the Dragon Emperor
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal
Reviewed by David Medsker
ven before they lost their director, lead actress, and seven years of their lives, the people behind “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” had to know that they were fighting an uphill battle. Stephen Sommers’ first two installments of the classic monster reboot have not aged well – even star Brendan Fraser commented on the poor use of CGI in “The Mummy Returns” at this year’s Comic-Con panel – and oh, by the way, Indiana Jones, that other swashbuckling archaeologist, dusted off his fedora for a fourth movie, and beat “Dragon Emperor” to the street by two months. How do you compete with that?
Their solution to that appears to be yakking yaks and field goal-kicking Yetis, and man, do I wish I were kidding when I say that. “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is beyond campy or kitschy; it’s just plain bad. No matter how much pay-or-play money was at stake, this was a time when Universal would have been better off eating the cash and saving some face. The first two may have raked in over $850 million combined at the box office, but that is just not happening this time around, craven attempts at tapping the Asian market be damned.
Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) have left their artifact-spelunking days behind them and retired to a stately house in the English countryside…and they are utterly bored. When they are asked to bring a valuable stone to China, they gladly accept, unaware that their son Alex (Luke Ford), who dropped out of college without telling them, is also in China unearthing the temple of Emperor Han (Jet Li), who was cursed thousands of years ago by a witch (Michelle Yeoh) that he betrayed. Alex does not realize that his dig was funded by a Chinese general that wants to resurrect Emperor Han so he can assume control of China once again. Rick, Evelyn and Alex, with the help of Evelyn’s brother Jonathan (poor, poor John Hannah) and the mysterious Lin (Isabella Leong), must stop Han from becoming immortal – long story – or he will ruuuuule theeee worrrrrrrld. Wring hands evilly while saying those last three words.
Whatever money they threw at Jet Li to star in this should have gone to a script rewrite, or better yet, a new script altogether. Once Emperor Han leaves our heroes high in the mountains, flying away in the shape of a three-headed dragon (there is no mention of Han’s shape-shifting abilities before this), the O’Connells catch – and pass – him in a run-down prop plane that had previously been a two day’s walk away. They also fly right over him, while the Han dragon does nothing to stop them. Huh. Perhaps screenwriters Alfred Gough and Miles Millar used their A-game material in the big fight sequence between the Chinese soldiers and the Abominable Yeti Ninja Cats. Yeti Ninja Cats who play American-rules football. Huh.
Brendan Fraser has not had a good year. He already looked uncomfortable when forced to say “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the center of the Earth” earlier this month, but he utters a one-liner here that will haunt his dreams for decades to come. (It bears resemblance to a bit from a Christopher Guest mockumentary, if that tells you anything.) Bello is a fine actress, but Rachel Weisz she’s not (nor is she passable as a Brit), so that drop in quality hurts the proceedings, too. Alex, on the other hand, had a British accent in “The Mummy Returns,” but has a (bad) American accent here, despite being raised in England. And he’s played by an Australian. And poor, poor Hannah is given nothing but corny jokes and the yakking yak as a love interest. Even Yeoh reads the first curse in Sanskrit, and the second one in English. Huh.
That last word sums up “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” as well as anything. There is moment after moment where you’ll scratch your head and think, “Wait, I didn’t think that was physically possible/consistent with the story/based remotely within the bounds of reality, but I guess it is.” It’s not, really; they just couldn’t be bothered to come up with something else that made sense.
Deluxe Edition Blu-Ray Review:
A third “Mummy” film probably wasn’t at the top of most moviegoers’ must-see lists this summer, but Rob Cohen sure makes a good case as to why he signed on to direct the film in the included commentary track: he got to go to China. In fact, the entire cast and crew share the same happy-go-lucky attitude throughout a majority of the special features found on the single-disc release, but it doesn’t make the movie any better. The same can be said of the Blu-ray itself, which boasts a good deal of bonus material, but fails to impress with any of it. The deleted/extended scenes are so short that it’s hard to tell what exactly was cut in the first place, while the pair of production featurettes (“From City to Desert” and “Legacy of the Terra Cotta”) never really delve into the more technical aspects of filming. Even the picture-in-picture video track (which usually offers great behind-the-scenes footage and interviews) falls short of most Universal releases, while the other Blu-ray exclusive material (including a multi-angle scene explorer and pop-up trivia game) doesn’t make up for the fact that three DVD featurettes have been cut in their place.