Mummy’s Boy: The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The Mummy 3 Tomb of the Dragon Emperor movie poster


Per­haps it was the mood I hap­pened to be in the day I saw it in 1999, but I will freely admit I loved The Mum­my, the first film in the lat­ter day incar­na­tion of the 1930s MGM hor­ror fran­chise. In con­cert with Simon West and Jan De Bont’s pair of Tomb Raider films, The Mum­my picked up the peri­od-piece action/adventure man­tle left dor­mant since the last Indi­ana Jones in 1989, and per­haps con­tributed to the fedo­ra-clad adventurer’s return for The King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull almost 20 years lat­er. It struck me as exact­ly what all big-bud­get action block­busters should aspire to be: good fun, with gen­uine­ly impres­sive spe­cial effects, thrills, a lit­tle romance, and a few laughs. Not a lit­tle of its charm came from the self-dep­re­cat­ing Bren­dan Fras­er, a decid­ed­ly dif­fer­ent kind of char­ac­ter com­pared to the arro­gance and near super­hu­man capa­bil­i­ty of Lara Croft and Indi­ana Jones.

The fran­chise proved unusu­al­ly fer­tile, spawn­ing an inevitable sequel (not real­ly ter­ri­ble, but still nowhere near as fun as the orig­i­nal) and even two pre­quels star­ring The Rock: The Scor­pi­on King and The Scor­pi­on King 2: Rise of a War­rior. The Mum­my 3: Tomb of the Drag­on Emper­or (2008) came as some­thing of a sur­prise when the series had seemed to have petered out. Orig­i­nal direc­tor Stephen Som­mers had since moved on to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), leav­ing it up to Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furi­ous, Stealth), to see if there was any fresh­ness to be found.

Maria Bello and Brendan Fraser in The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon EmperorSor­ry pal, there’s a mum­my on the loose.”

Some time has passed, and Rick (Fras­er) and Eve­lyn (Maria Bel­lo) have retired to a staid Eng­lish manse. Eve­lyn earns a liv­ing from trans­form­ing her past adven­tures into the form of a pop­u­lar series of swash­buck­ling adven­ture nov­els, while Rick does, well, noth­ing. Both find their lives unful­fill­ing and yearn to return to adven­tur­ing. The youth­ful Fras­er hasn’t even grayed his hair, but if Eve­lyn looks like an entire­ly new woman, it’s because she is; Bel­lo replaces “think­ing man’s sex sym­bol” Rachel Weisz, who like­ly had high­er aspi­ra­tions. Their son Alex (Luke Ford), now a rogue arche­ol­o­gist in his own right, forms a con­tentious rela­tion­ship with Lin (Isabel­la Leong), a girl with a con­sid­er­able secret — she and her moth­er Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh) are immor­tal (but she doesn’t seem to have matured her emo­tion­al­ly or intel­lec­tu­al­ly over her long life). The slight­ly fey John Han­nah is back in the role of gen­tle com­ic relief.

The ene­my this time is Chi­na itself; the gov­ern­ment con­spires to awak­en the cursed Emper­or Han (Jet Li), pos­sessed of super­nat­ur­al pow­ers but encased in stone for all eter­ni­ty. With its mod­ern mil­i­tary at the ser­vice of a super­hu­man immor­tal emper­or, Chi­na plots noth­ing less than world dom­i­na­tion. The Emperor’s pow­ers also seem to be pret­ty vague­ly defined, and he rarely uses them to best effect. Jet Li rarely appears onscreen in the flesh, lead­ing me to guess he prob­a­bly did a lot of motion-cap­ture work à la Andy Serkis in the Lord of the Rings and King Kong. He spends much of his time made of inde­struc­tible molten rock, but can trans­form into a fierce drag­on at will. Nonethe­less, he spends more than a few scenes stand­ing back as his min­ions fall before his foes, when he could sim­ply sweep in and kill every­body when­ev­er he want­ed.

Michelle Yeoh and Isabella Leong in The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon EmperorHere we go again!”

The movie pro­duces obsta­cles as it goes along, and you have no choice but to shrug as one MacGuf­fin piles up atop anoth­er. To wit: a spe­cial dia­mond need­ed to awak­en a mum­mi­fied Chi­nese Emper­or, the blood of some­one pure of heart, a drink from Shangri-La, and the sud­den appear­ance of the sole dag­ger capa­ble of killing the revived Emper­or. Cap­ping it off is a trio of benev­o­lent yeti, but the Emper­or is even­tu­al­ly defeat­ed with the aid of a lit­er­al ghost in the machine: Gen­er­al Ming (Rus­sell Wong), van­quished ear­li­er by the Emper­or. The moral of this sto­ry seems to be: the ene­my of my ene­my is my friend.

Like a lot of con­tem­po­rary effects-ori­ent­ed fea­tures (includ­ing Watch­men, Sin City, The Spir­it), the best thing about it are its excel­lent clos­ing cred­its.

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