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The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jan 30, 2023


Starring Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Jet Li, Luke Ford, Michelle Yeoh, John Hannah, Isabella Leong, Anthony Wong, Russell Wong, Liam Cunningham, David Calder, Jessey Meng, Tian Liang and Albert Kwan.

Screenplay by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.

Directed by Rob Cohen.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 112 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Mummies have sure changed since the classic horror films. Before they were just undead strongmen in bandages who stumbled forth with their hands spread out before them.

However, the chills of the Karloff years are pretty tame in the new millennium; therefore the newfangled mummy in The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor no longer has the steadily unwrapping bandages and the vacant, mournful moans. Instead he is more of a clay-pot-sandman with superpowers – like the ability to burn things with his eyes, blow so hard that he can slow a coming avalanche and change into a three-headed dragon.

The mummies are no longer even Egyptian princes; for reasons not really explored here, this mummy is a cursed Mandarin Chinese warlord.

Now I’ve got to admit right off the bat that I’ve never seen the two previous Mummy movies (three if you count the spin-off The Scorpion King) but I’ve always heard they were fun light entertainment – sort of like Raiders of the Lost Ark Light.

Also, the film stars Brendan Fraser, who is as good at this kind of old-fashioned filmmaking as anyone working in Hollywood today.

Perhaps it is just bad timing of The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor that it follows hot on the heels of another Fraser campy adventure – one that is infinitely better, Journey to the Center of the Earth.

After that good-hearted and goofy performance in the bracing action adventure, his stiff and humorless turn here as hero Rick O’Connell is doubly disappointing. Fraser speaks with his voice lowered an octave so that he sounds like Sylvester Stallone, an acting tick which is actively distracting through the entire film.

Other fine actors brought in and wasted include Maria Bello, who affects a good-but-bewildering aristocratic British accent as Rick’s globe-trotting wife. Bello is a Philadelphia girl, so it always feels put on. Bello does what she can with the featherweight role, but frankly it is beneath her talent.

Asian superstars Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh turn up as the evil emperor and the immortal sorceress that guards against his return to life. Li gets almost nothing of substance to do but fight, though Yeoh does get a few heartfelt scenes with her daughter.

Meanwhile, respected British actor John Hannah (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sliding Doors) is brought in to make bad comic relief one-liners like “Hey you three-headed shape-shifting son of a bitch!” “The yak yakked” and the immortal “My ass is on fire!”

The movie starts with a way-too-complicated setup sequence and then is followed by a steady stream of hammy-but-explosive action scenes. Some are very well done; others are kind of ridiculous. (In one mountaintop battle, a Yeti kicks an evil soldier over a gate as his fellow Yeti holds his two hands straight up over his head. Are they suggesting that Yetis in 1940s China are familiar with football officiating?)

By the time you reach a battle royale between vast armies of clay mummies and reincarnated skeletons, your patience for all the mumbo-jumbo has pretty much reached an end.

There is certainly a place in the world for good light adventure, but The Mummy 3 is way too light and not nearly good enough.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved. Posted: December 10, 2008.

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