Starring: Brendan Fraser, jet Li, Maria Bello, Luke Ford, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh

Director: Rob Cohen

Screenplay: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar

Cinematography: Simon Duggan

Original Score: Randy Edelman

Running Time: 112 mins.

Another week, another belated sequel and much as with last week’s The X Files: I Want To Believe, the latest installment in The Mummy franchise is lacking in every way making you wish it had just been left well alone. Maybe it’s the bar set so high by The Dark Knight and Iron Man before it, but this, like many of the summers blockbusters, have been bereft of any ingenuity or spark. The saddest thing being that the original Mummy (back in 1999), was a breath of fresh air at the time, giving us a new action icon in Fraser’s Rick O’ Connoll and some truly ‘special’ effects aiding rather than distracting from the non-stop action sequences. I don’t like to compare films too much, as I feel they should be taken on their own merits but when the weaknesses are so glaringly obvious from a formula that in more capable hands, it’s difficult not too.

Whilst not the best director in the world (he did give us Van Helsing) Steven Sommers certainly knew how to direct an action scene making it exciting and refreshing, here we have Rob Cohen taking the mantle. Cohen is best known for bringing us the abomination of acting ‘talent’ known as Vin Diesel, in both The Fast And The Furious and the Bond rip off XXX. But wait, it gets worse, his last effort was Stealth, the signs were all there people, yet still I held out hope! Ok it is fair too say many critics have been a little TOO harsh on The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emporer, the main problem is any strengths it may have are massively inundated by the weaknessess.

We begin with an overlong prologue introducing us to the legend of the Dragon Emporer himself, whom becomes a mummy though not in the ‘normal’ sense of the word, no bandages here, hes entombed with clay as are his ‘terracotta army’. The effects that see the clay pour from his body are a glaring sign of whats to come, everything here is over-egged and very few of the CGI effects are any good, showing very little creative flair (for LOTS of creative flair see next weeks brilliant, Hellboy II: The Golden Army). Following this we are reintroduced to the O’ Connoll’s son Alex, nitpicking aside (he seems to have changed from British to American since the last film, and looks no more than ten years younger than Brendan Fraser) actor Luke Ford is very much a charisma free zone, making little impact and saddled, as the rest of the cast is, with cringe inducingly cheesy dialogue. Anyway Ford stumbles through a below par Raiders Of The Lost Ark rip-off to reawaken the titular Mummy. Rick, Eve and John Hannah’s comic relief, Jonathan, enter the fray to join up with Alex and save the day from another mummy attack.

One of the strengths of the past films, aside from anything else, were the excellent and spirited performances of both Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, Fraser really does look bored here and is very much reduced too a spectator whilst Weisz wisely chose to not return and is replaced by the lacklustre Maria Bello. Bello is a fine actress, but seems totally miscast and out-of place, sharing no chemistry with Fraser and delivering one of the most irritating ‘British’ accents ever. Though, next to Hannah these two get off lightly, his scenes are mostly reduced to out-of-place sexual innuendos “lets just say in archaeaological terms many men have laid in her tomb!”, and being vomited on whilst talking to a yak! Yes a yak!

So what is it that saves the film a slight bit of dignity, well the effects in parts are good, Jet Li’s Mummy while given very little too work with, has some great effects work in showing how he can control the five elements and in his regeneration from terracotta to being severely burnt. On the downside he has the capability to shape shift, and aside from a scene where he brings down a plane, the dragon/demon he turns into are effect’s as weak as the awful Scorpion King at the end of The Mummy Returns. And the much anticipated fight between Li and Yeoh is over in seconds, being so over edited its hard to get a handle on whats happening.

Three action set-pieces stand out and suggest at what a good film it could have been were it not hampered with such a weak director, a chase through Shanghai is borderline thrilling and demonstrates the budget well, coming closest to recapturing the good parts in the past films, climaxing in an exploding firework cart. Then theres a jaunt to the Himalayas where a potentially thrilling ambush on our heroes by the Mummy is hampered with the awfully misjudged Yeti’s. On paper having Rick et al team up with Yeti’s may have sounded good but in the hands of Cohen they become totally out of place, leaving you wishing for pygmy mummies again!

This leaves us with the films climax, and its saving grace, the battles between the two undead armies are a very good example of CGI effects used well. The shots of a plane flying through the battle make you wonder if someone else came in to direct for fifteen minutes! But once again the cheesy dialogue brings it all down a notch, used in the right way by the right actors cheesy dialogue CAN work (see Indiana Jones) but here its almost painful too watch. The final fight between the Fraser and Li is mediocre, much as the rest of the film, but by this point I’d gone beyond caring. The final nail in the coffin was a caption that appears on screen in the final seconds that must be seen to be believed…

VERDICT

While hammering the film for all its (many) flaws there are merits to watching, the action in parts hint at how good it could have been but sadly when it comes down too it the flaws outweigh anything good. If you want your fill of fantasy rewatch the original or better still wait for next weeks Hellboy sequel. Please come back Steven Sommers, Van Helsing is forgiven!

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