The Mummy franchise takes a major geographical turn as the action this time shifts to Asia for the next chapter in the adventure series that has earned more than $800 million at the box office worldwide.
Brendan Fraser returns as explorer Rick O’Connell, who now combats a resurrected Chinese Emperor, played by Jet Li, in a showdown that races from the catacombs of ancient China to the neon-lit streets of post-war Shanghai and high into the Himalayas. Rick is joined in this supernatural action-adventure by son Alex, again played by Luke Ford, and his archaeologist wife Evelyn – now exchanged for Maria Bello after Rachel Weitz dropped out this time around. The wife’s bumbling brother, Jonathan, is again played by John Hannah. This time, the O’Connells must stop a mummy awoken from a 2,000-year-old curse who threatens to plunge the world into his merciless, unending service.
Doomed by a wronged sorceress, Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh), to spend eternity in suspended animation, China’s Dragon Emperor and his 10,000 warriors have laid forgotten for eons, entombed in clay as a vast, silent Terracotta Army. But when O’Connell is tricked into awakening the ruler from eternal slumber, the reckless young archaeologist must seek the help of the only people who know more than he does about taking down the undead: his parents. As the monarch roars back to life, our accident-prone O’Connell’s find his quest for world domination has only intensified over the millennia. Striding the Far East with unimaginable supernatural powers, the Emperor Mummy will rouse his legion as an unstoppable, otherworldly force…unless the O’Connells can stop him first.
Characters newly introduced to The Mummy universe include Russell Wong as Zi Yuan’s love, Ming Guo, the Emperor’s loyal servant who is betrayed by his ruler; Liam Cunningham as Rick’s old friend and pilot, Desi “Mad Dog” Maguire; and acclaimed Chinese actor Isabella Leong making her Western film debut as the Dragon Emperor’s ageless tomb guardian, Lin. This time, the producers behind the juggernaut hits that launched it all – 1999’s The Mummy and 2001’s The Mummy Returns – wanted to head in a new direction to shake up the franchise having felt they had exhausted the possibilities in an Egyptian setting and were looking for a filmmaker who could take the trouble-seeking O’Connells out of Africa and expand their adventures to the continent of Asia. In a year when China seems permanently embedded upon the globe’s collective radar, it must have seemed a natural leap to take this money-spinning series to the ultimate location in Asia. The idea that the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an were mummies appealed to director Rob Cohen as a way of exploring the history of China during two periods – 200 B.C. and 1946 – and taking it in a whole new direction, out of Egypt and into Asia.
Seven years after the last outing, the mid-summer season seems perfect timing for this return. Shame it doesn’t really work out. Despite the fact that the O’Connell’s are ‘mummy magnets’ as Hannah puts it, the gloss has really worn thin in what was once a guaranteed blockbuster. Sure, there are some snappy special effects – but nothing you haven’t already seen before. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a thrill-ride fans of the series will no doubt love – for those less entranced by the franchise, it’s an overlong history lesson.