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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor


***½ The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Fantasy, action/adventure.

Directed by: Rob Cohen.
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Luke Ford


We saw this at the Embassy theater during our month in San Antonio this summer. I was really looking forward to this movie, because I loved the first two. Funny to remember now that I was hesitant to go see the first one, because I'd assumed it was a creature movie.... which it just occurred to me that I don't know how to define. I love movies like Underworld, but movies like The Thing (either 1951 or 1982, it doesn't matter) either make me laugh and roll my eyes, or just bore me. I think it's like the difference between horror movies and suspense movies: if there are creatures in my movie, I want them to be thinking, reasoning creatures, and to have understandable motivations.

Anyway. Rick (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn (Maria Bello) O'Connell have retired from the adventure business and are leading comfortable (read: boring) lives in London. When a friend asks them to do him a favor and return an artifact to China, they make half-hearted protests while all but happy-dancing on their way to pack for the trip.

There they find that their son Alex (Luke Ford) is following in their footsteps and has brought the mummy of Han, the Dragon Emperor (Jet Li) to Shanghai. Where, of course, he inadvertently resurrects it.

The three of them have to stop the mummy, with the help of Evelyn's brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and Lin (Isabella Leong), the daughter of Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh), the sorceress who originally cursed Han.

Lots of action, special effects, and computer graphics, all of which you'd expect.

The biggest problem was with the casting: Maria Bello instead of Rachel Weisz turned Evelyn into a bland, 2-dimensional character. She was no longer the quirky, clumsy, brainy character I loved so much in the first two movies. Rachel Weisz's Evelyn wasn't just the generic love interest to Brendan Fraser's Rick--she was equally as important to the whole feel of the movies. Maria Bello's Evelyn, on the other hand, is just the generic love interest. She could have been played by any anonymous actress. And that change took a good portion of the heart out of the movie.

It also suffered from me-too-itis. A sequel to a stalled franchise (like Rambo, Rocky Balboa, Live Free or Die Hard, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull...), and a movie set in China to cash in on Olympics fever (like Kung Fu Panda and The Forbidden Kingdom). We can only be thankful it didn't also succumb to the temptation to follow the trend of being darker than its predecessors. Oh, and the terra cotta army was a lot like the golden army in Hellboy II. I know these things go in streaks in Hollywood, but it makes it impossible to keep from comparing.

And, like in Babylon A. D., Jet Li's and Michelle Yeoh's physical talents were sadly underutilized, or maybe just under-emphasized. Which, by the way, is not quite the same as the complaint some martial arts fans had about War, in which Jet Li starred, but did very little martial arts. In this movie, the camera work made the action hard to follow. It seems to me that if you want to use the quick camera cuts and blurry action to depict the chaos of a fight scene, then you really don't need actors capable of complexly choreographed fights, and conversely, if you're going to use them, let us see it. It's like spending a bundle on a fabulous location, then shooting only in the dark.

That said, I didn't really feel that the plot was as weak as some other reviewers complained. Other than missing the character of Evelyn (not to beat a dead horse, but rather than eviscerate her character, why not just have her be dead--or for some reason unavailable, if they're hoping to get Weisz back for a 4th movie?) and the attendant plot threads, this plot didn't seem any less plausible than the other two movies. Nor did the special effects seem more or less effective.

There were still funny moments (though fewer, since the Rick/Evelyn humorous interactions were gone), and the shift to Alex continued to remind me of the Amelia Peabody books--this time when they shifted to Ramses.

The ending is left open for a 4th movie, but unless one of my men really wants to see it, I think I'll wait for the DVD on Netflix, or just skip it altogether.



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