Movie Review: ‘The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor’

By James Carroll
James Carroll
James Carroll
August 14, 2008 Updated: September 29, 2015
Brendran Fraser returns to take on an army of mummies, in, err, 'The Mummy 3', this time with Maria Bello. (Universal)
Brendran Fraser returns to take on an army of mummies, in, err, 'The Mummy 3', this time with Maria Bello. (Universal)

The only redeeming feature of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is that after having to sit through its butt-numbingly brash 110 minutes, suddenly Indy’s disappointingly average fourth adventure looks positively Raiders by comparison.

Brought to you by Rob Cohen, the hack director of xXx and Stealth, The Mummy 3 swaps pre-war Egypt for post-war China and the bandaged Mummy Imhotep for the terracotta Emperor Han (Jet Li, taking another paycheck and high-kicking all the way to the bank), as the clumsy O’Connells raise another cursed member of the undead from his eternal slumber.

One of the worst scripts in recent movie history, The Mummy 3 is the epitome of huh? Hollywood. As in how the hell did this get greenlit? A bare bones plot was expected (have you seen The Mummy and its Return?), but never anything this monumentally bad. Especially from the showrunners of TV’s Smallville, a show that successfully marries action, comedy and drama on a (mostly) weekly basis.

Beginning bad and getting worse from there, the film unearths Rick (the returning and freakily-ageless Brendan Fraser) and Evie (a horribly miscast Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz who wisely turned down the opportunity to resurrect her role, probably after reading the dog of a script) in the midst of retirement in England and devoid of any semblance of personality or sense of comic timing.

Meanwhile, their suddenly shot-up, brat of a son Alex (an unlikeable Luke Ford) is on a tomb raiding expedition in China. One plot contrivance later, they are united in Shanghai with the unnecessarily-returning “comedy” (and that term is used very loosely) sidekick Jonathan (John Hannah) and on the humdrum hunt for Shangri-La and the means to defeat the latest mummy.

From here the film then freewheels (or is that careens?) from one badly directed set-piece to the next – horse-drawn cart vs car chase through the streets of Shanghai, Himalayas-set abominable snowmen (more on them later) smackdown, LOTR-lite royal rumble between two armies of the undead – without once managing to raise the pulse. Breaking these laborious action scenes up are some of the most laughably bad, cornily-scripted, stiltedly-delivered, chemistry-free scenes of dire-logue imaginable. Not to mention some truly terrible and tumbleweeding “gags” that will fail to raise even a titter from even the most lowbrow, humour-free individual.

Then there’s the CG effects. To describe them as cheap doesn’t even come close. How this carries a budget of $145,000,000 is a mystery, because none of it is up there on the big, unforgiving, screen. The Harryhausen-inspired skeletons juuuust about cut it without looking like they’ve advanced Harryhausen’s original technique, but the abominably-rendered, anthropomorphic ninja yeti and the transmorphing, three-headed Jet Li dragon are sooooo bad they even rival the Blue Peter cut-and-paste efforts of The Mummy Returns.