'The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor'

This is how sequels get a bad wrap.

By Steve Burgess 1 Aug 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film and popular culture for The Tyee every other week.

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Brendan Fraser jumps at third chance.

Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello are back with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the third installment of the successful Mummy series. Let the mid-summer movie doldrums begin.

There are sequels and there are sequels. Some are organic, flowing naturally from the previous installment as part of a well-mapped series. Those are not the kind that most people are referring to when they use the word "sequel." As a pejorative, “sequel" generally refers to the kind of film germinated when a studio executive looks at a weekend box office report. What follows are big contracts for the returning principals and big CGI budgets surrounding plot elements taken from the lowest shelf of the canned goods section, wrapped up with titles that contain a colon and released in the heat of August. Ah, those lazy screenplays of summer.

Thus, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. It is 1946, those halcyon days when a dissolute white kid could still despoil the cultural heritage of another land and get away with it.

Warriors with clay feet

The rake is young Alex O'Connell (Luke Ford), son of retired adventurers Rick and Evelyn O'Connell (Fraser and Bello). Sonny Boy makes a big discovery (this being another movie in the tradition of Jurassic Park, portraying archaeology and paleontology as the world's easiest professions -- get a hair dryer or a feather duster, blow some sand, uncover a fully-formed treasure). Meanwhile the O'Connells are predictably called out of retirement to carry a thingamajig to Shanghai. Said thingy turns out to be a crystal skull-type thingy with powers that tie in rather neatly with Sonny Boy's tomb-plundering.

Young Alex appears to have stumbled upon the famous Terracotta Warriors 30 years ahead of schedule, a potential army of the dead to rival the one that showed up three weeks ago in Hellboy II. Jet Li plays the titular mummy, in effect the legendary first emperor of China (whom Li was sent to kill in the immeasurably superior 2002 film Hero). Michelle Yeoh is brought in as an ancient sorceress to further bolster the movie's martial-arts street cred. And we're off to plunder the box office.

Even yet, Yetis?

When you hit part three of a franchise, some recycling is expected. But the Mummy's second-string pedigree is such that it can be hard to tell which series is being recycled. Take away the borrowed Crouching Tiger elements and you have an archaeological find, a magical artifact, and a father and son getting reacquainted. I never did get around to the latest Indiana Jones flick but now I suppose I can save my money.

Thrills include a CGI airplane landing in a CGI mountain range and the appearance of yetis -- perhaps the only unexpected element in the whole enterprise. I couldn't figure out which movie they were borrowed from. Meanwhile young Alex spars with the mysterious and beautiful Lin (Isabella Leong), creating romantic tension you could cut with a plastic spoon.

Bloodless relaxation

Those looking for undemanding family fun might be satisfied by The Mummy: Tomb of Yada Yada. People get shot but they don't bleed, which probably qualifies as family entertainment these days. The unthreatening nature of the action is demonstrated when Bello's character is captured by evil henchpeople who require her oh-so-pure blood to complete a mystical ritual. Her blood! An evil henchperson grabs Bello's arm. The evil henchperson raises the blade -- and pricks Bello's finger as neatly as a nurse at a blood donor clinic. One drop is all they need -- why waste blood?

Indeed, why do more than you have to? Finish up that screenplay and come sit by the pool. It's summertime, and the moviemaking is easy.

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