'Mummy' 3: Enter The Dragon Emperor

Jet Li rides a horse i i

Back in black: A reanimated Chinese emperor (Jet Li) aims for world domination in the latest Mummy movie. Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures
Jet Li rides a horse

Back in black: A reanimated Chinese emperor (Jet Li) aims for world domination in the latest Mummy movie.

Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

  • Director: Rob Cohen
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Running Time: 112 minutes

Rated PG-13: Terra cotta heads get smashed, shot, bashed and broken. Also: angry yetis.

Luke Ford in a white dinner jacket i i

Family affair: Alex O'Connell (Luke Ford) teams up with his disapproving parents after the whole mummy thing gets out of hand. hide caption

itoggle caption
Luke Ford in a white dinner jacket

Family affair: Alex O'Connell (Luke Ford) teams up with his disapproving parents after the whole mummy thing gets out of hand.

Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who united China in the third century B.C., had himself buried with an army of terra cotta warriors to protect him for all eternity.

But the emperor couldn't anticipate just how perverse posterity would be: No force could shield him from the indignity of becoming the villain in a Hollywood special-effects trifle starring that guy from George of the Jungle.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is the latest installment in the series that began with 1999's The Mummy, a cheesy but good-natured ripoff of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The threequel's primary function is to sustain the franchise as the lead role gets handed from Brendan Fraser (as adventurer Rick O'Connell) to Luke Ford (as his equally crypt-crazy son, Alex) — and protecting the brand's name is why Rick, Alex and the rest keep calling all their adversaries "mummies," even when they're actually dragons, skeletons or (of course) terra cotta warriors.

Set mostly in 1947 China, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor sidesteps that messy Communists-versus-nationalists business by establishing a rogue army whose general (Anthony Wong) plots to resurrect the Qin emperor (Jet Li).

Duped into helping locate the emperor's tomb, Alex soon needs the help of his parents, who've retired to a vast English country house where Rick fidgets while Evelyn (misused Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz) struggles to write a novel.

So the elder O'Connells arrive in Shanghai — where Evelyn's wimpy brother Jonathan (John Hannah) runs a nightclub named for Imhotep, the family's original bad mummy.

As the reanimated emperor runs wild, Alex falls for Lin (Hong Kong singer/starlet Isabella Leong), a sworn enemy of the ancient rogue. She leads the O'Connells to her mother (Michelle Yeoh), a sorceress who's stayed alive for millennia to get revenge for a very old affront. Then it's off to China's western desert for the final showdown with the shape-shifting emperor and his soldiers, both clay and flesh-and-blood.

Director Rob Cohen (whose previous dragon credits include Dragonheart and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) gives the battle scenes the now-customary ADD treatment, jiggling the camera and cutting frantically so that everything becomes a frenzied blur.

With so many characters, the story is almost as indistinct; the banter is swallowed by the general clamor, and the Anglo actors often seem like bystanders in a remake of one of the many Chinese-language movies about the Qin emperor made since the 1974 discovery of his terra cotta bodyguards.

That's not such a bad thing, since Yeoh, Wong and Leong are more engaging than Fraser and his cohorts. (Li, who played Qin Shi Huang's would-be assassin in Hero, makes less of an impression, because he's frequently obscured by FX guises.)

While the Egyptian nature of the previous Mummies was dubious, this sequel takes its Chinoiserie seriously — or at least as seriously as Kung Fu Panda and The Forbidden Kingdom did. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor makes a hash of Chinese history, but it pays engaging homage to the Hong Kong and mainland movies that have already plundered the Qin emperor's grave.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.