Having missed the two previous Mummy films, I wasnâ€™t too concerned about watching the third in the series, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. This film contains an entirely new storyline separate from the first two, and I figured it would be easy enough to catch up on who the characters are and what happened in previous stories fairly quickly. Roger Ebert may have declared this film â€œthe best in the series,â€ but I had quite a few people tell me to be prepared to be let down.
Maybe it was low expectations, or maybe the taste in my mouth was still sour after that travesty called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I found Tomb of the Dragon Emperor to be a good old-fashioned popcorn film that combined the mysticism and grandeur of the Lord of the Rings movies with the adventure and hijinks of the ’80s (i.e. good) Indiana Jones films (in particular Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).
The film opens with a very Lord of the Rings-like prologue, complete with a noble-sounding female narrator. We learn that the ruthless Dragon Emperor (Jet Li) and his 10,000 warriors were mummified centuries ago when they tried to achieve immortality. A sorceress (Michelle Yeoh) cursed the emperor and his men after he brutally killed her lover. We then jump ahead to the late 1940s and meet the Oâ€™Connell family. Brendan Fraser is explorer and famed Mummy slayer Rick Oâ€™Connell, and Maria Bello (with a delectable English accent) plays his wife, Evelyn (a role originated by Rachel Weisz). After their adventures in the previous Mummy films, they have settled down on a large English estate to live a peaceful life. Evelyn has written two successful books based on their adventures, and Rick is giving fly fishing a shot, but both are stir crazy and miss bullets flying past their heads and monsters trying to kill them.
Meanwhile, Alex Oâ€™Connell (Luke Ford), son of Rick and Evelyn and a dashing young adventurer himself, has unearthed the tomb of the emperor and his massive army. Alex is tricked into awakening the ruler and must rely on the help of his parents, a mysterious warrior girl (Isabella Leong) and the immortal sorceress (Yeoh) to stop the emperor before he takes his army of immortal warriors and conquers the world. Stopping the emperor is not easy, as he possesses supernatural powers, is able to control fire, wind and water, and he can also shape-shift into fantastical monsters.
The first half of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is evenly paced and does a nice job of putting all of the players in position to come together and fight the emperor. Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) keeps things moving without it feeling too rushed. However, the moment the emperor comes alive, the real action begins and the film shifts gears to become a roller coaster ride, rarely slowing down. There is a long chase sequence through the streets of Shanghai, a drawn out battle sequence in the mountains of the Himalayas, featuring some pretty cool CG Yetis, and a final massive battle between the undead and the emperorâ€™s soldiers that feels like something straight out of Peter Jacksonâ€™s Rings films both in scope and tone. In between, we see Shangri-La, have just enough time for Rick and Alex to reconcile their estranged relationship, and get to watch a sweet duel between martial arts greats Li and Yeoh. Although Cohen wisely edited this film in a traditional style (i.e. not a lot of quick cuts), I feel like there were moments when he could have held longer on shots to let certain moments resonate longer. It felt like he was feeling pressure to get on to the next scene in order to get the film in under a certain running time.
You all might be saying, â€œDude, chill, itâ€™s a popcorn movie.â€ I agree with that statement, except that Iron Man and The Dark Knight have set the bar pretty high for popcorn fare, so Iâ€™ve been spoiled. Still, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor isnâ€™t nearly as bad as my critic friends warned me, or the latest (and letâ€™s hope final) Indiana Jones movie. Cohen and company put a lot of thought and research into their clever idea of using the discovery and the origin of Chinaâ€™s Terracotta Army and how they play into the plot of the overall film. Moreover, from a technical standpoint, the costumes and effects were top notch. All of these aspects of the film are featured in the second DVD released with the movie. It seems obvious that The Mummy wasnâ€™t just some rushed sequel, and for that Iâ€™m quite impressed. I only wish there were less one-liners and a little more substance.