Skip to main content

You guys are like mummy magnets!


The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
(2008)

What’s worse, a terrible film or a dull film? There’s always the possibility that a terrible film will end up in the “so bad, it’s entertaining” category. But a dull film is generally a chore to sit through. You become distracted, listless, or nod off. I could barely remember anything about this, apart from the Yetis. The third Mummy film isn’t a horrendous mess in the same way as the second, but it is really boring. On the balances side, so much of Mummy Returns is painfully bad that if came down to a choice of which to suffer again, Dragon Emperor might be the less damaging option.

Despite (or because of; people had the chance to forget how bad Returns was?) Dragon Emperor was a significant (and surprise) hit. Not in the States, where it did about half its predecessors’ business (inflation-adjusted), but worldwide where the total was four times that gross. Brendan Fraser, who has never been a major draw and receives more column inches regarding his level of baldness than his movie career, suddenly found himself with two big hits that year (the other being Journey to the Centre of the Earth). But the status of the production suggested an “anything will do” cash in. Director Stephen Sommers did not return, saying he didn’t think he’d have the energy for another installment. And then Rachel Weisz opted-out, citing her recent birth and script concerns. Nevertheless, the script had been in development since 2005, seeing John Hannah’s character added along the way.

As with Returns, the son of Rick and Evelyn was given a central role; the timeframe leaps 13 years to 1946. Now Alex (Luke Ford) is an archeologist on a dig in China and his parents have reluctantly retired to a stately pile. It isn’t long before they reunite, along with Jonathan, to face a new threat.

The switch of location to China is one of the few original aspects of the film; inspired by the Terracotta Army, the prologue sees Jet Li’s warlord (the titular character) imprisoned by Michelle Yeoh’s sorceress, due to being a nasty piece of work, along with his army (transformed in said Terracotta Army). It’s unfortunate that this sequence is quite good, as it gives a false impression of what’s in store. Jet Li’s Mummy is possibly even less inspired than Arnold Vosloo, and Li doesn’t seem remotely engaged by the material (when you can actually see him in non-CGI form, that is). Yeoh is always appealing but there’s not much here for her, even when the film takes in Shangri-La.

Evelyn has been recast in the form of Maria Bello, a decent actress who seems uneasy here; maybe it was concentrating on the (competent) English accent, but her performance is a bit off (I’m not going to make out that Weisz was some kind of irreplaceable feature of the series, as the character was terribly thin and at best you could say she dampened down the more grating aspects). One of the movie’s few witty moments has Evelyn at a book signing, asked if the novel’s female character is based on her. She replies, “No. I can honestly say she is a completely different person”.

More damaging is Luke Ford, playing Alex as an American this time (and only thirteen/fourteen years younger that Fraser and Bello) and doing it utterly charmlessly. I wouldn’t say he’s quite as annoying as the character’s earlier moptop incarnation, but you wonder if the producers didn’t deliberately intend to piss of the audience. The same year’s Indiana Jones movie at least had the excuse of an aging star who might need to pass the baton to a successor should the series continue. But Fraser hadn’t even turned 40 when the Dragon Emperor came out. And already they’re replicating Sean Connery’s death scene from Last Crusade for him.

Did I mention there are Yetis? Friendly Yetis. I quite liked the Yetis.

The big point in favour of Dragon Emperor is that its look is far superior to Sommers’ movies. The colour palette lacks a post-production sheen, the physical locations are more tangible, there’s a sense of scale; this feels like an adventure movie that actually visited exotic climes, rather than one that spent an extended period on a soundstage (Crystal Skull).

The downside is that Rob Cohen, Sommers’ replacement, is such a disengaged filmmaker. It’s not just a case of director-for-hire; he imbues no energy or vitality into his material. No matter Sommers’ numerous faults, that’s something you could never accuse him of. Cohen’s soulless spectacles (not that kind) are not only personality-free, they are mechanical to the point of actively discouraging involvement with the material. He has the dubious claim to fame of introducing the most unlikely of mega-franchises with The Fast and the Furious but his CV consists mostly of the forgettable (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Dragonheart) or tedious (Daylight, XXX, Stealth). He did much more interesting work as a producer during the ‘80s, truth be told.

Unlike Indy, which staggered on to a fourth installment, this looks like the final ending for Universal’s cheerful knock-off series. There was talk of a further adventure, but the property has now progressed to reboot territory; Jon Spaits (Prometheus) is attached to script it and (a warning sign) Len Wiseman to direct. If not for the latter’s action-orientated involvement, I might have held out hope for something hewing closer to the spirit of Universal’s classic horror roots.

** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.