Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello & John Hannah

After a seven year absence, The Mummy franchise is revived but despite adding new elements, it fails to make good use of them or to include the sense of fun from the previous installments.

2008 would feel like an appropriate time to return to The Mummy franchise. With Indiana Jones returning to the big screen after a 19 year absence, this would be a good time to return to the 1999/2001 The Mummy franchise that was, in spirit, Indiana Jones-lite with a bigger budget. Following on from Indiana Jones’ lead, this new installment fast forwards the action and characters to a post WWII period with them older, wiser and looking for the glory of their earlier years. On paper, the plot and ideas within sound good, taking to action from Egypt to China and bringing in Martial Arts legend Jet Li as the villain.

Unfortunately, director Rob Cohen (known for action but new to this franchise), fails to make good use of the new locale, or of Jet Li. In what begins as an interesting back story to the legend of the Dragon Emperor and how he becomes a Mummy leaves the Emperor (Jet Li) as a Mummy encased in stone. A walking special effect with little visible emotion for most of the film, we don’t get to see the Emperor in the form of Jet Li again until the film’s climax which itself includes several poor CGI transformations that recall the poor visualization of The Scorpion King from the end of the second Mummy film. Also, considering Jet Li’s considerable Martial Arts skills and the inclusion of star Michelle Yeoh as one of the Emperor’s enemies, actual use of Li and Yeoh’s skills in this manner is limited to a few short sequences near the climax and are often sidelined to focus on hordes of CGI rendered undead soldiers. The storyline too quickly becomes too predictable and lacks and real depth into the personalities of its new cast members or in developing any new motivations for its villains or in how to defeat the villains.

Returning cast members Brendan Fraser and John Hannah as hero Rick O’Connell and his brother-in-law Jonathan are the most entertaining elements in this new installment. However, both get less opportunity to impress on screen as they share the screen-time with less interesting characters. With Rachel Weiss choosing not to return to the franchise to play Evelyn O’Connell, the film suffers from Weiss’ absence. Choosing to replace Weiss with American actress Maria Bello unfortunately leaves the character uninteresting. Lacking to the perky charm of Weiss and simultaneously struggling with a bad script and a bad English accent, Bello fails to breathe any real life into the character of Evelyn this time around and Bello’s performance also lacks the chemistry with Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell that was present before when the role of Evelyn was held by Weiss. Another poor performance comes from actor Luke Ford, who plays the role of, now older, Alex O’Connell, the son of Rick and Evelyn. For a role that has been built up to share equal screen-time with Fraser’s Rick and set up also as a possible inheritor of the franchise for possible future installments, Ford plays the role too serious, too straight and lacking the energy and enthusiasm that Fraser has brought to his own leading man/action hero.

As if a CGI Mummy/statue, a recast wife/love interest and a charisma free heir to the action hero throne weren’t enough of a distraction from the films best feature of Brendan Fraser, Fraser also shares screen-time with CGI Yeti’s, two-dimensional henchmen and a climax that sees a huge battle between hundreds of undead soldiers battling the Dragon Emperor’s own army that, while showcasing some decent CGI, offers nothing new to compete with similar battles seen in blockbusters since The Lord of the Rings films raised the standard. The choice of locale is similarly underdeveloped with the director happy to have the environment look like China or Hong Kong without making the effort to make it feel like China and Hong Kong.

Overall, there are too many errors in judgment in the development of this installment of The Mummy franchise to make the film enjoyable. Fraser and Hannah do their best but some poor CGI, bad casting and plotline choices and failure to make better use of its China locale leaves The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor too unsatisfying not only in competition to Indiana Jones but also in comparison the rest of The Mummy franchise.

Rating: 1/5