Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The remake of The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz is one of my favorite popcorn films. It knew it was a B movie and never tried to rise above it. With boozy brother Jonathan in tow, and the tragic tale of Imhotep and his lover entombed alive, it delivered action, laughs, thrills and certainly chills- something the sequels have overlooked to be kid-friendly. The disastrous sequel The Mummy Returns put our heroes in a dull family life and made their little kid tag along, ruining the chemistry and bringing back the same bad guy was a bad idea too. In the superior third entry, Fraser's Rick O'Connell has the good sense to joke about this when he says he's defeated more mummies than his now-grown son, who says "one mummy, Dad." Rick replies, "Same mummy- TWICE!"
Alex and the terra cotta warriors

The fillmmakers have the good sense to give us a new bad guy, and a new locale this time. After a short prelude that explains the ancient history of China and how those terracotta soldiers got there, we we return to Rick and Evie in their mansion, doing boring rich-people stuff like fly fishing (always improved by the use of firearms or explosives) and giving book readings. Evie (now played by Maria Bello) has novelized their adventures into bodice-ripper romances. They're both eager to get back to excitement, and when a government agent asks them to transport the jewel of Shangri-La to the Shanghai Museum, where brother Jonathan and their son are, they jump at the chance. As in Indy 4, they hint at adventures spying for the Allies during WW2, which may be more interesting than this movie, so it's best left as a teaser.

Father and son bonding

Meanwhile in Shanghai, Jonathan (the always-great John Hannah) runs an Egyptian-themed nightclub and tries to keep an eye on nephew Alex (now played by Aussie Brad Pitt-alike Luke Ford) who is out digging for the legendary Dragon Emperor (Jet Li) we saw entombed in the film's opener. When he finds the elusive tomb, it is not only peppered with diabolical traps, but guarded by a mysterious young woman in secretive garb and armed with commendable martial arts skills; like any red-blooded young man, he is intrigued by any lithe female who can kick his ass, but she escapes once he gets the upper hand.
Not bad for a 4,000 year old broad... Asian women always look younger.

But don't worry. Soon the entire family is embroiled in an adventure to stop the Dragon Emperor from rising again, and marching his army beyond the Great Wall, which would make them all immortal. Which would be good, because in terracotta form they tend to break apart like those cheap Fiesta-ware plates when you shoot them. When they hook up with Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh), the now-4,000 year old sorceress who cursed the emperor when he killed her lover, they're off to the Himalayas and Shangri-La, with the help of Mad Dog (Liam Cunningham from Dog Soldiers and The Wind that Shakes the Barley) a fighter pilot, and some yeti who guard the entrance to the mythic city. Like the first film, it knows how silly it is. When Zi's daughter Lin calls upon the abominable snowmen for assistance, Jonathan yells "She speaks yeti?" and all is forgiven. He does wonders for soothing our strained senses of disbelief.
The real star of these movies

Zi Juan's plan is to raise an army of the undead, from the Dragon Emperor's slain enemies, which he buried under the Great Wall. The final battle between terracotta troopies and zombie warriors, with occasional attacks by Mad Dog's bomber plane and the shape-shifting emperor, makes for the best set piece of the film, but unfortunately doesn't give us much time for many good one-on-one battles. I wanted a bit more fighting between Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. While the film does resemble a Chinese epic in how overcomplicated the story is and how riddled it is with romances, it lacks the style and well-choreographed duels that makes them shine.
Don't remind us of that movie!

It's much better than the second, but still doesn't match the first. The film looks great, and Brendan Fraser really carries it with his bewildered reactions and plucky resolve. Maria Bello does her best to make Evie her own, but Rachel Weisz's bumbling librarian was much more endearing than this shrill-accented tomb raider. The dragon gets very little screen time when you'd think he'd just stay a dragon and eat everybody, or at least attack the fighter planes massacring his terracotta troops; that would have been a great duel over the battlefield. It's a good summer movie and the franchise redeems itself from a terrible second entry, but like most adventure trilogies it loses the bite it had when it began. There's nothing as gruesome as when Imhotep was munching scarabs that crawled through the hole in his cheek, or hunting graverobbers for their eyes and tongues. That made the first movie special, because it was still rooted in horror but had plenty of adventure and comic relief.

This one's worth seeing, and I hope it's successful enough for us to get another entry, since they tease us that we'll be seeing mummies in Peru. Now that they've returned to their rooted and realized they need to give us a new locale when they dip into the well again, I'll definitely go see The Mummy: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as long as there are no fucking aliens in it.


Ryan said...

"I'll definitely go see The Mummy: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as long as there are no fucking aliens in it."

Don't give them any fucking ideas, Tommy!

On that note, I don't think I'll be seeing this Mummy Movie. I didn't care for the first one (though it has been ages since I've seen it) and the second one put me to sleep. I literally fell asleep in the theatre.

J.D. said...

I really enjoyed the first MUMMY movie as well. It still holds up well today and is probably my fave of all the Indiana Jones rip-offs. Like yourself, I was greatly disappointed by the lackluster sequel. It looks like Rachel Weisz was smart to bow out of this one. Oh well...

Big_Horn said...

I liked the Stargate better, but mummy aint bad

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