The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, opening today, trades the sands of Egypt for the catacombs of ancient China
In that grossly-ignored year, 1999, when everyone was talking about Y2K from February itself, amidst the cyber punk revolution that was “The Matrix”, there was another film which went practically as far back in time as “The Matrix” went ahead. The film was “The Mummy”, a remake of a 1932 film where Boris Karloff played the never-say-die Egyptian priest Imhotep.
The film set in the early 1930s, told of the vengeful mummy of the priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), who comes back to life to torment all and sundry including librarian Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and her brother Jonathan (John Hannah). The only one who can save the world is adventurer Rick O’ Connell who goes ahead and does just that with requisite derring do. As an added bonus he gets the girl and the treasure.
The movie, directed by Stephen Sommers, followed the Indiana Jones template faithfully. In fact O’ Connell (an absolutely brilliant Brendan Frasier) even dressed like Indy. The effects were fine and the film had an overall likeable goofy charm. On the morning the film was released Sommers was told a sequel would have to be made. And so you had “Mummy 2” in 2001.
The film, unfortunately, did not push any envelopes and was just more of the same thing. Imhotep continues to try to get back with his girlfriend, the interestingly-painted Anck Su Namun while Evie, Rick, their 10-year-old son, Alex, and Jonathan try and save the world from evil ambitions of The Scorpion King (The Rock).
Fathers and sons
And now it is time for the third instalment for the franchise. Earlier this year, there was Indy doing his thing with his son Mutt in tow in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and now Rick has to undo his archaeologist son, Alex’s mistaken awakening of the Dragon Emperor.
The Han emperor played by martial arts superstar Jet Li has been in suspended animation for the last 2,000 years, thanks to a curse by evil sorceress (Michelle Yeoh). The Emperor and his terracotta warriors are hell bent on ruling the world and Alex turns to his parents, who know a thing or two about the un-dead.
The film is a departure from the earlier two in various ways. The sands of Egypt have given way to icy cold of the Himalayas and the catacombs of ancient China.
The glossy Vosloo steps aside for the feline charms of Jet Li. But the saddest blow is we would not be seeing the luscious Rachel Weisz as the sexy, scatty Evie. Weisz refused to reprise her role as there apparently were differences over the screenplay. That is a loss. Mario Bello is stepping into her shoes.
While Stephen Sommers directed the first two movies, “Dragon Emperor” is directed by Rob Cohen, who has helmed testosterone-heavies like “The Fast and the Furious” and “xXx”. Whether Cohen will be able to bring that gob-smacking power to the franchise is a point to be pondered. Maybe with Vin Diesel as the Dragon Emperor, gleaming pate, puppy eyes and all would have made for an interesting phenomenon.
As it stands we have goofy Brendan Frasier and John Hannah from the original cast and a whole lot of exotic orient thrown into the mix with a good measure of curses, special effects and race against death. All of which are absolutely essential for a crackling adventure story. Whether it translates to a blockbuster only time will tell.