The Mummy’s a stiff
This cheerless, risible non-epic should have stayed embalmed, writes Donald Clarke THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR Directed by Rob Cohen. Starring Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, John Hannah, Michelle Yeoh, Liam Cunningham, Anthony Wong, Luke F
release, 112 min
12A cert, gen ‘IT’S THE adventure of a thousand lifetimes!” the posters shriek. Well, it certainly feels that way. When, after an apparent century-and-ahalf of tedium, I finally emerged from the third Mummy film, I half expected to encounter a city full of flying cars and robot policemen.
Tomb of the Blind Emperor is not, of course, boring in the improving, meditative manner of those Algerian art movies that detail the discontents of goat herders. It’s a kind of aggressive, energised boredom. The maniacs behind this awful film have made it their task to agitate, stimulate and dazzle their audience into frenzied stupefaction. As I understand it, such techniques were banned in the US before the introduction of the Patriot Act.
What’s it about? Clear the CD reviews. Cancel the listings section. This is going to take up some space.
As you may remember, following further adventures with the undead, the second film propelled its married heroes (Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz) towards happy retirement in some comfortable part of the Home Counties. In the intervening years, Fraser has become desperately bored (I know how he feels) and Weisz, a novelist, has become Maria Bello. “She’s a completely different person,” Bello says pointedly of her fictional alter-ego. That, I’m afraid, is the best joke in the film.
One afternoon a government representative arrives and attempts to lure them back to the world of adventure. For reasons that I couldn’t be bothered to write down in my notes, the Empire requires a magic jewel to be couriered to an archaeologist in Shanghai. At first the couple are reluctant, but, remembering that Maria’s dissolute brother (still John Hannah) has a club in the city, they don their pith helmets and pack their revolvers.
Oh, I forgot to mention the prologue. Before the credits roll we get to see a long sequence in which an ancient Chinese witch (Michelle Yeoh) frustrates the efforts of an evil warrior (Jet Li) to secure eternal life. Back in the 1940s, some misuse of the jewel causes the nasty fellow to reappear and all hell breaks loose. Not just some hell, mind you. All hell.
Rob Cohen, who has previously directed such unwelcome entertainments as xXx and Stealth, appears to be working to the quantum theory of movie adventure. That is to say he believes that if you pile together 1,000 feeble narratives you will end up with one story that is 1,000 times as gripping as any of its constituent parts. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor offers unshakable proof that the theory needs revision.
Before the movie grinds to its head-spinning conclusion, we encounter yetis, animated terracotta warriors, two-headed dragons and substantial sections of Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon. Is that a Dalek we see speeding towards the final conflagration? Is that Mrs Danvers from Rebecca? Just about the only mythical monster we do not encounter is – you guessed it – the actual Mummy. One is tempted to sue.
Many reviews will undoubtedly make comparisons with Indiana Jones, but the Mummy films have a more complicated lineage than such quips imply. Originally conceived as a way of exploiting the lingering buzz from the Tomb Raider games (themselves, admittedly, influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark) this overheated, overstuffed franchise now appears as obsolete as last year’s iPhone.
All of which is a shame. There is enough resonance in Universal’s original The Mummy (1932) to facilitate a decent contemporary remake, and the original cast of this series – Bello seems a bit lost in part three – had enough verve, charm and ironic wit to power a more worthy project.
Now the dignified Yeoh and the charismatic Li find their talent being squandered as well. Curses upon you Rob Cohen. May you toil for a thousand lifetimes in a kingdom of abundant terrors.
Jet Li after first reading the script for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor