The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Review by Mike Finkelstein
In ancient China, an evil Emperor works to take over the entire country, unifying it under his iron rule (as with the second movie, this is all a bunch of CGI flashbacks and yawn-enduing storytelling). The Emperor kills all who gets in his way, entombing their bodies in his newly constructed Great Wall. But despite all his power, the Emperor knows he cannot conquer death.
So the Emperor contacts a Sorceress to learn her powers of immortality (hint: she's the keeper of magical spring, the Pool of Eternal Life, hidden deep in the Himalayas). When she refuses to aid him, he sends a warrior to get the secret of immortality from the Sorceress. And yet, even that plan backfires, as the Warrior and Sorceress fall in love. The Emperor, outraged at this insolence, strikes out at the two lovers. The Warrior is killed, but the Sorceress traps the Emperor, burning him, and transforming him (and his armies) into terracotta soldiers.
We pick up, centuries later (and years after the events of The Mummy Returns) with Alex O'Connell, treasure hunter (and now-grown-up brat from the previous movie). Alex has found the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (name drop), and after a little digging and a few inconvenient traps, he unearths the Emperor's coffin and transports it back to Shanghai. Meanwhile, Alex's parents (and heroes of the first two movies), Rick and Evy, have come to Shanghai to see Alex, and also to deliver the Eye of Shangri-La, a powerful items with mystical powers... which just so happens to accidentally bring back the Dragon Emperor.
And so it is, after a lengthy chase sequence, the O'Connell band has to chase after the Dragon Emperor before the evil "Mummy" (not really a Mummy, but everyone keeps calling him one) makes it to Shangri-La and drinks of the eternal life pool (cause then he'll also gain mystical powers and be unstoppable and stuff).
As with the previous movie, that plot summation is really only the first 20 minutes or so. The modern Mummy movies seem to love to burn through plot as fast as possible so they can get to the good stuff (the action bits and the fun locales). Unfortunately, the only thing really interesting in the movie is the opening sequence. Much like the second movie, once we settle into the real plot of the movie (interestingly, once again caused by the son, Alex), it's just one generic chase or CGI set-piece after another.
Part of that can be blamed on a script that doesn't try to stray far from the conventions of the first two movies (step one, resurrect mummy; step two, chases; step three, profit), and seems more interested in hurrying us along to a confrontation with the next barely-there action-sequence than it is in actually having fun with the characters. Of course, with the new director, Rob Cohen -- best known for The Fast and the Furious and xXx -- it's not as if a consideration for plot or characters were even on the table.
And yet, not even the actors really seem engaged in the movie. Brendan Fraser once again returns as Rick O'Connell, but Evy has been recast. Maria Bello steps into the Egyptologist's high heels... but that's about the best I can say for her. It's not that she's bad in the role (I happen to like Bello as an actress), but, much as in the second movie, Evy just isn't given a lot to do besides glare occasionally, wander through action sequences, and dote on her husband and son. The fact that she's unmemorable in a thankless role is probably high enough praise.
Sadly, no one else is even able to muster "vaguely memorable". Luke Ford, as Alex, could be said to inhabit the role well enough as written -- that of the son, grumpy at his father for whatever reason he currently chooses, looking to prove himself, and yet remaining distant the whole time. He certainly says the lines to prove all that, but "distant" is about the best emotion he can muster. Meanwhile Jet Li spends all his time chewing scenery (or CGI), but he doesn't have much in the way of lines, so his whole performance comes off as evil mugging for the camera.
And really, that best summarizes all the flaws with the movie. Decent actors aren't given much to do between action sequences, with the meatier roles going the worst actors. Action sequences are so laden with CGI (such as the big battle at the end between the O'Connells, CGI Dragon Emperor, and CGI Yetis, all top the CGI backdrop of Shangri-La) that you never feel like there's any actual danger. And it's all put together in a slow-paced, muddied mess of a movie. I wasn't engaged with this flick, just bored