The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
directed by Rob Cohen (Universal, 2008)

Despite what other reviewers on this site have said about The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, I've always liked them quite a lot. They aren't great cinematic art, for sure, ranking somewhere between Indiana Jones (the high) and Lara Croft (the low) for popcorn-munching, tomb-raiding fun. Brendan Fraser, as affable archeologist and reluctant hero Rick O'Connell, is about as pleasant a protagonist as you're likely to find, and the fact that he doesn't quite fit the mold of the action hero is actually a plus.

The biggest problem with the third film in the series, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, isn't that it shifts its focus from Egypt to China, or that none of the "mummies" in this movie were actually mummified, or that the emperor hopes to conquer the modern (circa 1946) world with a few thousand spear-toting terra cotta soldiers, or that the O'Connells' son abruptly became an American and aged much faster than his parents. It's not even the yetis, although those feral, football-playing snowmen were a corny twist the movie didn't need.

No, Dragon Emperor falls down because it is, at its heart, a buddy film missing a buddy. Would they have sent Crosby to Hong Kong without Hope? Of course not. So don't send Rick to Shanghai without his beloved Evy.

As Evelyn O'Connell, Rachel Weisz was a perfect counterpart to Fraser in the first two films. When she declined to reprise the role this time around, the creative team plowed ahead and put American actress Maria Bello in Weisz's place. Nothing against Bello, who is a fine actress in her own right and managed to mimic Weisz's British accent fairly well, but she didn't bring any chemistry to the screen. Everything that made that charming couple work is gone. And Evy no longer acts like Evy; she's a completely different character with the same name.

Without that key ingredient, it falls to the supporting cast to pick up the slack. John Hannah is as good as ever as Evy's greedy and bumbling brother, but otherwise the cast comes up short. Luke Ford is wooden as Alex O'Connell and Jet Li is given very little to do as the evil Emperor Han. Michelle Yeoh as Zi Juan and Isabella Leong as her daughter Lin are both good, but limited by the scope of their roles.

Rumors abound about the fourth film in the franchise, and some indicate that Fraser will be the next to jump ship. If so -- and if Weisz can't be lured back into the fold -- then please just let it go.

review by
Tom Knapp

3 October 2009

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