The first problem I have with “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is that it doesn’t have any mummies in it. Oh, sure, there’s a back-from-the-dead villain that everyone keeps calling a “mummy.” In fact, the word “mummy” is uttered — usually yelled, actually — about every 10 seconds, as if the writers were trying to convince us that we were indeed watching a movie about mummies. But the guy’s not a mummy. A mummy needs to have been embalmed and wrapped up — you know, mummified — or else dried and preserved by nature. This guy was a Chinese emperor who got cursed by a witch and turned into stone. He’s not a mummy. If anything, he’s a zombie.
So the movie’s definition of “mummy” seems to be “any dangerous creature that appears in a movie whose title contains the word ‘Mummy.'” This is also the definition used by Rick O’Connell, the dashing adventurer played, for the third time, by Brendan Fraser. The movie never gets tired of winking self-references to the first two “Mummy” movies, and Rick is constantly pointing out, in that sardonic, I’ve-got-a-bad-feeling-about-this! fashion, that he’s an expert at dealing with angry resurrected mummies. That being the case, you’d think he would know a mummy when he sees one. Maybe he’s like the chiropractors who believe any problem can be cured with chiropractic care. No matter what kind of undead monster Rick encounters, he’s sure his mummy-abatement expertise will be useful!
Anyway, the year is 1947, and Rick and his novelist wife Evelyn (Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz), have retired from their mummy-pursuing escapades. Their son Alex (Luke Ford), however, has fled college and taken up the family tomb-raiding business in China, where he and the elderly Professor Wilson (David Calder) have unearthed the burial place of the notorious “dragon emperor.” As we learned in the film’s prologue, this Emperor (Jet Li) sought immortality, lied to a witch named Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh), and got turned into clay along with his horse and army. If the curse is ever lifted, he and his army will rise and conquer the world, yada yada.
Naturally, some Chinese idiots WANT to awaken him, and they need a certain egg-like artifact to do it, and the artifact happens to be the one that Rick and Evelyn have been hired by the British government to transport to Shanghai. So the evil General Yang (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) gets the egg, wakes up the Emperor, and all hell breaks loose.
But wait! The Emperor isn’t immortal just yet. He still has to find Shangri-La and drink from the Pool of Immortality, or something, and to find it he has to get a certain magic diamond and place it in a certain spot in the Himalayas, or something. Oh, and a Chinese girl (Isabella Leong) has a sword that can kill the Emperor for good, even if he’s immortal, as long as it’s stabbed through his heart. Why is the sword so special? Dunno. The movie makes up new rules as it goes along. Later, we’re told that the Emperor and his army, while immortal, won’t truly be indestructible until they pass the Great Wall. Why? Well, all his enemies are buried underneath it. What does that have to do with anything? The movie doesn’t say. It just mentions the two facts next to each other and lets us infer that one somehow relates to the other. It’s that kind of movie.
It was written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (“Shanghai Noon” and “Shanghai Knights”) and directed by Rob Cohen, whose specialty is big, dumb, loud movies like “The Fast and the Furious,” “XXX,” and “Stealth.” If you thought Stephen Sommers, who made the first two “Mummy” films before moving on to “Van Helsing,” was a hack, wait’ll you get a load of what Cohen and his writers have done. “Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” is excessive and pointless in all the usual ways — if you’ve seen one large-scale battle between CGI armies, you’ve seen them all — and not one line of dialogue that’s supposed to be funny actually is. Evelyn’s fussy brother Jonathan (John Hannah), along for the ride to serve as a vain, materialistic contrast to Rick’s ruggedness, gets covered with yak vomit at one point and observes anachronistically that “the yak yakked.” That’s as good as the jokes get, folks.
Furthermore, none of Rick and Evelyn’s “witty banter” is witty, and it might not even qualify as banter. For the most part, everyone just runs around declaring prefabricated movie punch lines like “Here we go again!” and “He sure knows how to make an entrance!”
Also, Maria Bello has many talents, but speaking with a believable English accent is not among them.
Finally, when everyone is in the Himalayas trying to find out where Shangri-La is, several yeti (aka Abominable Snowmen) appear. They fight on the side of good, which they apparently determine simply by taking your word for it. If you tell the yeti, “I’m one of the good guys; THOSE are the bad guys,” they will believe you. One of the yeti drop-kicks a bad guy, sending him soaring between two mountains, whereupon another yeti raises his arms to make the “touchdown” sign. Because if there’s one thing Himalayan yeti in 1947 would have been intimately familiar with, it’s the hand signals associated with American football.
That’s just one of the many cheap jokes that fill out this shallow, noisy sequel. At first I thought the film seemed like an Indiana Jones rip-off, but now I’m not sure it’s even that good. It’s more like an imitation of a rip-off, like Cohen and Co. once heard someone describe an Indiana Jones rip-off and they just copied down whatever they could remember, and then added some yeti.
D+ (1 hr., 52 min.; )