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Plugged In Rating
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Cast
Brendan Fraser as Rick O'Connell; Jet Li as Emperor Han; Maria Bello as Evelyn O'Connell; Michelle Yeoh as Zi Juan; Luke Ford as Alex O'Connell; Isabella Leong as Lin; John Hannah as Jonathan Carnahan
Director
Rob Cohen (Stealth, XXX, The Fast and the Furious, The Skulls, Dragonheart)
Distributor
Universal Pictures
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Way back around 200 BC, the Chinese Emperor Han is master of all. He's a cruel tyrant who learns the magic of the five elements, burns half of China and enslaves his enemies to build the Great Wall. But there's one thing he still longs for: immortality. So he seeks the secret from a beautiful witch. She discovers the right incantation, but balks when the madman decides he wants her pleasures as well. So Han has her put to death, but not before she casts a spell that fries him and his army and encases them in clay.

Centuries later in 1946, Alex O'Connell discovers the emperor's tomb and his terra-cotta army of thousands. This is Alex's chance to break out from under his famous parents' shadow (which looms long thanks to The Mummy and The Mummy Returns). Said parents, mummy hunters Rick and Evie O'Connell, have simultaneously come out of a boring retirement to help deliver an ancient artifact to its rightful owner in China. Little do the three know that they're all being manipulated by an evil Chinese general who desires to resurrect the dragon emperor and use his power to rule the world.

(When will these evil guys ever realize that disturbing dead demon-people never turns out well?)

Rick is forced to revive the powerful Han and things quickly go from bad to worse as the emperor uses his magical powers to seek out the immortality he was once denied. Now the O'Connells, with the help of a mysterious (and, of course, beautiful) female assassin, must find the springs of Shangri-La before the mummified emperor can.

Positive Elements

In several quick moments, Rick tries to connect with his rebellious, but equally adventurous twentysomething son, Alex. (But it usually degenerates into bickering over who has the bigger gun.) Rick does step in front of a hurtling sword to protect Alex, and that act finally becomes the turning point that draws them together.

Alex mentions to Lin that he's seen a deep love displayed by his parents "every day." And Lin—who is actually the immortal daughter of the sorceress Zi Juan, who cursed Emperor Han—is willing to give up her immortality to be with Alex. Zi Juan, who we discover isn't really dead, chooses to sacrifice herself to save the world and defeat Han.

Spiritual Content

I just wrote that the 2,000-year-old Zi Juan isn't actually dead yet. So you already have an idea about what kind of spiritual content lurks behind this Mummy's mask. Dark magic abounds as the dragon emperor commands the elements with fire balls, icicle attacks and sonic blasts. He also uses his power to shapeshift into evil creatures. (One is a three-headed dragon.) Zi Juan casts various spells from a book of incantations—at one point raising an army of dead corpses who pull themselves up from their burial pits.

To solve a mystical puzzle, a little twisted scriptural truth is used as a villain says, "Only the pure of heart would sacrifice themselves for the one they love."

Sexual Content

Zi Juan and her lover are seen embracing in bed, both draped in silk kimonos. A group of female dancers wear very brief bikini-like outfits while performing in a Chinese nightclub. Evie seductively approaches her husband in a slinky nightgown (but he has fallen asleep). Several women, including Evie, wear low-cut gowns. Zi Juan wears a cleavage-baring top. While recovering from an injury, Rick lays shirtless in bed, embracing and kissing his wife. Later, Alex and Lin kiss while dancing.

In the Chinese nightclub, Alex is attracted to a beautiful woman who asks him to buy her a drink. His uncle, Jonathan, steers him away with, "That's the tomb in which many Pharaohs have lain."

Violent Content

Violence takes many different shapes and forms in this high-action pic. For example, Emperor Han has many people stabbed and killed in the movie's opening sequences. He impales an attacker with a knife through the chest and nails him to a pole like an insect on a display board. Later, a great number of the dead are shown falling into a wide trench. Han also has one of his generals cruelly drawn and quartered, the camera cutting away just before the limbs separate from the man's body. When Han and his men are cursed, a muddy substance flows from their eyes and mouth, and then they burst into flames.

On another front, when Alex discovers the tomb in 1946 he and his men trigger a number of Indiana Jones-inspired traps resulting in a man being riddled with arrows, another being disemboweled by a saw blade and a third having his skin gruesomely melt off his face and hands.

From there the movie displays people and dark beasts meeting their end through all the graphic carnage that a PG-13 will allow—which is quite a bit these days: explosions, beheadings, being smashed face-first into stone walls, run through or incinerated by fire bombs.

Crude or Profane Language

The s-word shows up once. "H---," "a--," "b--ch," "d--n" and "b--tard" are tossed out two to three times apiece. The British crudities "b-gger" and "bloody" get several uses each. God's name is misused twice.

Drug and Alcohol Content

People toss back cocktails and wine in the Chinese nightclub scene. Rick, Evie and Jonathan also drink hard alcohol in several scenes. (Jonathan swigs straight out of the decanter.)

Other Negative Elements

Alex lies to his parents, letting them think he's attending college while he's really in China on an archeological dig. Jonathan says he thinks the beautiful paradise of Shangri-La would be the perfect spot for a casino.

After one hard-thumping adventure, Rick holds a bag of ice to his crotch for the sake of a small yuk. A sloppier yuk comes when a yak vomits on Jonathan.

Conclusion

Hollywood's gazillion producers, directors, action sequence teams, grips, gaffers, camera specialists, graphic designers and computer techs (have you actually sat through the credits of a movie lately?) have gotten to the point at which they can create a highly polished action-packed flick just about every time they try—if there's enough money changing hands.

Which is what director Rob Cohen and his team were aiming for with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. When asked about his finished production by terrorfeed.com, the director said, "If you want to come into a movie theater and have an experience—not be told a story—but actually have a physical, emotional experience, then this is the ride for you."

And from the opening sequences of people being murdered and shoveled into the foundation of the Great Wall of China, to rampaging Yeti behemoths crushing soldiers against stone columns, to the sweeping final moments of undead armies crashing against magical terra-cotta pillagers, that's exactly what you get: a CGI roller-coaster ride.

But there's something vital that's missing amidst the havoc. That absent story Cohen warned us not to expect leaves a major hole. Actual relationships between the main characters are vacuum-packed into about 10 minutes. And the truncated storyline that shows up seems so familiar:

Young archeologist Indiana Jones, er, sorry, young mummy hunter Alex gets attacked by a masked female assassin in one scene and hurriedly falls in love with her in the next. There's barely enough time for her to pull the knife away from his jugular before they're deeply in love and high-kicking ghoulies together. Rick and Evie, heroes of the past Mummy pics, are just as abbreviated. And comic sidekick Jonathan feels shoehorned in with only enough time to have his pants set on fire and get yakked on by a yak.

In short, the film's creators effectively swoop in to raise the undead, but they leave their movie lying limp without a heartbeat. And ticket-buyers are offered a big-screen extravaganza that amounts to a series of nonsensical, adrenaline-obsessed cutscenes—peppered with images of melting flesh, severed heads, dark spirituality, magical incantations and armies of resurrected-yet-still-decaying corpses.

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