Its 1947, and retired adventurers Rick OConnell (Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Bello) are summoned to China for one last job. But things get complicated when they turn up to find that their archaeologist son, Alex (Ford), has found the mummified remains
We never thought we’d say this, but where’s Stephen Sommers when you need him?
The previous Mummy films – particularly 2001’s The Mummy Returns – may have suffered from Sommers’ penchant for extraneous characters, overblown action sequences and decidedly ropy CG, but at least they were fun. They bounced along at a jolly old pace and had, in Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’Connell, a have-his-cake-and-eat-it-too action hero who poked fun at ridiculously overblown machismo while simultaneously slyly indulging. But Sommers is merely a producer on this belated addition to the franchise. Parachuted into his place is Rob Cohen, director of Stealth, and while he tries valiantly to keep things breezy, ultimately Cohen’s Mummy movie is a cold and lifeless husk that could have done with a big injection of the F-word.
The Mummy movies have always invited comparison to the Indy series, and those comparisons are more apt than ever this summer – especially when the opening reintroduces us to a very different Rick O’Connell. Bored, missing the juice of the hunt, like Indy, he’s the mythical hero, coming to terms with his own mortality. But this thread is dropped just minutes in when Rick and Evie (Maria Bello, replacing Rachel Weisz in body but not in spirit) recant their retirement and head to Shanghai, where – as luck would have it – their son Alex (Luke Ford), and Evie’s brother Jonathan (John Hannah, stranded as the comic relief to such embarrassing effect that you want to hug the poor sod), are currently stationed. And then Li’s Emperor is awakened and all hell breaks loose.
Well, tumbles loose might be more apt. There are decent ideas here – a chase through the streets of Shanghai is enjoyably frenetic and a battle between Han’s terracotta army and thousands of zombie soldiers showcases above-average effects. But too often the pacing is one-note and hampered by Cohen’s decision to shoot much of the action with a Bourne-style shaky-cam. For a franchise as determinedly old- fashioned as this, it’s a jarring choice. As for the big fights, they’re a huge disappointment – the much-hyped clash between Li and Yeoh is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stuff.
But most of the film’s problems stem from its clunker of a script, by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, riddled with clunky exposition, wafer-thin characters and plot developments that should be a giddy, pulpy delight, but which instead feel cold and devoid of real inspiration.The appearance of a friendly group of Yetis about halfway through, for example, is a world away from the audacious giggle it should have been.
Far more disastrous, though, is the decision to shift most of the focus from Fraser onto Ford as Alex, Rick and Evie’s chip-off-the-old-block son, presumably with one eye on future sequels. Notwithstanding the fact that Fraser looks like he could be Ford’s older brother, the newcomer is a charisma-free zone who may bring a certain physicality to the role, but can’t compete with Fraser’s carefree charm. Having said that, Fraser’s O’Connell here is a poor facsimile of the cocky chancer who lit up the first Mummy. The wisecracks are tired and infrequent, the heroics forced and routine. And for a series that may be named after its villain(s), but derived its spirit and drive from its hero, that’s an glaring flaw.
Competent, but so utterly bereft of any memorable moments that it becomes a bit of a bore. Perhaps its time for a reboot guy wrapped in bandages, shuffling around a pyramid, scaring people. You never know, it might just work.