Between this job, where I catch 1-to-3 monster movies a month, and my job at a bookstore, where every other book I pick up is a paranormal romance about a half-vampire/half-werewolf/all-sexy chick whose quest to kill all the bad vampires can't fill the emptiness in her heart, I would swear there's something in humanity that doesn't want to be human.
Which makes no sense to me. This is the race that invented genocide and My Super Sweet Sixteen. You're more likely to be murdered by someone you know than a stranger. And if I can be honest for a moment, I hate you. In a daring twist, I'd like to suggest the real monster we all want to be is man.
Sadly, the human condition is just not as sexy as vampiresses or as hip as zombies. As played out as those other monster subgenres are, one area that's been consistently overlooked is the mummy. We can thank our studio overlords, then, that we've now got The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor to fill that void in our own monstrous but misunderstood hearts.
The fourth movie in the series, counting The Scorpion King — and you know I do, because that shit has got the Rock in it — it's far from necessary, but as far as unnecessary sequels go, it's worth at least a few of the dollars you'd spend to go see it.
Back in the day, Jet Li conquered his way to the throne of the Emperor of China, but for all his armies and magic, he couldn't conquer death. Witch Michelle Yeoh gives him that power, but won't give him her love — so when Li betrays her and her beau, Yeoh curses the Emperor and his soldiers, transforming them into terra cotta statues.
Back in the closer-to-present day, Luke Ford, son of renowned mummy-hunter Brendan Fraser, has unearthed the Emperor's tomb. At the same time, Fraser and Maria Bello are dragged out of retirement to deliver a priceless artifact back to China.
Bad news: the artifact can be used to revive the cursed Emperor. Seeking to unite post-War China and the world, a local warlord musters his troops to steal the artifact from Fraser and restore the Emperor's rule on earth.
Like its predecessors, Dragon Emperor is quick, breezy, and willing to dole out the action, be it your everyday kung fu or your not-as-everyday clash between an undead army and another army of a different kind of undead. It's a movie that wants to entertain you. That's a good thing for a movie to be. If you were a chick and it were a guy, you could go out with it for a couple friendly drinks without worrying about it trying to cram you into the back of its SUV when you left the bar.
Unlike its predecessors, it's not set in Egypt! Chinese mummies, man. Let that one settle in for a moment. Go on, mix up a G&T. I'm not going anywhere. Unlike your "real" friends, the Internet is always there for you.
The change of scenery lets the plot roll into less familiar mythological territory, at least, but though it's loosely inspired by real fables, a lot of Dragon Emperor's fantasy rules feel arbitrary. It's the oldest story in the book: get the Eye to unlock the Emperor who needs the Pool which blah blah blah. That's pretty much every plot in the Old Testament, and you know how old that book is? Old enough that they call it old, that's how old, so we're talking 1970 or something.
And that's OK. Immersion is the toughest trick in the fantasy playbook. If now and then the movie busts out some mumbo-jumbo line so cheesy-thick a family of Wisconsinites couldn't choke it down, it's also got just enough airy banter to atone. (And, thank the maker, not the obnoxiously self-aware banter of Mummy 2.)
The CG isn't too shabby, either. I'm getting tired of saying that — wow, it's like mondo-budget Hollywood blockbusters have access to programs more advanced than MS Paint — but it's still nice to be surprised by the beauty of a lethal avalanche or a fire-eyed, copper-patinaed hell-horse.
The human element doesn't fare as well. Dragon Emperor doesn't have the engaging characters that elevate an adventure movie from something fun to something great. But with a run time near two hours, director Rob Cohen keeps the wheels turning and the mummies lively. That'll do the trick.