Returning for the second time this summer season (see also Journey to the Center of the Earth), and for his third time in this role, Brendan Fraser reclaims his mantle as the new B-movie matinee idol by bringing back mummy-hunter Rick O’Connell to the big screen. This time around, not only are they facing a different mummy (Jet Li as an undead Chinese emperor instead), he also has a new wife (actually the same wife, different actress). Rachel Weisz is out, Maria Bello is in (which unfortunately turns out not to be a great substitution). In many ways, this movie tries to be the movie that Indy 4 tried to be earlier in the summer. Indy had further to fall, so its failure seemed more spectacular whereas Mummy 3 actually seemed more of a success at virtually the same caliber (I know, I just spoke sacrilege — send the rolling rock at me). Like Indy, Rick also has to come to terms with his son getting up to the same hijinks and adventures as dear old dad (it’s Rick’s son Alex who discovers the dragon emperor’s tomb). Like Indy, the O’Connells also take an archaelogical adventure around the world (mostly in China) and face all kinds of perils to stop the bad guys. While Mummy 3 stuck to a more conventional ending, it was more satisfying than the bizarre conclusion of Indy 4. Some reviews had a problem with the effects seeming cheap. I just think that’s film snobbery. Yes, you could tell the yeti were fake, but they were yeti. Come on, what do you expect?! I thought the way they made the terra cotta warriors move was pretty good.
My favourite part of this movie is the supporting part played by the ever-lovely Michelle Yeoh. She’s always there to look and speak elegantly, but she can turn around and kick your butt with a sword or fist at a moment’s notice. In this film she plays Li Yuan, an immortal sorceress whose eternal life is sworn to watching for and defeating the dragon emperor if he should try to return. Jet Li plays the emperor in his typical Jet Li way — doesn’t say much (but he’d probably rather speak with his fists, no?). There are alas only a few scenes for Li to show off his martial prowess — this is an adventure movie, not a kung fu flick. Fraser is serviceable in the deep-voiced, cheesy-heroic way that has become his trademark. Not so great are the aforementioned Maria Bello, who seems too busy struggling with her accent to have the kind of fun that Rachel Weisz previously had in the role of Evelyn O’Connell. Finally, son Alex is played by Luke Ford with a strangely too-American accent (I presume Alex was educated at Oxford and grew up in England, so why would his accent be like that?) with a strangely Bruce-Willis-esque sandy voice overall. There was absolutely no family resemblance.
Another surprise was that Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar wrote the screenplay. Now, Smallville’s no Shakespeare by any stretch, but the dialogue in Mummy 3 was quite terrible (even for the cheesy kind of tone it was going for). Nevertheless, it’s the kind of fun ride that you expect when you see armies of CGI undead running around. If you’ve seen the other two Mummy movies, you’ll also know what you’re getting into. Visually, not only will the effects grab you, but also a lot of the vistas are quite amazing. They go to the Himalayas, and the Gobi Desert, to name a few places. At the end of the movie there was hint of more mummies to come. If more sequels will be like this installment, I think these tombs still have a bit of life in them. (3.5 out of 5)
What if I had made The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor?
One of my pet peeves (and I know this will matter to almost no one else) is that I hate when movie makers (or any kind of storyteller) make a Chinese dragon just like a European dragon. Chinese dragons don’t have wings, and they are not roaring monsters. They are more intelligent and wise than human beings. They are revered and worshipped by Chinese who call themselves the “People of the Dragon”. When Jet Li turned himself into a three-headed, flame-spewing, winged, roaring dragon, I felt a bit sad. I would not have done that if I’d made the movie. Turn him into something else. Also, as suggested, I would have stuck with a British Alex rather than the New Yawker that he seems to be. While the movie moved quite quickly once the good guys and the bad guys began their race to the finish line, the pace was constantly being dragged down by attempts at family and romantic drama. In that regard Indy 4 did a much better job. I think I would have concentrated those dramatic aspects into briefer moments of implied looks and quick hugs. We don’t need to see everyone actually come to terms on screen. In the heat of the moment that often makes things seem less realistic.