It's difficult to write about the new The Mummy movie without comparing it to Indiana Jones, which returned and disappointed earlier this summer. When The Mummy series started back in 1999 it, surprisingly, stood up well against the rival archeologist. Brendan Fraser, who had been such a loveable oaf in George of the Jungle, brought his goofy charm to the role of a British archaeologist and a franchise was born. The Mummy 2, like Indy 2, was a disappointment. This third instalment however is not half-bad, although I did wonder if this positive reaction was just relief that Rick O'Connell's first atomic age adventure didn't make the same mistakes that Indiana Jones 4 did when venturing deeper into the 20th century. Thankfully The Mummy doesn't forget its history and remains a tomb-raiding yarn without attempts to break genre conventions. For better or worse we get exactly what it says in the title: a mummy, a tomb and a dragon emperor.
However, like Indy 4, this new film is far too obsessed with setting up the protagonist's son as an action hero worthy of carrying the franchise forward. And seeing Fraser, who is yet to turn 40, playing a retired adventurer is a bit bizarre when Harrison Ford can still believably crack the whip in his sixties. There is some updating. The action has moved from Egypt to China, but the biggest change is the decision to replace Rachel Weisz with Maria Bello as Evelyn. This switch is cleverly acknowledged when Evelyn is asked at a book reading whether the character Scarlett O'Keefe who appears in her books The Mummy and The Mummy Returns is based on her. With tongue firmly in cheek Bello's first words directly to camera are, "I am a completely different person". And she is. Bello is known for playing characters with fight and her Evelyn is less prissy, more gregarious and pushier than Weisz's English rose.
Playing Rick and Evelyn's 21-year-old-son Alex is the newcomer Luke Ford and his square jaw and tall stature make him look much more of a hero than his screen father. It's an impression borne out in a story that sees Alex try to come out of the shadow of his father and make his mark on the world of archaeology. He goes a long way to doing this by discovering a terracotta army in a tomb housing evil Emperor Han (Jet Li). Han, as Alex soon finds out, is a super-charged Mummy and so dad still needs to help out when the villain inevitably escapes. and in one spectacular sequence, everyone is grateful for the help of some outlandishly powerful Yetis. It's after this that things get a little silly with the director Rob Cohen making the mistake of thinking that bigger and more spectacular special effects make for a better entertainment. Yes, the reincarnated Chinese armies look great but they're a faceless bunch that we don't care for. Indeed, the failure to create satisfying villains is the film's major, but not quite fatal, Achilles heel.