You know what? Sometimes you can have too big a CGI budget. While that's not necessarily a complaint — contrary to others at Screenjabber Towers, I don't really care if a battle is computer-generated or full of nameless extras as long as it's exciting — it is a problem when it's allowed to dominate the story as much as in this misguided Mummy sequel. The bad guy is Jet Li's titular emperor. He's immortal, indestructible, made of CGI clay and CGI fire, a CGI martial arts expert, and in charge of an all-conquering CGI army of thousands of undead CGI warriors. Is it really necessary then to also give him the power to transform into a three-headed CGI dragon and an enormous CGI bison / werewolf hybrid? And fight CGI yetis and yet more slightly different undead CGI warriors? Seriously, it feels like the effects budget and monster roster were controlled by a 10-year-old.
The biggest problem though is that this reliance on effects comes at the cost of fun. The first two Mummy movies were stupidly enjoyable, tongue-in-cheek, genuinely funny, Boys Own romps. This third one is a shallow collection of set pieces and forced humour. By the time Cohen et al work out how to make it fun — the climactic battle is a cracking bit of summer crowd-pleasing — it's way too little, way too late.
Plot-wise, it's the usual undead-themed historical hokum. Some 2000 years before, the ruthless Emperor (Jet Li) was set for world domination. However, he betrayed a sorceress (Yeoh) who cursed him and his 10,000 soldiers and turned them (moderately cleverly) into a long lost Terracotta army. Flash forward to 1947 where the O'Connells (Fraser reprising his role as Rick, Bello stepping into Weisz's shoes) are struggling to: a) live without danger; and b) communicate with their son, Alex (Ford). They get a chance to solve both issues when they're sent to Shanghai for a final mission because China is just where young Alex happens to be. And what's he doing? He's following in his parents' footsteps and digging up dead, immortal emperors of course. What could possibly go wrong? A couple of double crosses later, a meet-up with Evelyn's wastrel brother Jonathan (Hannah) and the O'Connells, plus Lin, Alex's love-interest-with-a-secret (Leong), must face up to the bad guys... and the wrath of a thousand computer programmers.
Really chaps, why bother? Sure, the pure in-your-face spectacle of Dragon Emperor is probably enough to please the undemanding masses out for a bit of brainless, post-pub entertainment but it could, and should, have been so much more. Performances are perfunctory at best (and why get Jet Li in and then keep his martial arts to a minimum?) and even Fraser and Hannah seem to be going through the motions. Bello throws herself into the role with admirable enthusiasm (and has a pretty decent stab at sounding like Rachel Weisz) but the rest appear to be there for a pay cheque. Or, indeed, have realised how the film would turn out, which is less worthwhile Mummy sequel, more Van Helsing part two. If the aim was to be better than spin-off movie The Scorpion King, they've achieved it. Just. But if The Scorpion King is Hollywood's newest benchmark? Be afraid. Be very afraid.
SECOND OPINION | Stuart O'Connor * Hey, Rob Cohen? Meet Roland Emmerich. Yes Rob, I'm afraid that in my book, you too are a hack. This new Mummy movie is nothing more than lazy, sloppy filmmaking that's just trying to cash in on the success of the first two films. And it's a cash-in that, luckily, appears doomed to box-office failure and the death of the franchise. There is so much wrong with Dragon Emperor that I don't know where to start. How about the fact that Aussie actor Luke Ford (as Alex O'Connell) can't decide whether to use an Australian or American accent, so keeps switching between the two? Even though his character is supposed to be English (and was in the second film). Or how about the fact that Bello (who is normally a terrific actor — witness A History of Violence, or The Cooler) seems terribly uncomfortable and wooden here? Oh, and she also can't do an English accent. Or the fact that the Himalayas gets satellite TV ... and yetis sit around watching American football on ESPN. How else would you explain one yeti signalling a field goal when another yeti boots a bad guy over an archway? Or is this just another example of American cultural imperialism? Or the fact that the audience laughed just once during the entire movie, and that's when Fraser (who seems to just be going through the motions here) applies an ice pack to his groin after a battle. Yes, the biggest laugh is a dick joke. How sad is that?
I find it hard to believe that Gough and Millar could have turned in a script as bad as this. Was it rewritten by a 10-year-old after they turned it in? Still, it explains why Rachel Weisz refused to appear in this — she read the script. And please don't get me started on overblown CGI battles. I'm sick to death of overblown CGI battles.I was sick of them after the second Lord of the Rings film. Hey guys, it's been done, give it a rest, OK? Do we really need to see yet another huge plain with a billion CGI warriors on the left racing towards a billion CGI warriors on the right and then a huge clash in the middle where kajillions of pixels pound each other to dust? Who really cares? There's no emotional involvement, so what's the point? All that's missing is an Xbox 360 controller in my hands. Overall, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is formulaic, dull, tedious, pointless, uninvolving, overblown and a waste of two hours of your life.