It's somehow kind of fitting that as I sat down to write this review an hour after leaving the theater, I couldn't remember the title of the movie I'd just seen. I recalled The Mummy, but had trouble placing the subtitle, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. (I kept wanting to call it Curse of the something-or-other.) To the best of my knowledge, it's not formally written anywhere, but perhaps some sage philosopher should inscribe this in stone: If you can't remember the name of the movie, the movie wasn't worth remembering.
This is, of course, the latest sequel in the revamped Mummy franchise which began in 1999. The first one was a witty reinvention of the horror classic, the sequel was a typically overblown attempt to be "bigger and better," and this one is simply an act of desperation. What need do we have for this picture? Was there really more to this story that needed to be told?
The plot synopsis could write itself, so by-the-numbers is it. Jet Li plays the Han Emperor who seizes control of China. But that's not enough. He also wants immortality, which he gets from a local witch (Michelle Yeoh). Knowing the Emperor will betray her, the witch betrays him first, trapping him - and his massive army - in a state of suspended animation. He remains in that state for hundreds of years until the late 1940's when young Alex O'Connell (Luke Ford, in a performance of staggering dullness) accidentally awakens him.
In case you hadn't guessed, Alex is the son of Rick and Evelyn O'Connell (Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello, subbing for Rachel Weisz), the heroes of the first two installments. Fraser and Bello look way too young to have a college-age child, but that's a concern the movie could care less about. The O'Connells coincidentally also end up in China and help their son stop the Emperor before he can raise up his army and achieve invincibility by crossing the Great Wall of China. (Don't ask.)
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a good example of what I call a Yadda Yadda Movie. In other words, it feels like the filmmakers only cared about hitting specific action beats and decided to gloss over all the stuff in the middle: Ancient curse, yadda yadda…army of the dead, yadda yadda…formula for immortality, yadda yadda. It's actually kind of amazing how formulaic this movie really is. It's the worst kind of sequel - the kind of that reeks of having been made purely for the paycheck. There's zero originality here; the screenplay just cribs things that have been popular in other, better movies. It has a distinct paint-by-numbers feel that created a growing sense of boredom the longer I watched.
I don't know why they decided to take the series in a different direction. The argument that they might have been trying to "spice it up" doesn't hold water since everything that happens here it routine. More likely it has to do with creative bankruptcy. Because instead of finding something new and different, what did they do? They turned it into a martial arts movie!
The whole style of Asian cinema has been co-opted frequently over the last decade, in good movies like Kill Bill, Kung Fu Panda, and the first two Rush Hour pictures, as well as in generic fluff like The Forbidden Kingdom and DOA: Dead or Alive. By now, the wirework and the martial arts moves and the use-anything-as-a-weapon strategy have become tired. The style just doesn't have that feeling of freshness anymore, especially since most American filmmakers take only the technical aspects of it and ignore the more artistic side.
Every once in a while, something would happen to spike my interest. The way fireworks are incorporated into a chase scene is kind of cool, and a trio of abominable snowmen makes an appearance. Let's be honest - there isn't a movie that isn't improved at least somewhat by the inclusion of yeti. Those moments are few, far between, and not nearly sufficient to compensate for the overall dearth of ideas, though.
There's a specific scene that's been used so many times in movies that it has become a cliché. You know the one: two massive armies run toward each other on a battlefield and begin fighting as they smack together. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has that scene near the end, and that was probably the moment where I'd had enough. The film has been stitched together with clichés, contrivances, and manipulations. Even as you watch it for the first time, you may experience a strange sense of déjà vu. It's time to seal this Mummy back up into its crypt and keep it there.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is rated PG-13 for adventure action and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
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