Universal // 2008 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // December 5th, 2008
A new evil awakens.
An old franchise trudges on.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was an evil emperor who looked just like Jet Li (Jet Li's Fearless). The emperor sought the secret of eternal life, and employed the services of a sorceress (Michelle Yeoh, Sunshine) to help him attain this goal. The sorceress agreed, but asked for permission to marry the emperor's general in return. The emperor agreed at first, but then broke his word once she delivered her part of the bargain. He killed the general, and nearly killed the sorceress. Fortunately, the sorceress had predicted his move. She had not granted him eternal life, but rather placed a curse upon him, turning the emperor into a mummy of sorts. He will be trapped in a state of living death for the rest of time, unless somebody comes along and breaks the curse. If the curse is broken, the emperor and his army of undead soldiers will attempt to take over the world.
Enter Rick (Brendan Fraser, Journey to the Center of the Earth) and Evie O'Connell (Maria Bello, The Cooler), two people who have a knack for breaking curses that really shouldn't be broken. You may remember them from the previous two Mummy movies, in which they raised a mummy, killed it, raised it up again, and killed it again. That mummy doesn't make an appearance in this film, but the emperor may be an even tougher enemy to defeat. He is incredibly strong, and if he ever manages to reach a secret pool that will grant him eternal life, then he will be positively indestructible. Well, only indestructible in theory. In this sort of movie, people only become indestructible so that our heroes can figure out a way to destruct them. Oh, and this time the O'Connells' adult son (Luke Ford, McCloud's Daughters) is tagging along for the ride.
The previous two Mummy films were directed by Steven Sommers. The first one was a lot of fun; the second one was obnoxiously bloated. Equally notorious blockbuster action film director Rob Cohen has taken over for this installment, and his entry lands right in the middle in terms of quality. On the plus side, Cohen has brought back the charming sense of lovable goofiness that made the first film so successful. The actors are given more time than we expect to have fun with their roles, and the plot is agreeably ludicrous without being headache-inducing. On the other hand, the action in this movie is not particularly interesting. Why do action movies so frequently pick the least interesting action scenes to feature during the final act? Here, the battle between hordes of undead CGI soldiers is about as dull as it can be. I did enjoy some of the early adventure scenes, though, most notably an appearance by some abominable snow men.
Brendan Fraser demonstrates yet again that few can headline a goofy action-adventure film like him. He has a knack for delivering the silliest of lines in just the right way, and is as likable here as he was previously. Even more impressive is Maria Bello, who actually manages to make us content with the fact that Rachel Weisz decided not to reprise her role. Bello takes a cue or two from Weisz' previous performances, and then makes the role her own from there. John Hannah also returns as Jonathan, Evie's amusingly snooty brother. Jet Li is also featured prominently in the credits, but he spends the vast majority of his time turning into some sort of CGI creature, so I'm uncertain about just how much the actor is actually participating in the film.
Tech credits are pretty solid all the way around. I enjoyed the change of scenery; China makes a perfectly acceptable substitute for the Middle East. Composer Randy Edelman manages to make the London Symphony Orchestra sound like a cheesy synthesizer, which sounds horrifying but actually works reasonably well for this goofy film. I've disliked most of Rob Cohen's previous work as a director. While I'm not entirely enthusiastic about this film, it's a step up from his previous work. Much like Fraser's other 2008 blockbuster, Journey to the Center of the Earth, this film is pleasant popcorn entertainment, but not quite substantial or entertaining enough to merit a recommendation.
The film is blessed with a very solid hi-def transfer. The image is very sharp all the way around, even if there aren't many "knockout" shots that set the disc apart as a showcase for the Blu-ray format. It's difficult to complain about the transfer, though. Blacks are deep and rich, flesh tones are accurate, and everything is detailed and well-balanced. Audio is equally strong, giving that energetic Edelman score quite an effective boost. The dialogue is just a tiny bit quiet in contrast to the sound design on occasion, but not enough to force viewers to play with the volume.
Okay, let's move on to the supplements. Quite a few have been included here. A hi-def exclusive is the "U-Control" feature, which offers viewers all kinds of nifty things to check out while they watch the movie. Options include a video commentary with director Rob Cohen (pretty dull, really), a "Know Your Mummy" trivia track that includes accompanying clips and photos from all of the films in the franchise, a trivia game called "The Dragon Emperor's Challenge," and a "Scene Explorer" feature that lets viewers check out the action from multiple angles. Some may protest, "But I just want to watch the movie!" Move into the 21st Century and just play the damn clip-heavy trivia game, pal. Ahem. All kidding aside, the U-Control feature is kind of cool.
The rest of the features are available on the DVD release. "The Making of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" is a standard-issue 22-minute making-of piece with the usual hyperbole and back-slapping. "From City to Desert" (15 minutes) focuses on location shooting, while "Legend of the Terra Cotta" (13 minutes) is an examination of the film's historical elements. 10 minutes of deleted and extended scenes don't add a whole lot to the proceedings. All of the aforementioned features are presented in hi-def, which is nice. The rest of the supplements are included on the second "digital copy" disc, meaning that this is one of those rare 2-disc sets from 2008 that actually uses the second disc for something other than a pointless digital copy. Three featurettes can be found on the disc: "Preparing for Battle with Brendan Fraser and Jet Li," "Jet Li: Crafting the Emperor Mummy," and "Creating New and Supernatural Worlds." Overall, a generous if frequently insubstantial batch.
Eh, let's be honest. There has only been one respectable film in this franchise, and that is The Mummy. Everything else should simply be subtitled, The Money Returns. Still, as artless cash cows go, you could do worse than this flick. There are tens of thousands of superior films out there just waiting to be seen, but The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor doesn't quite reach the bottom of the barrel. Feel free to use that quote on future double-dip DVD and Blu-ray packages.
The film is guilty of being an unnecessary sequel to a franchise that has
worn out it's welcome, but it's treated well by this Blu-ray release. The
franchise is released on parole. If we catch you trying to churn out another
sequel, everybody gets thrown back in the slammer, so the court suggests that
everyone involved move along to the next phase of their career. Court is
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Visual Commentary
* Extended and Deleted Scenes
* Digital Copy
* BD Live
* DVD Verdict Review: The Mummy 2-Disc Deluxe Edition
* DVD Verdict Review: The Mummy Returns 2-Disc Deluxe Edition
* Cinema Verdict Review
* Live Stunt Demonstration