Anyone hiring Jet Li to star in a blockbuster movie would probably be considered a mug if they didn’t take advantage of his considerable martial arts skills. Rob Cohen wouldn’t care though: for this belated third Mummy outing he brings us Li to provide a menacing look without a kick or punch in sight. The rest of the cast put in about the same level off effort in what will surely kill off this franchise.
Back in 1999 The Mummy was a surprise hit, aping the Indiana Jones style of crypt-based adventuring and combining it with state-of-the-art special effects. Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell was no replacement for Harrison Ford, but it had the right ingredients for a summer blockbuster with Rachel Weisz and John Hannah game for a laugh as they fought High Priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo). An innocence of the production and high-paced direction were enough to win fans who just wanted to be entertained with a few laughs and plenty of CGI for which The Mummy faithfully delivered. However, the series has faltered since with The Mummy Returns (2001) added a O’Connell’s son into a movie which smudged the chemistry between the three leads and seemed a lot like a promotional movie for the forthcoming The Scorpion King featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character. That cash-in mentality continues with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor where hardly any effort has gone into producing a film that would stand out the CVs of those involved.
The film is littered with endless “here we go again” and “this is the part where we run” nods and winks to past Mummy movies, as though we have been eagerly awaiting this new film.
In the years since their mummy fighting days, Rick and wife Evelyn (now played by Bello) have a mansion and the only adventures they go on are Eve’s readings where she retells passages from her two novels “The Mummy” and “The Mummy Returns”. As well as a cringe-worthy reference to being “an entirely different person” in those stories (Weisz played the same character), the film is littered with endless “here we go again” and “this is the part where we run” nods and winks to past Mummy movies, as though we have been eagerly awaiting this new film.
Well, seven years is a long time and the surprise to see it on our release schedules is explained by the weak script serving as an excuse to get the principle leads to China and bring Jet Li’s Emperor Han back to life so he can shoot fireballs, ride on a chariot drawn by undead horses and threaten the world with a terracotta army. Director Rob Cohen fails to inject any excitement into the set pieces, merely going through the motions like Fraser and Hannah, while Li’s considerable martial arts skills are largely untapped as he turns into various monsters once back to full strength. It all smacks of a shameless cash-in as the cardboard character of Rick’s son Alex is thinly portrayed by Luke Ford and Michelle Yeoh is another high profile actor who seems to have shown up for the money than genuine interest in talking about Chinese myths, legends and dubious plot logic.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor feels like it was put together by a committee, deciding what should be in it, any twists and when the big event scenes should happen, neglecting the fact such a jigsaw approach to production inevitably leaves the audience cold. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull managed to capture some of the old magic and verged on greatness at times, The Mummy series never had any of that fabled magic to begin with and this third entry has no tricks to give it any.