The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"You two are like mummy magnets," says Evelyn O'Connell's brother Jonathan, the film's most interesting and underused character, as The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor gets underway. Evelyn is in Shanghai with her husband Rick and, by a curious accident, their son Alex, now mercifully grown up. Alex has recently excavated a tomb and uncovered the remains of the great emperor who united all China - one of the most feared and most ruthless men in history. But there's trouble afoot, with a dastardly general determined to revive the emperor, who has been preserved, along with his terracotta army, by a witch's curse. It's a ridiculous premise - and a perfectly acceptable one for what is after all an unpretentious action fest - but as similarly ridiculous plot devices start to pile up during the course of the story that follows, this Mummy starts to look like it's past its sell-by date.

Despite the fact that he's really a very capable actor, Brendan Fraser seems to have been born to play action heroes, and he still does it with aplomb - but here he spends too much time playing second fiddle to young Luke Ford as Alex, a young man determined to prove himself. Ford is no Shia Le Boeuf, thank God, but he still falls a bit short on the charisma required to make this sort of thing interesting, despite his character's romance with mysterious assassin Lin (a much more capable Isabella Leong). What really makes the film suffer, however is Maria Bello's atrocious performance as Evelyn (the part formerly played by Rachel Weisz). She's got one of those overcultivated, artificially prim English accents created solely to impress Americans, she recites her lines as if she were reading out the scores on a game show, and her vapid attempts to emote are really an insult to the character Weisz created. Despite Fraser's noble efforts to act naturally alongside her as if nothing were wrong, she makes the whole thing feel like pantomime - much more than it should. With acting this wooden one might as well be watching a puppet show.

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What saves this film are its much more capable Chinese stars and its confident action set pieces. Although he doesn't get nearly enough to do as Emperor Han (there are simply too many characters here), Li is impressive as ever, and Michelle Yeoh brings real depth to the essentially symbolic role of the witch whom he betrayed. Their five minute fight scene is a real treat. There are also some nifty moves from young Leong, which make up a bit for the shoddy work performed by the film's ostensible heroes and for the sheer silliness of the climactic battle in which an army of soldiers who fall apart when something bumps them run headlong into their enemies when all they need to do to win is cross a wall (why don't those at the back leg it round the side?) One wonders what the Emperor, this supposed military genius, is going to do next - bring out his best Wedgewood China army? But that aside, there are some great scenes earlier on with chases and smaller-scale fights, and the friends whom Lin calls on in the mountains are fun. It's a shame the film-makers didn't play to their strengths and foreground this stuff instead of forcing us to sit through so many painful scenes of laboured dialogue.

Is there still life in this old corpse? It's worth a watch this time around, even if it's nothing special, but if it's to survive for a fourth outing it'll need to be heavily trimmed. What ought to be a rip roaring adventure is, too much of the time, more of a whimper.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2008
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Former adventurers the O'Connells are called out of retirement as a plan to revive China's most feared emperor goes into action.
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Director: Rob Cohen

Writer: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong

Year: 2008

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Germany, Canada, USA


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