It’s got to be difficult, being the child of celebrity parents. Especially if you want to go into the same field, because then you’re competing directly with them – and they’ve got tons more experience than you. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor sees Alex O’Connell, son of legendary mummy-fighters Rick and Evelyn O’Connell, trying to prove himself as an archaeologist by uncovering the tomb of the Han Emperor. Naturally, it’s nowhere near as easy as that. Despite Rick and Evelyn’s self-imposed, boring retirement, they’re lured out to Shanghai by one last, final mission – to return the Eye of Shangri-La to China, as a gesture of goodwill from the British government. (Which doesn’t actually sound like a mission you’d necessarily need, um, anyone other than a government official for, but never mind.) Gathering the entire O’Connell family together in the presence of a mummy was never a good idea, and sure enough, before long the Emperor has been returned to life and is busy gathering his Terracotta Army to take over the world.
Because otherwise the O’Connells would be utterly out of their depth, the movie throws in a couple more good guys: a 2,000-year-old sorceress, Zi Yuan, who cursed the Emperor and turned him to terracotta in the first place, and her immortal daughter Lin. The two of them guard the tomb, as well as the entrance to Shangri-La and the waters of eternal life… and, also, handily, the one weapon capable of killing the Emperor: a cursed dagger. And because epic battle scenes are de rigeur these days, Zi Yuan raises an undead army of her own to battle the Terracotta Warriors. Supposedly, the Great Wall is built with the bodies of those killed by the Emperor in its foundations – a perfect resource of undead soldiers, all bearing a grudge against the Emperor.
What’s great about The Mummy 3 is that it doesn’t spend a huge amount of time setting things up. Instead, the audience is expected to accept that there’s magic everywhere and that undead mummies can return to life to wreak havoc at any moment – after all, they’ve already shown us that for two movies. While it doesn’t escape all of the cliches of the genre, the fact that we’re dealing with all sorts of magical artefacts and ancient people with mystical powers means anything can happen at any time. Just when you think you’ve got the film more or less figured out, a bunch of surprisingly cuddly-looking Yetis show up. It’s unashamedly goofy, but the silliness is part of its charm. Yes, pretty much everything that happens is at least mildly ridiculous, but it’s just too much fun to mar it by worrying about little things like facts.
(Although – since when are there more than four “elements”? Earth, air, fire, water, right? That’s why the movie The Fifth Element had such an interesting title. Throwing in other random substances, including wood and, I’m sure at one point, metal, just kind of screws things up a bit.)
I agree with Ron’s assessment that there’s nowhere near enough screentime devoted to Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. According to the mammoth production notes, Jet Li wasn’t available for the epic 5-month shooting schedule (which is why the Emperor spends much of the film being a creation of CGI clay and magma), so that might explain why – still, it’s a shame. Usually, films set up to pass the mantle from a grizzled old adventurer to a new young wannabe make the newbie painfully irritating, but Luke Ford does a good enough job of being non-annoying that I won’t complain too much. The Mummy franchise, while obviously not unsuccessful, isn’t iconic enough for anyone to mind some changes too much, I don’t think – and if no-one’s particularly bothered by the swap of Rachel Weisz for Maria Bello, I don’t foresee much of a problem switching from Rick O’Connell to Alex O’Connell for the next sequel.
I can’t help but feel I should be criticising this film more. It’s obviously not high art of any kind – but it was genuinely good fun. There’s no point thinking too much about any of the plot elements, since everything is handled with a quick “it’s magic” handwave; the CGI isn’t dazzling but it’s certainly good enough to induce viewers to suspend their disbelief; the location settings are gorgeous; the costumes are fantastic, particularly everything Michelle Yeoh puts on; the acting is, y’know, good-to-middling, but the script doesn’t exactly require much in the way of emotional gymnastics. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a light-hearted, comical adventure movie – the perfect pick-me-up if The Dark Knight left you feeling overwhelmed and depressed.