It’s bad enough that “The Mummy” series always felt like second rate throwbacks to better adventure films, but it’s a damn shame when the dreaded third leg in the franchise feels like a pale imitation of an already pale imitator. Was anyone really begging for one more installment of “The Mummy” with the same one-note action characters? “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is that Summer film saved for the end of the season where all the surprises and potential competition has been eliminated, leaving movie-goers with no other options but to re-watch “The Dark Knight” or take a chance on “Stealth” director Rob Cohen’s overwrought, bland mess of a fantasy adventure film.
Filled with a monotonous, unnecessarily gaudy, set-up in the first twenty minutes, we’re force-fed the story of the Dragon Emperor Han’s reign, his romance with a witch, her spell to keep him immortal, and the inevitable betrayal; mainly to give the painfully wasted Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li screen time. The next eighty minutes are devoted to revisiting our gang of adventurers and rushing through flat dialogue, terrible comedy (mostly delivered by poor John Hannah), and a string of lame plot devices and story elements that feel about as random as “The Scorpion King.” There are abominable snowmen, stone soldiers, and the evil stone Emperor Han who displays an array of superfluous powers.
For example, he possesses the ability to give a Medusa stare (that’s oddly used only once) and can also shape shift, too. All of these gimmicks felt tossed in and shoe-horned by executives during script re-writes by Gough and Millar. And trust me, none of it is as fun as it could be. Hell, kids love monsters, so let’s inject as many as we can, who cares if it doesn’t make sense? And just for the potential spin-off, let’s reduce Rick and Evie to supporting players while we focus on son Alex, who has mysteriously transformed from a twelve year old boy into a twenty-something man in only four or five years time. As for Brendan Fraser, he’s about as one-note as ever with hero Rick, who ends up as the least evolved personality of the bunch.
The established Evie O’Connell feels completely new to the arc. In spite of Cohen’s insistence Maria Bello’s Evie is the exact same one we saw portrayed as a graceful heroine by Rachel Weisz, it’s a tough adjustment since Gough and Millar completely contradict his efforts by turning her in to a rough and tumble sexy Bond Girl (doubling as a doting mom) who fights martial arts, shoots with ace precision, and no longer acts as a foil to Rick’s confrontations with the supernatural. Every bit of menace, camp and hint of serial potential to this trilogy is gone in a barrage of under-developed side plots, poor direction from Cohen (who can barely stage intimate scenes between actors let alone massive battles) and a villain who lacks any of the charm and inherent terror we felt from Imhotep.
You’d be better off re-watching “The Dark Knight.”