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Movie Review: The Mummy – Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

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The Mummy  trilogy doesn't seem to know when to quit. First of all, there wasn't any need to make it a trilogy, discounting a financial one. Though the third movie attempts to freshen the formula by moving the action to China, it still feels too much like the previous two entries, in particular like the bloated special effects fiesta that was the second movie.

It has been a while since I saw parts one and two. I remember that I found the first one charming, with a nice balance between action, romance, and humour, while the second one was just a lot of noise and computer-generated motion. It was okay as popcorn movies go, but did it really warrant another sequel, which recycles these thrills while piling on the silly pseudo-mythology?

The beginning of the third entry seems promising. There is the nicely Indiana Jones-esque uncovering of what looks suspiciously like the Chinese Terracotta Army. These scenes reintroduce us to Alex O'Connell (Luke Ford), the son of our couple of intrepid leads from the first two movies. He has aged alarmingly in comparison to his father (Brendan Fraser), who now looks more like his older brother. His mother has also changed — into a different actress (Maria Bello), as Rachel Weisz wisely bowed out of the franchise. That is addressed in an actually funny way, by suggesting that the previous flicks were film versions of two books the 'real' Evelyn O'Connell wrote, which in turn were based on her 'real life' adventures. You follow?

Though the adventurous family seemed happy at the end of part two, Alex is now oddly estranged from his parents, who for their part seem bored to tears in early retirement. When a new adventure beckons, transporting the Eye of Shangri-La to China, the couple eagerly jumps at the opportunity, leading them to run into Alex and to bond together once again through their adventures.

The story starts to fall apart as the action revs up, getting too hectic to give the cast room to breathe and enjoy their characters. The mythology seems to be getting made up on the fly by an over-enthusiastic storyteller deathly afraid of boring his audience. But bored is what I was, as the story failed to pull me in, despite all the plot being thrown my way: "There is this Evil Undead Chinese Emperor brought back from the great beyond and now looking for eternal life. Oh, and what if he controls the elements? And what if he can change into monsters for some reason? Then throw in a few Yetis? Maybe an army of skeletons?" The writers needed to ask themselves 'why' rather than 'why not' a bit more than they did.

Action scenes are strung together with some clunky emotional ones painting the characters in broad strokes and resolving issues the movie did not make us care about in the first place. Most attempts at one-liners fall flat and the dialogue is often wooden to the point where it seems to have been ghost-written by George Lucas. All the charm from the first movie has evaporated by now; let's just bury this franchise and not dig it up again.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, 2008. 112 min. Director: Rob Cohen. Starring: Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh.

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