The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Posted on: 8th August 2008  |

Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Jet- Li, Maria Bello
UK Release date: 6 August 2008
Certificate: 12A (112 mins mins)

Clearly no one had warned the staff at the British Museum that the terracotta warriors they were displaying actually belonged to the undead Emperor Han and that if he managed to make his way to Shangri-La, which had freed itself from its ignoble birth in a piece of 1930s fiction and its use in countless roadside motels across the Western hemisphere and was now being guarded by an angry witch, incidentally the same one that Emperor Han had lusted after two millennia previous (she’s immortal as well, thanks to the yetis), then all those red crumbling soldiers would come to life and conquer the world, the end.

The fourth word in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is ‘mythic’. Poor China – as much as Wen Jiabao is trying to mould his country into a healthily authoritative modern state, battling global terrorists and Western intellectuals along the way, filmmakers won’t stop attributing ancient, mystical status to anything remotely oriental. Naturally, once Egypt’s mummy has been defeated twice, the only logical place for the undead to hang out is China. It’s made even more logical once one remembers that everyone in China loves an authority figure and nothing more than shouting out commands in an angry voice; oh, apart from the women, who are beautiful and elusive, but also kind of deadly. In a really mystical way, you know.

Maybe it is unduly harsh to be so critical of such a stupid film. Interestingly, Brendan Fraser’s hero now has problems relating to his son, who really just wants a father figure, but Indiana Jones kept getting in the way. That relationship is soon resolved when the yetis arrive, but I’ll leave you hanging over that particular precipice until you perish from the tension. The film flung us from set-piece to set-piece with the minimum of narrative fuss, until the final encounter between two undead armies: always a story-telling manhole, I’ve found, because you have to work out a way that the dead can be killed again or you’ve just invited four thousand skeletons out of the ground to engage in a mass waltz. Fortunately, when faced with a similar puzzle – Jet Li couldn’t commit to the whole shooting schedule so his evil Emperor spends some time as a three headed CGI dragon – the production team proved worthy to the challenge, and the film, like a blue diamond crackling with neon magic, came to life.

In the other two Mummy instalments, Brendan Fraser was decent value for money. One always got the sense that his character’s sarcastic one-liners were imbued with his sense of awe that someone would give him so much money and prevent him from being remembered as being a man brought up by an ape (in George of the Jungle). Sadly, this time he has to share the rinds of dialogue tossed to him with his son and his son’s girlfriend, who manage to evoke the whole range of emotions from ‘worried’ through to ‘pleased’. Rachel Weisz, you should grovel before your agent in gratitude.

It seems superfluous to view the film from a Christian point of view. One would hope that human beings everywhere would be horrified at seeing another rough beast slouching towards Odeons to be born (thanks Yeats), but I had to buy one of the last available seats in the cinema and I definitely heard some innocent mutter the words ‘not bad’ as we exited. It’s hard to justify the film’s existence, especially with Isaiah hanging round the back, puzzling over why we spend our money on that which isn’t bread, and work hard to buy what doesn’t satisfy us.

It’s not pleasant watching a film this cynical and lazy. I’m sure it will suck up millions, unless we can get the word round fast enough. Capitalism may be the world order of choice these days, but that doesn’t stop it birthing monsters. Hopefully posterity will clamp them in chains and throw them into a far-flung temple. And pray that they never come back to life.

Nathan Koblintz

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