What is it about creature films that attract us? I don't think I have the answer to that. There is something beyond the majestic poetry of old creature films, the visceral madness of the horror creatures or the thrill-a-minute nouveau creatures, that just appeals to our basest instincts. I love creature films, and as bad as they can get, I watch them with unfettered glee.
That is a huge choke point for my review, though. The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor is a terrible film. For fans of the series (I don't know if there are any, but I am unashamed to say I used to be one), it is blight on the face of Arnold Vosloo, and for cinephiles, the hole-ridden plot is as forgettable as they come. The acting all around is atrocious, and if you have any sense you won't go watch this film. There, I've given you my verdict, if that is what you were after, so you can stop reading now.
I shall, for my part, however, continue to explain why it was a blast to watch for me. Coming back to the creatures and the kind of spectacle they create to draw us to them, I had a great time watching this over-the-top nonsensical film simply because it is so awfully bad, it takes a full circle and transgresses a little to the side of good.
The bad here is not Michael Bay bad, because that's awful, but it's creatively, ludicrously, in-love-with-itself bad. Weirdly enough, it becomes the kind of film that delivers on a level completely its own. I feel strange typing this, but this low-rent Indiana Jones rip-off franchise has more thrills and genuine moments than the 4th Indy earlier this year. It has everything - exotic places in its scope, tomb-raidin', creatures, gunfights, a father-son duo, dragons, stone horses on fire, Fu Lions, Yetis, an army of stone or some crap, and a little bit of Wu Xia thrown in.
Seriously, it may not be as cool as it sounds when I write about it (actually, it definitely isn't), but who cares? Freaking dragons, man! And that's the key - the unfettered love for creature films that drove me to watch this film is what should drive most of you to watch this film. Anyone looking for a genuine summer action film might want to take a peek in the next hall, because this one ain't it.
What it is, is a guilty pleasure - the kind you secretly like and don't tell your friends about. That's because all the creature love in the world can't save the fact that the script is utter trash. Not only is the plot completely nonsense, the writing is completely and utterly failing the purpose of dialog. Every now and then you hear somebody whine about how much they hate mummies. When there isn't a single one in the film.
The acting too is so terrible, it hurts to see the actors in any plot-expository sequence. Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and John Hannah are all in for a quick cheque, while the lovely Maria Bello will never fill the shoes that Rachel Weisz vacated. Brendan Fraser is the only one with that goofy aloofness that is required for the film to work, and while his constant scrambles for money shots are tiring, at least I didn't mind him much.
On top of that, the effects are completely slipshod. Not that they are cheap - but they look cheap. This is symptomatic of most summer films anyway, so you can discount that. What still shines through is the complete gall of director Rob Cohen. At absolutely zero cost to his imagination, he has managed to cram his film with completely ridiculous moments, ones that stand out as insanely ridiculous at times - but all awesome nonetheless.
It is very hard for me to count the merits or demerits of a film I know to be bad, but love that it is awesomely bad. This film is not for summer action fans, or Mummy fans, or even CGI fans. This is only for the twisted few among us that love their creatures and their over-the-top sequences. This is for the masochists who can decry the smaller niggles about masterpieces, but will defend a bad movie till their grave.