The lighthearted, FX-laden Mummy franchise continues in this flawed yet breezy installment that stays true to the series' mix of humor, expensive eye candy, and wild action spectacle. Much is new in this third outing, as can be seen in its locale (China), its villain (Jet Li), as well as a 20-year old grown-up son character (Luke Ford) and two new leading ladies (Maria Bello and Michelle Yeoh) -- never mind a different helmer at the wheel (Rob Cohen). The changes affect the film dramatically, from the director who's a bit uncomfortable with camp sensibilities to the others who strive to find their own footing in a vehicle not designed for their strengths. The end result is a bit underwhelming, but it's not as if the series was high art to begin with. While not as fresh as the first film -- and nowhere near as gonzo as the second -- Tomb of the Dragon Emperor at least strives to continue the vibe that its predecessors created. As far as audience reactions go, much will depend on what kind of expectations and critical eye viewers bring with them when they see it. If there is one thing that is for sure, though -- like it or not, the Mummy series is back.
Right off the bat, this isn't the film that it could be. It's true that the eagerly awaited Jet Li/Michelle Yeoh face-off is a waste of both their talents. One would think that they would be able to come up with something dynamic to hand the viewers, yet it seems that Cohen was more interested in their name rather than their skills. As far as the actual shooting of the scenes, the flick suffers thanks to its reliance on fast cutting and closely cropped framing, thereby giving much of the action an incoherent feel. Acting-wise, while it's refreshing to see Maria Bello getting to play a fun character for once, the talented actress does deserve a bit of drumming for her over-the-top English accent and not-so-sparkling chemistry with her mate. Additionally, her onscreen son, newcomer Luke Ford, seems a bit lost within the confines of the picture -- a thankless spot to be in given how much of a stretch it is to accept him as the son of the still-youthful Brendan Fraser. As far as the series' man goes, the actor still has the power to elevate even the weakest material, thanks to his deft comic timing and the unpredictable quirks he injects into even the most throwaway lines.
Yet with all of the critiques on the table, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor still manages to entertain. With its strokes of broad humor and a relatively light tone throughout, the film should certainly appeal to courteous moviegoers looking for fun. Special-effects-wise, the razzle-dazzle factor is certainly there, even if some of the bigger CG creatures aren't given quite enough screen time to fully satisfy -- or provide solid comprehension, for that matter. In a way, there's a certain charm to the shoddy nature of the series. Take this installment's fantastical addition to the series' roster of monsters -- namely, the yetis! Cheese-ball in every way, the big furry blokes would surely go down as an arguable source of contention if the film took itself even vaguely seriously -- which it does not. Plus, this could be the first time that the Yeti nation has been given subtitled dialogue, which might just be the dividing line for those ready to buy into this extremely silly exercise in fluff.