Not sure about you, but I can barely recollect anything of note from the The Mummy Returns or the original The Mummy that would necessitate a third installment. But I guess that is why I am not a producer of big budget films, because apparently there was something there that absolutely needed to be seen again. Whatever it was, Universal Pictures hoped to recapture it with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Holding up the franchise is Brendan Fraser as adventurer extraordinaire and world renowned mummy vanquisher Rick O’Connell. He’s retired and living the high life with his wife and fellow adventurer Evelyn (now played by Maria Bello). That retirement doesn’t last very long because their son Alex (Luke Ford) has uncovered the tomb of the ancient and tyrannical Emperor Han (Jet Li). As par for the course, there are those who wish to bring Han back to life so he can reign over the world and those that would rather see him remain in his current terrcotta form. Aiding the O’Connells in the fight to stop Han’s rise to power is the ever faithful Jonathan Carnahan (John Hannah) and an immortal mother-daughter act comprised of Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh) and Lin (Isabella Leong).
You can pretty much guess the rest of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor from there, so I’m not going to walk through it. What I will say is new director Rob Cohen, has thrown the kitchen sink at this production (even when it isn’t warranted) in his attempt to brand this movie as his own. The scale of CGI work is probably beyond the scope of the mighty The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Literally everything – Emperor Han, the undead armies, yetis (yes, I said yetis), the car chases and a great many of the fights – are aided by a farm of supercomputers. Even the story and action is ramped up 100-fold over its predecessors. A son to hand off the reigns to when Fraser has had enough? Having the Emporer shape-shift, just to have an excuse to have a three-headed dragon flying about? Casting Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh just to capitalize on the incredible swirling fighting style immortalized by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? These and more are sprinkled about with varying degrees of success.
Yet for me, these added bells and whistles take away from the only memorable aspect of the franchise – it was fun and never, ever took itself seriously. No one pretended the movies were the second coming of Indiana Jones. They were meant to entertain in an absurdly ridiculous and cheesy fashion. That ideology was lost here, even though Fraser is still fun to watch in the role. It is clear both he and John Hannah are still holding onto the past which is some consolation (even though their banter isn’t as quick-witted as it once was). Maria Bello does an admirable job filling the shoes of Rachel Weisz while taking the character in a new sophisticated direction. As for Luke Ford, he’s got about as much charisma as an overcooked noodle. I can only hope the baton doesn’t get passed to him.
It is too early to tell if the fourth installment of the franchise is going to follow the fork in the road that The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor blazoned. Assuming it does, even I may skip it altogether. If it doesn’t we can look back at this movie as a studio experiment gone mostly awry.