The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Do you love your Mummy?
By Steven Robert Allen
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Directed by Rob Cohen
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello
Well, crap-a-doodle. I was really looking forward to hating this film. In the 10-years-plus I’ve scribbled for the Alibi, the opportunity to review movies has been much too rare, and almost all the flicks I’ve had a crack at have been tiny films. Iranian films. Local films. Grainy films with no CGI. No complaints, but you get the picture.
Mr. O’Leary is in Hong Kong teaching kung fu in a park, though, and his absence brings new opportunities. I jumped at the offer to review The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor because I assumed that a title like that was an iron-clad guarantee of awfulness. I haven’t seen the first two installments and don’t have any intention of seeing them. Don’t you have to be a 14-year-old to enjoy movies like this?
Ah, the joys of low expectations.
The Mummy 3 is schlocky, shallow and deliberately pointless. It is also shockingly enjoyable, which is to say that if at some point in the distant future I’m clicking the remote in the wee hours after midnight and this movie pops up, I won’t immediately change the channel after muttering some self-important comment about the degradations of mainstream Hollywood.
For one thing, although the story line inevitably crumbles into a confused mishmash of supernatural mumbo jumbo, the basic premise really isn’t too bad. See, two-thousand years ago, a Chinese emperor—in a wicked turn by world-famous ass-kicker Jet Li (The Forbidden Kingdom)—has conquered half the world. Instead of putting his energy into conquering the other half, he decides to vanquish death instead.
He gets his little helper, General Ming (Russell Wong, The Joy Luck Club), to track down a beautiful sorceress named Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh, Memoirs of a Geisha), who knows the secret of immortality. When the emperor sees the sexy sorceress, he immediately wants her for himself. Unfortunately, Zi Yuan has already fallen in love with General Ming.
Tricked into thinking he’s already immortal, the vengeful emperor yanks the limbs off Ming and stabs Zi Yuan. The sorceress, however, knowing the emperor couldn’t be trusted, casts the immortality spell on herself instead and curses the emperor and his entire army, transforming them into terra cotta mummies who spend the next two millennia waiting around for someone stupid enough to break the curse and bring the emperor and his soldiers back from the dead.
Enter archaeologist Alex O’Connell (Luke Ford, The Black Balloon) and his retired parents, Evelyn (Maria Bello, A History of Violence) and Rick (Brendan Fraser, Gods and Monster, George of the Jungle, the other Mummy movies). Long story short, they wake the emperor from the sleep of the undead, and the two-thousand-year-old love triangle combined with a curse of revenge makes for a surprisingly satisfying tale. Might sound a bit lame on the page, but it actually works pretty well on screen. Yes, the dialogue is corny as hell, but self-consciously so. No one’s taking this thing too seriously. Rare emotional moments are sandwiched between mummy chases, booby traps, gunfights, crash landings, etc. The special effects are dang good, too, aside from the yetis that show up during the Himalaya trek about halfway through. (A little too cuddly for my taste.)
One other annoyance: a couple instances of glib racism; for example, snidely calling a pair of Chinese villains, “Yin” and “Yang.” Come on, people. I can’t decide whether I was more offended by the racism or the lazy scriptwriting.
For the most part, though, this is a really enjoyable movie. I was only bored for a couple brief moments here and there. By and large, this is a monster movie done right for a change, and my inner 14-year-old likes that.
As Evelyn says near the end of the film, “There’s just something so romantic about vanquishing the undead.”
Ain’t that the truth?
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