Well, it's been that long if I'm reading the calendar pinned on the wall alright, but this third Mummy flick actually picks up thirteen years after the last go-around. Rick and Evie have long since hung up their pistols and cancelled their subscriptions to whatever the Bembridge Scholars are churning out these days. Yup, it's a life of quiet, wedded bliss, and they're bored stiff. Rick's so desperate for action that he takes to gunning down trout in the stream bubbling down the road from their palatial estate, and Evie is hit by a nasty case of writer's block, only really able to scribble down stories about her real-life adventures that have been in the rear window for a lifetime now. When the Brits want to fork over a mystical artifact to the Chinese government as a show of good faith, Rick and Evie leap at the chance to play courier. Only...whoops! Turns out China is the current stomping grounds for their now-twentysomething year old son Alex (Luke Ford), who's picked up the family business of skulking around ancient tombs and has unearthed the location of the sprawling country's first emperor.
Two thousand years earlier, Emperor Han (Jet Li) united China under his iron fist. Having mastered the elements and wielding dark sorcery that allowed him to transform into a legion of fantastic creatures, Han was just decades from conquering every square inch of the globe. The only thing standing in the way of world domination was his aging body. Han sought immortality, but...y'know, be careful what you wish for and all that. Cursed by the sorceress (Michelle Yeoh) he betrayed, Han and his armies were transformed into clay statues and buried deep beneath the sands of the Mongolian desert. Seemingly trapped forever, no power on this earth could hope to stand in Han's way if he were ever to be restored. So...um, guess what happens next? Despite the change of scenery from Egypt to the Far East, the formula doesn't veer all that far away from that first Mummy redux: an ancient evil is unleashed and gradually regains his power, the enemies of this long-buried force team up with the O'Connells, a romance brews, lotsa special effects and a campy sense of humor are hammered out...yeah. You know the drill.
Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is
This third installment is the shortest of the Mummy flicks, clocking in almost a half-hour under The Mummy Returns, and the movie really breezes along...maybe too quickly, even. Some plot points seem awfully rushed, and others -- like a cursed knife that's the only hope of stopping the emperor dead in his tracks -- are just lazily written. Immaculately designed sets, some first-rate CGI taking the place of the low-rent sloppiness from The Mummy Returns, and a slew of enormous action sequences...bringing a director with such a heightened emphasis on visuals like Rob Cohen (xXx) onboard at least means it looks nice. The constant cracking of the cursed emperor and the terra cotta warriors as they move in particular stands out. The franchise's sense of humor is...well, kind of intact, although it doesn't score nearly as many laughs as before. I mean, a gaggle of yeti kicking a field goal in the Himalayas, a yak puking in a sick bag...even a meta-quip about the cast being swapped around stutters and stumbles.
Rachel Weisz opted not to hop onboard again as Evie, so Maria Bello swooped into the role. I generally like Bello a lot and think of her as an actress who makes any movie she's in better than it would've been otherwise. As charming as she is this time around, though, Bello still seems really miscast. She's never really able to ignite that same spark with Brendan Fraser that Weisz had in the other two Mummy flicks. At first, that's intentional -- I mean, they're playing a bored married couple with twentysomething years under their belt together -- but even when they're back in action and their pulses start thumping back to life again, that chemistry still really isn't there. Bello also struggles with a faux-British accent that comes and goes. Fraser leaps back into his part without missing a beat, though, and as uneasily as so many elements from the other movies carry over all these years later, he's the steadiest and most reliable thing in here.
There's quite a bit of excitement
If I were really being fussy, I'd poke fun at the fact that Brendan Fraser's supposed to be playing the father of a twentysomething-year-old thrillseeker. There's a strong physical resemblance, but with only twelve years separating Fraser and Aussie heartthrob Luke Ford, they really don't look all that much like father and son. Alex doesn't have nearly that same hook that Rick does but gobbles up an awful lot of screentime anyway, and I wouldn't have minded if writers Al Gough and Miles Millar had yanked that leftover from The Mummy Returns out of the flick entirely. Isabella Leong is a better addition to the franchise, shouldering so much of the action remarkably well and fielding the too-adorable-for-words torch now that Rachel Weisz has set sail for sunnier shores.
Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a pretty huge improvement over The Mummy Returns -- better CGI, a tighter pace, and none of that eye-rolling clunkiness with the kid -- but that classic B-movie sense of globetrotting adventure with a sprawling effects budget from the first two movies seems too calculated and forced this time around. Rob Cohen and company do their best to hammer out that same sense of infectious fun, but this big, loud, kinda mindless summer action flick doesn't rank much higher than okay. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a disposable, kinda-sorta good time and worth a rental for fans of the first two movies, but one spin will probably be enough. Rent It.
Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and has been encoded with AVC.
The lossless soundtrack on this Blu-ray disc -- offered here in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio -- is every bit as spectacular. The sound design is exceptionally aggressive, bolstered by foundation-rattling bass that thunders for the better part of two hours and an unrelenting sonic assault from every direction: millenia-old statues exploding back to life, fireballs, sprays of gunfire, rocket launchers, a couple hundred megatons of fireworks, swirling sorcery, and thousands upon thousands of arrows tearing through the sky, just to rattle off a few. Even outside of the action, there's a strong, persistent sense of ambiance, going so far as to toss in some directionality with its dialogue. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor boasts an enormous dynamic range, and the clarity and distinctness of each element in the mix trumps anything DVD could ever hope to belt out. My only gripe is that dialogue is dialed down a touch too low in some stretches, but that's a minor concern considering that it's still clean, clear, and consistently discernable throughout. This is a first-rate soundtrack and easily qualifies as reference quality.
Traditional Dolby Digital soundtracks are offered in Spanish and French. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor also sports the usual assortment of subtitle streams: English (SDH), Spanish, and French. Because so much of the movie is set in the Far East, it follows that not all of its dialogue is in English. Owners of constant image height projection rigs ought to be happy to hear that these stretches are subtitled within the frame of the movie, not spilling over into the letterboxing bars.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor spreads its extras across two discs. They're much more intensely focused on the shoot itself, not delving into editing, the recording of the score, the sprawling visual effects work, or even the logistical hurdles that go into assembling a movie like this all that much. Several of its featurettes are presented in high definition, but a handful do spill over into the digital copy DVD. This means that some extras seemingly produced in high-def are limited to 480p only, and that's a disappointment. Disc One
Stephen Sommers' reboot of The Mummy ranks up there for me as one of the most deliriously fun adventure flicks of the past ten years, and it's a drag that neither sequel managed to recapture that same hypercaffeinated B-movie spark. Considering how lousy The Mummy Returns was, I guess just feeling indifferent towards Tomb of the Dragon Emperor counts as a step-up. Rob Cohen's spin on this franchise that's been caked under a few inches of dust is fine but forgettable, and I don't think the movie really deserves the brutal reviews it's been scoring. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is decent enough for me to stick around for another sequel, but at the same time, I can't really picture myself wanting to shell out thirty bucks to buy it either.
I may be shrugging off the movie as okay, but I'm definitely impressed with its release on Blu-ray. While the featurettes are a little slimmer than usual for a summer tentpole, the slew of Blu-ray-exclusive bells and whistles are a nice showcase for some of what the format can do, and both the high-def video and lossless audio are reference quality. If you caught Tomb of the Dragon Emperor theatrically and dug it, it's worth picking up on Blu-ray, but otherwise...? I'd say Rent It first.