The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) — A sequel buried in time

“I! Really! Hate! Mummies!”

Justin’s rating: Getting kind of dusty, aren’t we?

Justin’s review: Here’s a question for you today — what’s a good rule for how long studios can go between sequels until the wait gets too long and the attempt ridiculous? I’d say about five years, give or take, based on how many of these belated sequels end up fizzling because the public’s forgotten the franchise. But there are so many exceptions that I’m not going to say that’s a hard rule.

Maybe The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was pushing it a bit, but really, it’d only been seven years since The Mummy Returns. That’s not too ridiculous, in the grand scheme of things. But it seemed that time — and Brendan Fraser’s declining stock value during this era — worked against a threequel riding the wave of the first two films’ popularity. Also not helping was the non-return of director Stephen Sommers and Rachel Weisz.

It’s now 1946, and Rick O’Connell (Fraser) is finding retirement somewhat of a drag. Perhaps it’s the lack of imminent death or the fact that his wife is now Maria Bello and his kid grew up in a handful of years, but something’s off. To help him out of his funk is a recent archaeological find by his son Alex (Luke Ford), who brings back yet another magical mummy (Jet Li) to civilization. Also, he finds the Terracotta warriors, as Hollywood figures that’s the only bit of ancient China that audiences actually know.

So the stakes are set that if a mystical doohickey is used in just a right way and a pool of life reached, it’ll resurrect the Dragon Emperor’s unstoppable army and world conquest soon follows. For China circa 1946, this is a pretty ambitious project. The O’Connells don’t want that to happen, naturally, so a whole bunch — a whole bunch — of action scenes and forced quips ensue. While all this is happening, Rick tries to reconnect with his son, which you know isn’t going to happen until someone saves someone else’s life a good dozen times.

Just about nobody was kind to this movie, and it’s legacy seems to be “the movie that Brendan Fraser nearly killed himself to make.” Some of the criticisms I’ve seen are valid. Bello is a poor substitute for Weisz, with such a bad English accent that I’d have paid extra for her voice to be dubbed with the teacher wahh-wahh sounds from Charlie Brown. And I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes of this Indiana Jones Jr. plot with semi-rebellious teenage heartthrob Alex.

But it’s not like this movie was a bomb (it made $403M worldwide) or completely devoid of entertainment. When let off his plot leash, Fraser is still able to summon the cocky derring-do spirit of Rick. Plus, he’s still got his ’90s haircut, so if you squint you can pretend that he’s only slightly late to the party.

Then you’ve got two of Asian’s great martial arts actors — Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh — plus some yetis. And a dragon. And animated stone horses. And a locale that at least tried to be different than Egypt from the first two flicks. And a whole bunch of rather terrible deaths (pulled apart by horses, sliced in two by a razor disk, head punched off) done without showing a lick of gore. And John Hannah’s back for comedic bit parts, offering some extra connective tissue with the previous films.

So I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s an utter failure. It’s a CGI-heavy (too heavy, perhaps) spectacle of action and dialogue that probably sounded more witty on paper than came across on screen. A “big dumb fun” movie, just more on the dumb. Fraser is likable as ever, but he’s not quite the rascal of the first movie, just a dad who’d rather be shooting with twin pistols than living in his enormous mansion with his shapeshifting wife.

Final verdict, I didn’t care much for it. Wasn’t the worst I saw as of late, but I can see why it became one of those movies that snarfs up a chunk of box office receipts and then is never thought about again.

Didja notice?

  • The Universal globe transition into China
  • You can come out of a dead sleep into a fighting stance
  • Every good movie starts with a fake 10-minute history lecture
  • Did that guy just get pulled apart by four horses? Ouch.
  • Don’t tick off a witch that can turn you into a mudman and then set you on fire
  • Seeing Brendan Frasier trying to shoot fish in anger is the therapy we all need
  • The cheeky way the movie acknowledges the change in lead actress
  • Centuries old crossbows can still fire perfectly. Good strings.
  • “To put it in archaeological terms, that’s a tomb in which many an emperor has laid.”
  • “Here we go again!”
  • Someone just got their head punched clean off
  • Dragon fireworks can blow up a streetcar… without hurting anyone inside, I guess

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