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Friday, August 8, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - Can it get any worse?

The Mummy franchise has reached its third installment, and for everyone's sake, it better be the last too. Let's make it nice and clear that this latest sequel is just plain terrible. We find our so-called heroes, the O'Connells, in China. The basic plot: they find the mummy of emperor Han; Han wakes up from his 2,000 year sleep and wreaks havoc; they manage to kill him; everyone lives happily ever after.

not nearly as good as the poster makes it out to be.

Since the events mainly take place in China, it would be appropriate to analyze and CRITIQUE the thematic elements. Firstly, the storyline is a blatant distortion of Chinese history. The "Dragon Emperor" is simply a ripoff of Qin Shi Huang, known as China's First Emperor. The presence of the Great Wall is greatly exaggerated; in the 20th century, there was very little of the Huang-era sections of the Great Wall still remaining. Needless to say, the so-called enemies buried under the wall serve only as a ridiculous action-fantasy element whose only legitimate purpose is to attract unknowing viewers. Clearly, Rob Cohen and his crew are interested only in action-rich, money-making plots, even if that calls for a complete sidestep of historical fact.

Also consider the film's glamorous portrayal of Shanghai in 1946. I appreciate your attempt to glorify Chinese life back then, but this depiction couldn't be farther from the truth. Firstly, WWII had just ended, and much of China was in the midst of a Communist-Nationalist power struggle. Nowhere to be found were foreigners and foreign businesses, such as the glitzy, neon-bling bar owned by Jonathan O'Connell. Honestly, dirt-lined streets and ramshackle slums would have been more telling of Shanghai back in the day. Obviously, some Western filmmakers don't know shit about life and culture in the East.

no neon signs here...

A major plot element is the "Eye of Shangri-La", which contains the water of immortality and is used to resurrect the Dragon Emperor. The Dragon Emperor (Jet Li) later uses it to point the way to Shangri-La, where he bathes in the water and supposedly becomes immortal. Shangri-La, though, exists only in fiction; the Eye in the movie looks nothing more than a cheap replica of a Fabergé egg. The whole thing seems to be nothing more than a stopgap solution to the plot gap created when the producers needed a way to resurrect the mummy. Again, there exists no historical basis.

looks awfully like a Fabergé egg...

Even worse are the three Yeti/abominable snowmen/whatever you want to call them. Mr. Cohen is really pulling our leg here. During the mountain battle scene these furry guys pop out of nowhere and save the day. Well, at least I can't complain about not being warned - the trailer prominently features these guys. But come ON - I'm not sure whether to be appalled or amazed that the filmmakers could stoop to such lows. When you need to use CGI'ed Yeti to get some action going, you must be really, REALLY desperate.

they must have been pretty high to even think of including Yeti...

Speaking of CGI, that in The Mummy 3 is just plain shoddy. The trailer provides some interesting eye candy, but the same cannot be said for the film. The Great Wall battle scene seems proportionally distorted; all we see is a bunch of dead guys crawling out of the dirt and fighting. And if you look closely, it is evident that all of the CGI soldiers are synchronized, doing the exact same motion at the exact same time. More evidence of this film's sloppiness...

And what's up with the shape-shifting Emperor? Like, where the HELL did the ability to magically turn into a dragon and bat planes out of the sky come from? Hey, I knew he was supposed to be immortal - but this whole morphing thing is really pushing the limits of disbelief.

The plot of Mummy 3 is simply too shallow and straightforward. Protagonists find mummy, mummy awakens and wreaks havoc, fight mummy, mummy dies, everyone lives happily ever after. It is such a mundane and predictable sequence. There is no sense of emotion, no connection to the viewers - simply a cut-and-dry, hollow action movie.

The movie's lackluster quality is evident especially to anyone who understands Chinese. As a movie that takes place in China, it is inevitable that there is Chinese spoken in Mummy 3. With the exception of the actual Chinese/Asian actors in the film, all the others (I'm thinking of you, Alex O'Connell/Luke Ford!) The Western actors' Chinese accents are very noticeable, chipping away further at what little dignity the movie still has.

Rating: ★

Mummy 3 on Rotten Tomatoes
Mummy 3 on IMDB

In short, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is relegated to only a lowly, excessively cheesy action flick. Watch it if you like that; otherwise, it's something to be passed, especially if you're big on plot (there is none.) I think it's time to wrap up this dead franchise...

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