I’ll admit that after watching The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, I missed Imhotep. Perhaps I always wanted to see Arnold Vosloo get the screen time and presence that he deserved with the character, but I really did miss him. The villain in this film is less interesting despite being more threatening. He, a resurrected emperor of ancient China, can transform into mythical creatures, breathe fire, and is also a martial arts master.
He was also betrayed. In the opening flashback which is now a staple of the series, Emperor Han (Jet Li) met the love of his life, a witch named Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh) who promised him eternal life. Instead of granting him that, she put a curse on his entire army, causing them all to turn to stone. She also had an affair with the emperor’s second in command, because turning you and your entire army to stone wasn’t enough punishment, I suppose. Of course, he’s going to be our villain, and is somehow going to have to be brought back to life.
In Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the culprit won’t be Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), nor will it be his wife, Evelyn (now played by Maria Bello, taking over for Rachel Weisz). Instead, it will be their son, Alex (Luke Ford), who has miraculously lost his English accent and has decided to go raid tombs, pillage lost cities, search for gold that’s buried beneath the Earth’s crust. He’s in China, finds a tomb, awakens the mummy, and you probably can figure out the rest from there. The world’s in danger, his parents have to come out of retirement in order to save it, and it’s a race against time in order to stop the reanimated corpse.
Once again, a select group of people have been chosen to join the O’Connells on their quest to save the world. The most relevant for those of you who watched the earlier films is Jonathan (John Hannah), Evelyn’s brother, who once again serves as comedic relief for most of his time on-screen. A young woman named Lin (Isabella Leong) tags along, developing some sort of relationship with Alex, even though earlier in the film, she tried to kill him. Zi Yuan turns up midway through to help them out, as does Liam Cunningham as a pilot who helps the group get to the Himalayas.
Remember how in The Mummy Returns, The Rock wasn’t in much of the film? He appeared in the opening flashback, but didn’t appear again until the end. And then, it was just a CGI likeness of him. Yeah, the same type of thing happens in this film with Jet Li. For the majority of the film, the corpse that’s supposed to be resembling Li still looks like it’s encased in a rock (probably because it is). So, until the final big action scene, we don’t actually get to see our second-billed star. That’s disappointing, and is a bit of a bait-and-switch.
When Li does appear, the film is interesting. Really, this is the same type of plot that we’ve seen twice already, so there needs to be something to make it worthwhile. Li knows his action scenes, so when he’s actually there, in the flesh, there’s always something entertaining. The only other thing that Tomb of the Dragon Emperor does differently is introduce Yetis into the mix. Yes, Yetis. I’ll leave you to see exactly why they’re in this film and their exact purpose, but they basically get an entire action sequence dedicated to their existence.
You know, after the disappointment with the Scorpion King’s rendering, I was expecting similar feelings regarding the CGI here. Thankfully, seven years were taken in between Returns and this film, and the extra time has been used well. The special effects are polished, and they look great. It’s kind of hard to hide three Yetis in darkness in order to cover poor CGI, especially when they’re the crux of your action scene, so instead of doing that, the money was spent and the time was taken in order to make them look good. There are more special effects scattered throughout, but this scene really stood out to me.
The best thing I can say about Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is that I can’t recall a point when I was bored. It’s mostly familiar, but it’s non-threatening and it’s action-packed enough that it held my attention. It’s another brainless action film, and it’s similar enough to the earlier Mummy films that you’re probably not missing out if you decide not to watch it, but it’ll pass the time if you decide to give it a spin.
It’s also the first in the series to clock in at under two hours, which I would have thought to be a benefit, but after watching it, I’m not so sure. Sure, it’s a more relentlessly paced film, but that’s done with sacrifice. The film seems so determined not to waste a moment that it often moves from place to place too quickly to make complete sense. Character moments are forbidden because that would take away time from the action scenes. I also wasn’t a fan of Maria Bello in Rachel Weisz’s role, largely because Bello and Fraser didn’t have the same kind of chemistry as Weisz and Fraser did.
Like the other Mummy films, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor won’t bore you, but it also won’t make you think. It’s another movie that you can watch to pass the time, but if you want stimulation, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is the first in the franchise that at least looks as impressive as its budget, so if you want to see really good looking Yetis and other visual spectacles, it’ll be worth your time. Just don’t go in hoping for something of substance, or for a lot of Jet Li, as you’ll be disappointed.