Well you can relax, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a big improvement on The Mummy Returns despite what the relentlessly negative reviews in the States would have you believe.
The story starts pretty gently, Rick and Evelyn O’Connell are retired and apparently enjoying a quieter pace of life but in truth are bored with their quiet existence and leap at the chance to carry out one last mission for the Foreign Office.
Before they set off there’s a great sequence which directly acknowledges the recasting of Evelyn, previously played by Rachel Weisz and recreated here by Maria Bello. In the years since the last film Evelyn has become a celebrated author for her two books, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. At a book reading a member of the audience asks whether the character in the novels is based on her to which Evelyn, in extreme close up so that she’s looking directly at the filmgoer, replies that she’s “a totally different woman”. It’s a sly gag which the preview audience seemed to love.
There’s a lot of action and violence but a couple of shots seemed excessive. At least one character trying to run away gets mauled by a huge beastie and there’s a gratuitous shot involving someone caught in a wheel and crushed to death which seemed out of place with the cartoon shenanigans surrounding it.
On the performance front Brendan Fraser is pretty dependable in a role which doesn’t require much from him and he and Bello have some decent interplay. However, Luke Ford isn’t convincing as the pair’s son Alex, meant to be a dashing figure who women instantly fall for he instead comes across as a naive and chubby mummy’s boy.
Jet Li is on screen for a disappointingly small time, without giving too much away his character Emperor Han only appears as a human at the very start and quite a way towards the end of the film and anyone going on the strength of his involvement is likely to come away feeling shortchanged.
For all the effects and panoramic shots of CGI armies this film often feels quite small. A chase sequence through the streets of Shanghai ends up feeling like your average TV chase sequence thanks to too many tight shots. When Director Rob Cohen does widen his shots the film looks beautiful with some great locations and vistas.
There are no ‘Dark Knight’ style pretensions of grandness and deeper meaning here. In a landscape where filmmakers are in danger of forgetting it’s not always necessary for heroes to be weighted down with inner angst Tomb of the Dragon Emperor invites the audience to just sit back, relax and enjoy some good stunts, decent performances and a few witty gags.
Much better than you may have been led to believe, this is worth a trip to the big screen for.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor hits cinemas August 6th.