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The Mummy : Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

August 7, 2008

I feel I must confess (and it seems worthy of a confession, somehow) that I quite like Brendan Fraser. He just seems like a regular guy, pretty funny and whatnot, and he does the serious thing, too, which is a fairly useful trick. An Everyman schtick, I suppose you’d call it, and I think he pulls it off very well.

Even so, I wasn’t entirely enthused by the idea of another entry into the Mummy franchise. The first one is an entertaining comedic thrill-ride, but the second one is bloody awful, despite having all the same people on board, and essentially being a direct remake. In his recent Empire interview – presumably out of ear shot of previous director (here, writing and producing) Stephen Sommers – Fraser acknowledged that The Mummy Returns was just the first one remade but not very well. Honest enough, and an attitude I felt earned me a seat at the table for the previews last night; and giving the thing a chance turned out to be a pretty good choice.

We start with a very long prologue sequence which explains how the First Emperor (Qin), played by Jet Li, looking suitably high born and powerful, forcefully unified China in 221 BC to mark the beginning of Imperial China, a period which lasted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. At its height, the Qin Dynasty had a population of about 40 million people and threatened to expand across half the globe. In addition, the massive Terracotta Army at Xi’an was built by Qin as a royal guard for him in the afterlife. This much is true, but added here is sexy witch Zi’juan (Michelle Yeoh) who Qin falls for, is betrayed by, and – very much like the backstory in the first film – becomes embroiled in a vicious spiritual feud sending him to his tomb.

Fast forward to 1947, where Rick O’Connell’s (Fraser) son Alex (Luke Ford) has rather ominously uncovered the Emp’s tomb and started a chain of events that can only lead to crazy car chases, over the top gun play and lots of jokey dialogue. Yep, as you might have guessed, Jet li is about to return in decomposed form, searching for the counter-spell to turn him immortal and which will allow him to resurrect his terracotta squadies. Getting in the way is Alex, Rick and mum Evie (no longer Rachel Weisz, but now the almost too pulchritudinous to be believed Maria Bello. Woo-hoo!).

Anyone who’s seen The Mummy will know what to expect, and they won’t be disappointed. It’s all very silly, but it’s enormous fun, and done with a great verve and elan, with a gazillion in jokes (knowing nods to the change of Weisz to Bello), hair-raising escapes and barrel full of derring-do. It’s the movie that the recent franchise-stretching Indiana Jones film should have been, almost to the point that you think the first two notes of the chase anthem ape that famous John Williams theme purposefully. This is terrific fun stuff, and as good as Crystal Skull was bad.

The only real bad note is one hark back to Returns where, if you remember, one of the worst ever CGI creations cinema has seen (the truly atrocious Scorpion King monster) turned the climax into a eye-rolling smirk fest where the laughs were unintentional. Here, it’s a sequence in the Himalayas where (and this is in the trailer, so not a spoiler) a trio of yetis is encountered. They’re rubbish. Really. You do wish they hadn’t bothered.

But, hell, that’s a niggle. As escapist nonsense that knows precisely what it is, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a cast iron certainty for an undemanding couple of hours’ of entertainment. And there’s nothing wrong with that.


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