In Defense Of "The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor"

In all the years that I've attempted to write or talk about film in a serious manner, at no point did I ever conceive that I'd one day be writing a post with a title beginning, "In Defense of The Mummy..." Yet here we are today: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor sits at 10% on Rottentomatoes and the reviews are absolutely brutal. Here's but a sampling of some of the vitriol being spewed about this movie:

Masswyrm from Aintitcool writes:

[T]his looks distinctly like what it is. S***. Unmitigated, inexcusable s***. I can't remember the last time I looked around and saw so many critics positively mortified to be watching what they were watching. We were embarrassed to be in that theater. It is a humbling, humiliating experience that will take anyone who bitched about nuked fridges and swinging monkeys and show them just how much Spielberg and Lucas actually got right.

Stephen Holden from the New York Times writes:

In the movie's futile drive to conjure visceral excitement, the action sequences are edited into an incoherent jumble that makes you feel trapped on a rickety airplane sitting in a pool of yak vomit.

Friend of /Film, Eric D. Snider writes the following about The Mummy:

At first I thought the film seemed like an Indiana Jones rip-off, but now I'm not sure it's even that good. It's more like an imitation of a rip-off, like Cohen and Co. once heard someone describe an Indiana Jones rip-off and they just copied down whatever they could remember, and then added some yeti.

Ouch. This hatred is so palpable, it reminds me of the good old days when all the poisonous screeds were reserved for Sex and the City.

In brief, my thoughts about The Mummy? I expected to absolutely hate it, but I saw it today and I actually had somewhat of a good time! The movie is by no means good: The script is atrocious (especially when it comes to the family elements of the story), the jokes are thoroughly unfunny, the CGI is extremely fake-looking, and Maria Bello (who is extremely talented and who was obviously great in films like A History of Violence and The Cooler) does a British accent that's cringe-worthy; truly a poor man's Rachel Weisz, at least for this series of films. And don't even get me started on the Asian characters! With the exception of Michelle Yeoh's Zi Juan, all of the Asians in this movie exist solely to either a) Spread evil, b) Be killed horrifically by booby traps, or c) Be seduced by white people.

All of this is stuff that would usually offend me deeply. So why write a piece defending this movie? Because ultimately, I can stand bad movies like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. What I can't stomach is hypocrisy.

Let's take a closer examination at some of the complaints that people have leveled against this film. Lousy CGI? Check. Laughably bad script? Check. Clumsy action direction? Check. Unearthing an old franchise that should have stayed in the ground? Check. Jokes that fall flat? Check. Sound like another movie about an archaeologist adventurer that was also released this summer?

That's right: If The Mummy was retitled Indiana Jones 5 and the characters replaced with the ones from that universe, it would not be getting a 10% on Rottentomatoes. So why do critics give Indy 4's flaws a pass and harp on The Mummy?

Obviously a huge part of it is that Spielberg is significantly more competent overall than Cohen; at least all of the actions scenes in Indy 4 were comprehensible, which is more than I can say for parts of the Shanghai chase scene in The Mummy. Cohen also makes a number of other baffling choices, like shooting a fight scene between Yeoh and Jet Li in slow motion (WTF?). But more than that, there's obviously a huge nostalgia that's attached with Indiana Jones and the characters in that universe. Many people (including myself) regard Raiders as a masterpiece. Most of us do not have similarly fond feelings for Rick O'Connell and his family.

However, in some sense, that's actually a strength of the film. The Mummy is utterly ridiculous for a variety of reasons, with the Yetis being the incomprehensibly stupid monkey/vines sequence of this film. However, if you accept the fact that it's not meant to be serious entertainment, it actually delivers on the promise of a decent action flick, all without desecrating your hallowed childhood memories like that other film. What's more, from a production-design standpoint, the movie looks fantastic and you can really see every dollar of its $145 million production budget on screen. These elements don't make a good film, but they can surely make a mildly enjoyable one.

Perhaps Devin Faraci from CHUD put it best when he wrote the following:

[The Mummy] delivers on a kind of thrills that Indiana Jones didn't even seem to bother with earlier this summer. Weirdly enough, Rob Cohen has beaten Spielberg in his own game of archeological adventure...The Mummy has things like gunfights (where the heroes shoot guns! And kill bad guys!) and booby-trapped tombs, and it has a sense of scope as it travels from deserts to the snowy Himalayas with a stop for a chase in Shanghai along the way...Sitting through The Mummy and enjoying it on a base level made me realize just how hugely Indiana Jones failed.

I took a lot of flak for having some criticisms of The Dark Knight, forcing some people to be reminded that it's actually possible to love a film and think that it's great, but still find flaws with it. Similarly, it's possible to think a film is crappy, campy fun without thinking it's anything more. The Mummy is not the worst movie of the summer; it's probably not even the worst film in theaters this week! I'm not saying you should go out and see it, but it's certainly worth a matinee with the family, or a rental on DVD if you're looking for a light-hearted, nonsensical action film. Also, if you happen to be watching TV and flip past it, it might be worth lingering for a few minutes. In any case, it's certainly not the toxic mess that everyone's leading you to believe it is. This movie will not be as profitable as the first two iterations were, but it deserves better than to be ignominiously shat out the bottom of the collective film critic world's poop chute.

Discuss: Enough about my thoughts – Have any of you seen The Mummy this weekend? If so, what did you think?Also, be sure to tune in Monday night at 10 PM EST / 7 PM PST as we review The Mummy with legendary actor Stephen Tobolowsky!