The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)


When you're offering an informed opinion on a "Part 3," I think it's often important to share your earlier experiences with "Part 1" and "Part 2," if only to give readers a clear perspective on where you're coming from. Having said that, I didn't much care for The Mummy (1999) when I first saw it, but I've definitely softened up to it over the past few years -- so much so that I now consider it a grade-A matinee pick for when I need a movie on in the background -- that I don't feel like paying much attention to. As far as The Mummy Returns is concerned, I thought it was a pretty terrible experience the first time around, and despite two additional shots in my DVD player, the thing just refuses to take. There's just no mirth to the thing, no energy or newness -- just a formulaic sequel that pushes all the predictable buttons and tosses a kid into the mix just to even up the demographic scale. Plus The Mummy Returns simply gives me a headache. As far as the Mummy spin-off flick (The Scorpion King) is concerned, I'd call it a passable time-waster if you happen to be 14 years old, male and bored.

So now here were are, seven years after Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) put down his last mummy, and a new sequel has lurched off the Universal assembly line. Given that I have a real soft spot for B-grade adventure movies filled with florid dialog, outlandish action, and questionable intelligence, I figured I might be one of the critics who had something nice to say about The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. But even I have my limits, and while I still adore campy, cornball adventure movies, I'm simply not a big fan of greed, excess, and ineptitude. And those are the three things I kept thinking of as The Mummy 3 unspooled in front of me. Coming in on the tail end of a very excellent summer movie season, this limp little afterthought of a marketing stream will be sure to enjoy at least one strong weekend at the box office -- but the movie still stands as evidence of yet another series that started out strong before becoming bona-fide "product." Say what you will about Stephen Sommers' first Mummy movie, but at least it showed evidence of a pulse, a funny bone, and a commitment to fun. The Mummy 3 is committed to little more than fiscal responsibilities, and the reek of apathy will fill every auditorium that exhibits this tiresome waste of sweat.

For those who wander in from the heat expecting The Mummy: Curse of the Something Flower to offer some sort of half-decent STORY to sink their teeth into ... I have bad news. The plot of this movie can be summed up in the exasperated comments from the cast members, who are forever mumbling dialog like "Oh, no! Mummies again!" or "Ooooh, I hate Mummies." Frankly, I think Universal retired their original Mummy with a lot more class than this new one -- and they did it by jamming him into a comedy with Abbott and Costello. In an effort to fill their press releases with something other than "Look, we needed a sequel for the summer, deal with it," the filmmakers toss together a plot that's JUST LIKE the first two movies, only instead of mummified Egyptians we're now dealing with mummified Chinese people. With that skimpy framework to work from, we're off on a series of sloppily-edited scenes of arrivals, departures, and long-winded exposition volleys that exist solely to string a few anemic action scenes together.

Hey, a chase scene. Oh, some martial arts. Hey look, Yeti stretcher-bearers. And wow, an avalanche! (Yes, I said "Yeti stretcher-bearers," which is a phrase I never knew existed until about an hour ago.) By the time Rick, Evie, and young Alex O'Connell find themselves in a boring Chinese tomb surrounded by thousands of undead soldiers, I say 92% of the intended demographic will be knuckle-deep in their texting devices or dreaming of the fun they'll have once they get home to some video games. Aside from the always-game Brendan Fraser (who really deserves a new action series by this point), nobody in the cast seems to be putting forth all that much effort. Replacing the cute and charming Rachel Weisz as the leading lady is the thoroughly unconvincing Maria Bello, who tosses a light British accent around like it's a handkerchief she doesn't really need. (And when a production is so desperate to save money on a Part 3 that they won't pay the leading lady to come back, that's usually the first bad sign among many.)

The action sequences are not only way too few and far between, but when they do arrive they're over-cut and too damn shakified to appreciate. Can someone nail that camera down for ONE PUNCH, please? I'd really like to know if the good guys are beating the bad guys... Actually, no I wouldn't. Amateur hour spills over to the effects department as well. One key action scene makes it feel like our heroes are being swallowed alive by little more than indecipherable CGI pixels. I kept waiting for Silver Surfer, Neo, and Snoopy on his damn doghouse to come flying by and yell "Hey Rick! That's a lot of mummies! Mind if WE drop in?"

Director Rob Cohen (he directed Stealth, and yet is still entrusted with other peoples' millions) seems equally uncomfortable with action and with dialog. Early scenes intended to set up the O'Connell's wealth-induced boredom are about as broad and limp as imaginable, and the half-hearted attempts at giving the father and son some sort of "alienation arc" is C-grade screenwriter doodle-work. So when we're not dealing with these woeful Hallmark Card moments or the flick's three or four loud-yet-hollow action scenes, we're bombarded with chat after chat about Evil Emperor this and Ancient Curse that. As if any of it is even remotely interesting, except maybe to the folks who cash a paycheck for junk like this.

In other words, yes: It's even worse than The Mummy Returns, which really just boggles my mind. You can get the DVD all over the planet, and its flaws are all but underlined in bright pink neon. The fact that the producers slogged forward with such a limp and lethargic third chapter tells me something. Not only was nobody interested in fixing what went wrong the last time ... they didn't even care about making a half-decent movie.