The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)
A New Evil Awakens.
You thought that fantasy kick was super short lived after that military-based movie from last week didn’t you? Ha! You’ve been played, for I’m still on a fantasy kick and all shall suffer my opinions because of it! Alright, perhaps that was a bit more dramatic than necessary, but I did have a slight hankering for a little something that mixes the two. Most people herald the middle-aged Mummy films as the best the old dried up wrapper has to offer and despite the fact that I wouldn’t say I thought the newest entry was as bad as others might think, they don’t have a terrible statement either. What was it that caused those movies to be so enjoyed over the rest, and why is it that the first one I’m doing for the site is the last of that bunch? Maybe it’s just a curse bestowed for raiding the old tombs of movies so much, or maybe it’s because hidden gems of fun? Tonight, we check out The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
There is a bit of campy fun to the middle mummies, and in case you aren’t versed on why I keep referring to them as such it’s because they are, at least at the time of writing this, the middle series or take on the Mummy property by Universal. Younger folks probably haven’t seen the oldest entries, back when Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr were the talk of the monster-filled town. To be totally honest, I haven’t seen the older mummy films either - maybe I’ll get around to them someday who knows. The Fraser led three piece actually did well enough to have a sort of sister series develop as well which most might know as the Scorpion King series, which in turn managed at least four sequels itself considering Netflix throwing “Scorpion King 5” in my “you should watch this” listings -but that’s getting a bit off topic isn’t it? Case in point, the Mummy series did well for itself, come the release of the currently reviewed, which seemed to be the end to the adventures. Be it a less than impressive domestic box office gross, or perhaps the sudden urge to emulate the un-forseeable rise of juggernaut Marvel Cinematic Universe, the tone would see a shift to trying something similar for better or, to most, worse.
The plot at this point is familiar to those who watched the two preceding movies - the family once again finds themselves in the middle of an evil mummy plot and have to save the day. If these movies did one thing nicely, it’s giving time between movies for characters to develop a little - particularly the aging son, who now gets to have a more active role as though he was being set up to take over the franchise should the lead decide to stop. In turn, we also get to see a lot of mirroring of things past between his own romance of his wife and the son and his sudden flame. It’s not all about them however, and the new plot is very much more oriental focused, tapping into the Chinese Terracotta warriors and a bit of up-fantasy version of the history of the first emperor of China, It makes for a nice twist and differentiation from just another Egyptian mummy, and in all honesty could have proven to be a great way of continuing the franchise onward had they chose, scrounging culture to culture for lore of the unresting dead set to take over the world. Tied to this more Chinese side of the plot is such things as revenge, immortality, armies of the dead, and at one point even yeti,
The actors do good with their roles, although be it age or just the general comedy-camp this series has to offer coming to a head sometimes things aren’t quite as grounded as you might expect. There’s a lot of jokes in here, some of them pretty dumb that might cause some people to cringe even. Sometimes a yeti will kick a field goal, and party like they know football despite living in the mountains without sport channels - but hey, you do what you want to do winter Sasquatch, that’s fine. Sometimes you’ll chuckle when a yak has to use an airplane sick bag, only to shake your head a few moments later when the contents are all over the person next to the yak. You might get a dry delivery here or there, but largely it wouldn’t surprise me that most the time the actors were having a blast regardless if their line is dumb. Characters themselves aren’t terrible, with some family friction between the main cast being the main depth of development to be found for the most part. Sometimes their dialogue is pretty bad, but I’m more prone to believing that’s a writing thing than a delivery thing.
Speaking of the yeti found in the movie, the effects are pretty middle ground. They aren’t the best, but they aren’t the worst either. Some bits, like the moving Terracotta or fireballs look great, while others like dragon transformations and mud transformations might look a bit worse for wear. Costumes get to have fun, keeping a rather iconic look for the lead and making each character pretty recognizable at a quick glance, sometimes even carrying with it a bit of period charm. A more modern sophisticated audience might not be as enthused about the computer effects work on display here, but at the very least should be perfectly happy with the more physical things, such as the costumes or the sets, explosions and things breaking. You’ll certainly know when you are looking at something that isn’t real, but it largely doesn’t hurt the eye any more than that terrible CG Scorpion King version of The Rock in the last movie. Safe to say, don’t expect awards to come showering down, but if you’ve seen the rest you know what to expect.
Action scenes are abound in here, and have a steady up-trend thanks to pacing and the story. It helps bring the sense of adventure into the movie, having to go from one set to the next as the quest to stop evil goes along it’s way. A chase through the city with a slight rest to catch up the plot to the next step, a showdown in the mountains with yeti and magic, all leading up to that one big large scale battle at the finale of the movie. Most the action is all shot well enough, keeping it easy to follow, although the showdown between the big bad and our lead is perhaps a bit more edited than it needs to be, in effects and cuts. The humor will usually inject itself into the action scenes through banter, but every now and then things will make a short hard-stop for something like the before mentioned yet-football. It’s put together fine enough to be exciting and, perhaps more importantly, fun.
Audio is balanced well, although a few whispered lines can be a bit hard to make out. I can’t really fault it there, it is whispered and that’s sort of the point really. Sound effects make mostly appropriate sounds, even if maybe punched up a bit for emphasis and perhaps fun factors. Really, that’s a reoccurring thing that I keep saying here - fun. A movie in most instances should strive to entertain in some way, and I think that’s why so many people tend to gravitate to this series over the others - it might not be scary, it might not be setting up a universe in a forced way, but it’s just there to be stupid fun and entertain. Sure, you get that family dynamic and some serious moments, but this all plays out like Indiana Jones light, with more camp and mystical elements front and center and also larger stakes. It takes time to make jokes about things and worries more about if it would be fun than if it would be realistic - did we need to introduce yeti into the fight at the shrine? No, but you know what would be fun? Yeti.
This fella might show it’s age in various moments, but it’s still a fun enough movie to enjoy. Perhaps it’s not as well put together as the two that came before it, but if nothing else the change of scenery is enough to make it something a bit different. The effects exist on a balancing scale between good and not great that sort of just seesaws around, but the actors largely seem like they are having fun and the movie puts enough jokes out there that it’s obvious that it’s trying to make you have a fun time regardless of it’s what you asked for. This entry brought up a wonderful idea, setting up traveling across the globe and having our band of family thrill-seeking adventurers facing off against many a different culture’s mummified denizens that would have been great to see carry on, but even then it’s still incredibly similar to those before it.