I like watching ‘The Mummy’ movies. Sometimes, whenever there is little else on TV, the channels would just replay some of the older movies, a back catalogue which included the first two films in this trilogy. Watching them, even though I know the films, having seen it many times before, I still find myself laughing at how the characters developed. “I hate mummies!” would usually at least get a chuckle out of me, if not a bigger laughter. There’s just so much that seemed so right about the movies: Stephen Sommers, the music, and the cast.
How, then, to match up to the previous two? Well, truth be told, I wouldn’t hire Rob Cohen as the director, for starters. He’s made a fine living blowing things up on the silver screen (kinda like Michael Bay), and knows about trilogies, having kickstarted both ‘The Fast and The Furious’ and ‘XXX’ franchises. They may not be the best movies in the world, but they were action films. From that angle, then, he may seem like the ideal choice to sit in the chair of a big blockbuster movie, a chance to step up the ladder to bigger-budget films (again, after the disaster that was ‘Stealth’).
However, ‘The Mummy’ films were fun films. Sure, there’s plenty of action, but it’s also the laughs that lands it terribly close to ‘Indiana Jones’ territory. I believe a big part of this is Stephen Sommers, who directed the films. Though critically panned by…well, the critics, ‘Van Helsing’ also followed the same style of comedy, so it’s a pretty good guess that the good mana flowed from the good man. However, for this film, he served as nothing more than a credited producer. In fact, I reckon that with the exception of probably three or four people, non of the principal cast and crew members returned for this third film. A bad sign?
Perhaps it isn’t. New people, new direction…perhaps even new humour, right? After all, one shouldn’t become the Roman Catholic church and start to judge films before they’re even seen, right? 🙂 So, with a small amount of spare time on the schedule, and the chance to see Michelle Yeoh on-screen, I plucked up the courage to watch it.
The story picks up some years after their last adventure. Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn (Maria Bello) are now retired, and trying to enjoy the country life after years of adventure and exploration. Evelyn has even managed to parlay those adventures into a successful career as an author, writing of her adventures as novels. However, such peace does not last long: the British government required their help in sending a treasure to China. Coincidentally, Evelyn’s brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and their son, Alex (Luke Ford), are also in China. Jonathan have settled down, having opened a bar there, but Alex now has an estranged relationship with his parents.
Blood runs thicker than water, however, and the same adventure-seeking blood flows in Alex’s veins as well. He is now an treasure hunter/archaeologist in his own right, and has just discovered the tomb of the Han, the Dragon Emperor (Jet Li). Of course, one thing leads to another, and the mummy that is Jet Li is awakened once again, with Anthony Wong helping his fellow Asian as the Chinese General Yang.
Wong’s appearance in the film was the first surprise for me, and let it be known that it is a pleasant one. I like seeing cross-country, cross-cultural elements, and despite knowing a fair amount about the film, his involvement was one that I had somehow overlooked. In fact, though the faint slivers of recognition swirled in my head when I first saw him on-screen, I didn’t quite dare to make the suggestion that it’s actually him. Fantastic stuff, and a great start to the proceedings, then.
Having said that, he’s not the only pleasant thing about the cast members. As I mentioned before, Brendan Fraser slips back into his career-defining role with great ease, firing off the one-liners like he never even left the set from the last film. “Ha ha ha….why am I laughing?” was his reply to the pilot jovially telling him that there aren’t any seat belts. His chemistry with the rest of the cast was also nice. Every little helps, because only he and John Hannah survived the three films to date. Unfortunately, Rachel Weisz couldn’t make this sequel, but I think Maria Bello did well here with her own portrayal of Evelyn. The same could be said for Luke Ford, though he did little more than prance around looking good. Nevertheless, the interactions between him and Brendan Fraser can be funny at times.
The key word here is ‘at times’. OK, so that’s actually two key words, but I can think of a few more for the film in general and the story. Uninspiring, forced, not that fun all of the time, and a very forgettable soundtrack. Even Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh didn’t really get to show their acting chops, since they weren’t on screen for that long. The same could be said for Anthony Wong, but then again, his character is not on the poster. Jet Li, however, is, and he was probably on screen for less than thirty minutes. Perhaps I am being harsh, but I feel slightly cheated that Jet Li wasn’t utilised more. It wasn’t unlike the trumpeting of The Rock’s appearance in the second Mummy film, even though he was only actually nothing more than a glorified cameo actor, as it turned out. The same could be said for this film, though not to the same extent: the Dragon Emperor spent more time in CGI form than he did in Jet Li form. Michelle Yeoh also suffered a bit from this lack of attention, but, like Anthony Wong, it was a consequence of the size of her role.
Unfortunately, the movie appears to be a rather big step back for the whole franchise. I do appreciate the big battle scenes, and there are some genuinely funny moments in the film (which I shan’t write of here, for fear of spoiling it for you…too much). Nevertheless, the reversion to stereotypical exploitation of Chinese culture (evil Dragon emperor, the search for eternal life, the Eye of Shangri-La, blah blah blah…didn’t we move on from all of this already?) hurt the film a bit, I think. Perhaps a bit more play on the clash of civilisations would have helped, but the biggest factor for the tone of this: like I said before, less than five people remained from the previous ‘Mummy’ films.
With such bare bones to begin with, how do you get to that same level? This was a different film, a popcorn film, but unfortunately, not a very fun one.
Fikri would have loved it if they actually got to the Shangri-La hotel. 🙂