (and you should) and so-bad-it’s-funny scripts then you’re still better waiting for the DVD. And if you’re hankering after a bit of Brendan Fraser action, the chance to feel nostalgically gooey and the guilty pleasure of seeing those naff SFX – then you’re better off digging out your old copy of The Mummy.


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