Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review - Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Ah, mummies. What better ingredient for a summer blockbuster?

When I heard that a new Mummy film was coming out, I was excited. I had good feelings as I remembered the previous films. On seeing the trailers though, I was a little bummed and found myself hoping that Brendan Frasier wouldn't do too much talking in the movie. I don't recall just how totally cheesy his comments were in the first movies, but what I saw in the trailer made me cringe. Once I got deeper into the movie, I wasn't as turned off as I thought I'd be.

Rather than beginning in modern day, we are given a brief history lesson of the Dragon Emperor of ancient China. The presentation was very well done and extremely interesting. Not having been to either modern or ancient China, I'm not an expert, but it did feel to me to be a stereotypical westernized China rather than striving for authentic detail. But it was still well presented and entertaining.

On being pulled to the era of the plotline, I was quickly sucked into the world of mid-1900s adventurism and the tone of the movie was quickly identified as over the top cheesy and not willing to take itself too seriously. At the same time, the action sequences and the realism felt were well articulated so that the adventure was immersive despite its sacrilegious nature.

Most of the cheesy humor came in the way of dialogue. The writing for this movie was very cheesy and poked fun at the genre, at the characters, and even at the film itself. One of the early jokes was poking fun at the change in the lead actress. It was a nice subtle joke that made me chuckle.

Some of the other jokes felt a little more forced or out-of place (such as the "touchdown" signal given when tossing an enemy over the wall). As usual, Jonathan's character had some of the best and most appropriately timed jokes. Rick's jokes felt forced and out of place...still funny at times, but the timing was just off.

The character I had the most trouble with was that of Alex, the mummy hunting son of the mummy hunters. Alex couldn't quite seem to be appropriately placed in a good bucket in terms of history, motivations or even dialog. Despite his having been raised and schooled in England, he was forcing what could best be described as an awful attempt at an early 20th century hardened New Yorker accent. It was absolutely awful and somewhat distracting.

This being an action movie...the action was very exciting. Many sequences were a bit unbelievable and hard to follow entirely, but since we're dealing with supernatural elements, that can be excused somewhat. I had hoped for a bit more martial arts action from Jet Li and the other Chinese mummy warriors. After all, Jet Li is well known for his fight sequences. I felt a little 'ripped off' by only getting a couple of minimal fights with him.

The story flowed nicely and had just the right degree of factual realism to blend with the flights of fancy required for a mummy adventure. The romantic angle was far too forced and I would have liked to have seen the betrayal angle played out a bit longer than it was (they killed the turncoat in the same scene he was exposed).

One story/plot inconsistency that annoyed me a little was the appearance of General Yang at the end of the movie in the throng of mummies helping fight against the Emperor. The man was drawn-and-quartered for pete's sake. How is it that he then comes running out from under the wall with his army behind him? I guess the writers felt it was necessary to reintroduce him for the sake of the other immortals with the allies, but I think it was an unnecessary stretch.

If you're looking for a serious/dramatic action/adventure movie, steer clear of this film. If you're looking for an evening of escapist adventure filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and cheesy action, then this is the film for you.

2 1/2 stars

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