Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is not a good movie. However, I will stand in the awkward, lukewarm middle ground of saying that while I was dumbstruck by its near-constant stupidity, I didn't hate it, and while I can't really recommend it I do feel that the epic critical ass-fucking it's gotten is just a wee bit on the excessive side. I didn't respect it but I wasn't offended either, and statements on that Rotten Tomatoes page like Chris Laverty's zinger, "Hopefully one ay we'll be able to sue for experiences like this," are eye-rolling over the top.

I confess an inherent weakness for adventure movies that colors my perception of The Mummy. I love watching some movie characters go on a journey and get into action scenes and escape and uncover a mystery and and triumph against evil in the end, and (assuming it isn't handled with the ineptitude of Eragon) that basic arc will always entertain me, which is probably part of why I enjoy all seven Roger Moore James Bond films, Willow is one of my favorite movies, and despite all the Internet bluster and rage and flying e-spittle about how Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a Phantom Menace-level affront, I was forced to shrug and give the 1,000+ word version of saying "well, I liked it."

And that adventure formula does apply here: Indiana Jones-wannabe-Rick O'Connell's son (who is hilariously like 27 when Brenden Fraser is obviously in his late 30s) unearths the Jet Li mummy. Everyone goes to China. The Jet Li mummy comes to life. There's some chases, guns are fired, magic is unleashed. Everyone goes to a snowy mountain. Yetis and a dragon enter the narrative, there is another gunfight. Everyone goes to the desert. There is an undead army and an airplane with machine guns and a final showdown of main hero vs main villain. Shit blows up. Pretty colors. Cheesy, B-level comedy. Good battles evil, good wins (oh no, I've spoiled the ending, I feel so badly).

And I wasn't bored - it's not good, but everything I said above happens and if you, like me, love adventure movies I bet you could at least sit through it on DVD and not feel you've wasted your time. So I've given it all the props I possibly can. However, that said, this movie is absolutely flooded with problems on every structural level - from the basic logic of the narrative to the unoriginality of the storyline to the acting to the dialogue to the attempts at comedy to the action scenes to the special effects.

I've only watched The Mummy and The Mummy Returns once or twice each and I was surprised to find I could have any nostalgia for these films I thought myself utterly apathetic towards, but as far as villains go, compared to Jet Li's impossibly bland, unthreatening, one-note, undeveloped, and limp Dragon Emperor, the tears of nostalgia welled up as I ruminated on how much I missed the first two films' Imhotep, who positively radiated power, presence, and charisma compared to this guy. Not a slam on Jet Li - I've greatly enjoyed him in several other films - but a slam on how poorly this villain was conceived. He wouldn't be on my top 1,000 villains list. And the plot he's involved in is the exact same plot as the first two films, not a clever note to be found in the entirety.

And the O'Connell family, if anything, fares even worse than their opposition. Brendan Fraser is fine, I guess - not great, not bad, just fine - but as Evelyn has been recast with a bizarrely bland Maria Bello he feels really incomplete. Again, I was surprised to find myself missing an element of the first two films, but Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz did have undeniably peppy and fun chemistry and their interplay managed to lend the films an element of warmth and heart (often in spite of rather than because of their dialogue). I rooted for them as a duo. Maria Bello and Fraser have no chemistry and she absolutely never feels like anything more than an unwelcome impostor. The trinity keeping the spirit of these films alive was Brendan Fraser's Rick, Rachel Weisz' Evelyn, and Arnold Vosloo's Imhotep, and now the goddamn tripod has one leg.

And their kid, Alex O'Connell, their goddamn kid. I mean, he's not "a KID" - as I said he's actually absurdly old - but he is no less annoying than any plucky little kid sidekick could ever be. For anyone who griped about the wiry Shia LaBeouf as Indy's son in Crystal Skull, I offer in retort this jaw-droppingly bland male model hangin' out in the flick, being a cocky asshole, stealing half the screentime, laying flat one one-liner after another, and generally seeming a misplaced soap opera actor. His "romantic" scenes across from the Asian ninja chick they pick up in their journey very, very literally had me cringing away from the screen and covering my eyes in genuine embarrassment for the actors, writers, director, and key grips who were on set at the time of filming.

The action scenes are where our last major hope remains, and, well, I guess they're decently animated. That's about all I can offer, though, as every time any of the action begins (except for one moderately entertaining car chase through a Chinese street in the first act) everything just turns into a fuckin' cartoon; it's worse in that way than the worst parts of Attack of the Clones, and we weep for the demise of the stunt man's profession as CGI yetis interact with CGI representations of heroes and henchman and we watch hundreds of lifeless CGI zombies do battle. There's little weight, tension, or drama to any of it, and Jet Li literally never gets a chance to show off more than faint, tantalizing hints of his martial arts prowess for what I doubt was more than 20-30 seconds of total screentime.

So yeah, on a cinematic level, The Mummy 3 sucks. But not discounting anything I just said I will admit I admired its adventure flick, Indiana Jones-wannabe spirit in spite of its flaws; it's the chipper, well-meaning Down syndrome kid in your high school who dreams of NBA stardom - his limitations ultimately render his dreams so far beyond reach as to be Shakespearian tragedy, but his pluckiness and enthusiasm lets you smile and nod and pretend like it's the effort that counts.

1 Star out of 5


Anonymous said...

The one star I plopped on this clunky bore-athon is due to the presence of the great Jet Li as the evil Dragon Emperor of the subtitle and the gorgeous Michelle Yeoh as Zi Yuan, a witch who's been on the Emperor¹s ass for over 2000 years.

Peter Travers
Rolling Stone _mummy_tomb_of_the_dragon_emperor

martial-arts superstar Jet Li triumphs as the mostly wordless evil Emperor Han of ancient China, a glowing magma spirit locked in a terra cotta shell.

Jane Horwitz
Washington Post 073100734.html

Still, Li makes a great villain, using his powers to create fire, ice and other elements.

Edward Douglas
Coming Soon

Toward the end of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh launch into a vigorous sword fight — and what a grand pleasure it is to watch these two world-class stars in action again...Their duel atop the Great Wall of China is a reunion of titans, an Old Timers' Day for two actor-athletes still in their sinuous prime. Forgive the effusions of an alter-kocker fanboy, but the flinty glamour of Li and Yeoh — buttressed by the stolid, sneering presence of top Hong Kong villain Anthony Wong Chau-sang (who in 1993 appeared in 15 films!) — is the best reason to catch this third in the series of Indiana Jones knockoffs.

Richard Corliss

A memorably badass Jet Li.
Nathan Rabin
AV Club


Wow, you sure are passionate about your Jet Li in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor!