|Always wanted to do that…|
Movies from the Multiverse-Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
I don’t know about you guys, but I loved the Mummy Movies (1&2 that is). They were cheesy, they were dumb but above all, they were entertaining as all Hell. The Mummy 2 especially was knee-slappingly hilarious, with its attempt to create a mythos that would, in turn, spawn a franchise but remaining above all competent at its attempt to carry a pretty straightforward narrative across.
Oh sure, it made a bunch of Egyptians and Egyptiologists mad and probably got Tutankhamen rolling in his grave, but those were the party-poopers that probably laughed along with everyone else when Xena: Warrior Princess took a major dump all over Greek Mythology, thereby rendering me oblivious to their collective butthurt.
This clip right here is the single most embarrassing moment in the history of pop culture for any native Greek speaker, by the way. I mean Kratos made us look cool and 300 turned our ancestors into testosterone-fuelled anti-personnel killing machines but this right here? This is like listening to a bunch of toddlers re-enacting their parent’s divorce proceedings.
But let’s get back to the movie, shall we?
I was hyped but also kind of hesitant upon learning that a new Mummy movie was in the works. Mummy 2, after eliminating its main antagonist in an orgasm of Egyptian occultism, pretty much tied any and all loose ends and eliminated any prospect of any sequels. The fact that the writers had chosen to use a Chinese mummy as the new antagonist also intrigued me, as this offered a ton of possibilities, occult-wise.
From the Dao to Buddhist practices to the shamanic rituals of the Hmong, the Wu and the Manchu, China has a very rich mythological occult culture that outshines that of Egypt but remains relatively unknown to the Western World.
Hell, even going with the standard 5 elements (Wind, Water, Fire, Earth, Wood) would have been more than enough to give the new bad guy the edge and the pizzazz he deserved.
I did not watch the movie, in the end. The nagging feeling that I had felt upon its announcement had not subsided at all and I acted against my friends’ urgings to go see it in theaters. I stayed in that night, enjoying a candlelit burger-and-fries meal while watching Brain Damage for the dozenth time.
|Because movies about alien brain-eating slugs that live in your tub are like fine wine: they mature with age.|
I was halfway through the film when my phone rang: it was one of my friends, who had called me barely 45 minutes into the film to give me his impression. His presentation was as eloquent as it was brief:
“It’s shit, dude”
*Click* Toot, toot, toot, toot…
Of course I did not watch the movie. I waited for it to be released on DVD and then had a long, thorough look at it myself. About a dozen of them to be precise, since the movie was as mediocre as it was forgettable but also chock-full of wasted potential. Trust me on this one: had the writers given just a little more of a shit about it, this movie could have become the best in the series, even spawning a franchise itself.
After long months of careful consideration and compiling evidence, I bring you my own version of the Mummy 3, one that hopefully sucks less than the iteration that we got. Do I believe that this version would be any more successful? No, not even close. Would it at least be much more enjoyable and memorable? Well, that’s up to you to decide.
So without further ado, here’s…
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (the Shapescapes Remix)
First off, let’s make something clear: while this movie is not going to be entirely historically accurate (what with its accuracy lost to audiences who just walked in to see some mind-numbing balls-to-the-wall action), some steps will be taken to ensure that it respects Chinese culture and history in general.
With that in mind, the Dragon Emperor in this case will be clarified as the Emperor Qin. The best known and most notorious of China’s Emperors, Qin commited a number of war crimes that helped him ascend to the throne, where he proceeded to turn the Empire into his own image: a cold, yet brutally efficient bureaucratic machine.
Qin, having made himself both hated and feared in all of the Empire, entombed himself with his personal army of terracotta warriors, so he could keep himself safe from the machinations of his enemies even in the afterlife.
Qin, having made himself both hated and feared in all of the Empire, entombed himself with his personal army of terracotta warriors, so he could keep himself safe from the machinations of his enemies even in the afterlife.
This iteration of the Dragon Emperor is a man who is bitter, angry as all Hell and above all, ruthless. His cold efficiency and his need for results without unnecessary fanfare will turn him into a formidable (yet predictable) antagonist.
Secondly, with the above in mind, the Dragon Emperor will be provided with the most iconic and easily identifiable Chinese occult powers: that is Four of the Five Daoist elements. While his power will fluctuate during the course of the narrative, let’s set him up somewhere between ‘kick-ass sorcerer’ and ‘unkillable necromancer’ but avoid crossing into the ‘God-like’ stature the movie tried to give him and failed to deliver.
The Dragon Emperor can control the Four elements of Dao with ease and shape them according to his every whim. With his superior control of the Earth Element, he can teleport through the ground or tunnel at considerable speeds or run across great distances without effort.
Control over Wind provides him with the power to manipulate the weather, spawn hurricanes and turn himself into mist. He can also fly in a limited fashion, accounting for his wire-fu.
Control of Fire is a crude but flashy power. The Dragon Emperor can heat metal near to boiling point, spit flame and quell fires. As the element of fire is also associated with Chinese necromancy, the Dragon Emperor can use it to glean information from the living by drinking their blood or devouring their organs.
Lastly, control of Water allows the Dragon emperor to cause rains, snow or kill a man by removing his blood with a thought. It also gives him superhuman agility and a limited shapeshifting capacity.
The Dragon Emperor however cannot traverse Wood or come in contact with it. As he is a necromantic creature, the Daoist element of life repels him and robs him of his powers. That’s not to say that you can beat him with a stick: it just means that he can’t teleport behind you if you’re standing in a golf course.
Lastly, one thing about the characters: Jon Carnahan is out of the picture.
John Hannah is an entertaining and above competent actor who is made for better things, not to be used as cannon fodder for the movie’s slapstick. There’s already going to be enough characters as it is and he’s only going to be a detriment. Besides, the Mummy movies have enough light-heartedness and humor to render a comedic relief character moot.
The fact that that Jon Carnahan was never funny did not help his case either.
But what about the rest of the characters? How do they measure up in this iteration? Let’s get a closer look:
Rick O’Connell the main character and survivor of two Mummy movies, has grown older. He’s a dad now and that’s taken a lot out of him, what with having to give up on his adventurous, carefree life in the first place.
From the tough-as-nails, reckless bastard that he was in the previous movies, now he’s matured into an actual (if stubborn and hard-headed) adult. In many ways, this Rick is like the cooler version of your dad: he’s driven, he’s irritating, he’s got a ton of cool stories to tell but he’s very very tired of it all.
He’s also locked in a bit of a conflict with you, what with you having grown up and him unwilling to give up the mantle this easy. But no matter how hard-assed, he’s still your dad and wants to cut you some slack.
Evellyn O’Connell is Rick’s counterpart and above all, his mate: where Rick was once a dashing rogue that went into danger head-first, Evellyn was always level-headed, knowledgable and calculating. When Rick began losing his shit at the prospect of being a dad instead of the adventurer, she was there to guide him.
Evellyn wants her son to take up his father’s mantle, but she also knows exactly how dangerous their line of work is. Even though their boy has proven his worth from a ripe young age, Evellyn wants him to give up and not go the way of his dad, whom she loves but sees as a bitter old bickering bastard.
Evellyn is like the cool version of your mom: she wants you to be the best you can be (and probably thinks you already are even though that’s not even close to the truth) but she also wants you to be safe and away from all this danger.
She’s also locking horns with you, though in a much more subtle manner: she wants you to be a better man than your father, but she’d hate to have to give you a closed-coffin funeral too.
“I just wanna go home and watch Game of Thrones.” “Me too baby, me too.”
Alex O’Connell is a smartass. He’s grown used to danger and is shaping up to become the spitting image of his old man back in his glory days and he secretly enjoys his rivalry with his dad.
But above all, Alex wants to be his own man. Dissatisfied with the life his parents are building for him, he wants to escape the confines of a safer and more rational existence and instead trek across the globe in search of danger and excitement.
Alex is going to change, though. His point of view is going to shift thanks to…
Lin: Capable, deft, deadly and in many ways Alex’s counterpart, Lin is the centennial keeper of the Dragon Emperor, tasked with his destruction. Like Evellyn, her loyalties are fierce and she will do anything to achieve her goal. Of course Alex pisses her off at first; what with being impossibly reckless, irresponsible and rudderless at first.
But Lin, for all her skill and prowess, has no true knowledge of the world beyond her very strictly set boundaries. Alex will be there to help her grow, of course.
Zi Yuan: In this iteration, Zi Yuan is ancient, powerful and almost inhuman. Alive for millennia, dwelling in Shangri-La, the resting place of the gods, Zi Yuan has grown detached from her humanity. Her hate for the Dragon Emperor (which led her to become the guardian of Shangri-La and the keeper of its secrets in the first place) is the only thing that remains to drive her.
Beyond that, she is ancient, uncaring and calculating. For her, Lin was an experiment in controlled immortality and an attempt to cultivate an agent capable of dealing with threats beyond the borders of Shangri-la (unlike her other children that we will soon see).
Zi Yuan is alive because of a circle curse placed on the Dragon Emperor: after witnessing the death of her husband, Zi Yuan gathered to her a number of conspirators, who enlisted the aid of a capable shaman. That shaman wove a spell that was fueled by the hate of the wronged men and women and targeted the Emperor, intending to make him waste away and bind his spirit to this world, denying him passage to the afterlife.
But the circle curse had its toll: hate, while potent, is highly toxic. It would kill the conspirators just as soon as it would dispatch the Dragon Emperor. Zi Yuan therefore chose to seek Sangri-La, so she could bathe in the waters of the gods and thus survive the toll of the circle-curse.
Almost two thousand years later, Zi Yuan remains, the name of her husband and fellow conspirators forgotten by her and history, dwelling in Sangri-La and mindlessly, aimlessly hating the Dragon Emperor for no reason that she can truly ever recall.
General Yan and the Mook Army is a man who honestly believes that the return of the Dragon Emperor would serve him. A clearer, more cleverly defined motive would help, but let us not forget that this is not a movie about its villains. Despite the depth this iteration tries to give its characters, it remains an action movie at heart and therefore does not need to give its secondary villain much of agoal.
But for the sake of Obsessive Compulsiveness, let’s consider General Yan a mad-eyed cultist, the likes of which you could find only in Lovecraft’s work; like them, Yan is wholly devoted to his undead lord, considering himself merely a vessel for his will, his life’s work and the work of his fathers fulfilled only by the service of the Dragon Emperor.
In this iteration, General Yan has almost no concern for his lives or those of his men. He has only purpose: the purpose to aid his master in crushing the world beneath his heel and then serving (or perishing) beside him.
With the main characters covered, it’s time we moved to…
The runtime of the film is exactly 90 minutes and the fluff I’ve just added on those characters is a veritable fuckton, which means that everything needs to be made clear right away, so we can get down to the explodin’ and the shootin’!
Because none of these guys came here to see a character study.
The movie begins with the Circle Curse, as the Wu shaman stands in the center of the circle of conspirators, giving us a good look at Zi Yuan, establishing her as one of the pivotal characters. She speaks the words of the curse aloud, in perfect synch with the other members.
“For my son, three years dead” says an old woman.
“For my daughters, tortured and rotting in a deep dark well.” Speaks an old man in general’s uniform.
“For you my love” Zi Yuan says.
The bile and hatred pours out of their mouths like acrid smoke that the shaman traps inside a clay jar. The jar stirs, glows a baleful red that he hands to Zi Yuan.
In his throne room, the Dragon Emperor screams as he is suddenly struck by waves of pain, unable to stand. He stumbles and falls, but his men daren’t touch him. They only watch as he screams and retches before them, stricken by some unimaginable disease.
“Thus, he will waste away. Thus, his soul will remain here, to dwell among the living, deprived of the afterlife.” As Zi Yuan reaches to take the jar, the shaman warns her “But know that such fate awaits you too.”
“We accept the risk”
The Dragon Emperor watches as his hand begins to wrinkle and his cheeks sink. He is dying, poisoned by the Circle Curse. Zi Yuan looks at the conspirators around her and sees that their hair begin to grow white as well. Wrinkles begin to ring her eyes. They are dying as surely as the Dragon Emperor.
Fast Forward to the movie’s current time, where we see the O’Connells in a train headed to Beijiing. They’re all quiet and very awkward, like families are after a huge fight.
“I didn’t need you guys to tag along” Alex says and the fight begins anew, as we see the father and son’s bickering and Evellyn as the perpetual mediator between them. We also get to see their relationship, even as we are introduced to Lin, who is in the same train as them. She has stowed away, following the General, knowing that this will take her straight to the Dragon Emperor. She incapacitates one of his assistants and takes her place, disguising herself among the cultists. We get to see the General, as he speaks to his men:
“We go to Beijing not to fight a war or to show our force. We go to Beijing to serve and to die, in the name of our Master. Your lives, my life, they are unimportant in the face of our mission. We are merely all vessels of the Dragon Emperor, moths drawn to his flame.
Know this, men: we may have to kill and we may have to die. But for every drop we will shed, He will grow stronger. And when we are but dust, so shall be the Earth, ground under his mighty heel.”
They converge to Beijing, where the Dragon Emperor’s mummy is set on display, to be destroys by the O’Connells according to the decree of the Communist government of China. General Yan and his men converge on the location, attacking the army and destroying the museum, even as they attempt to revive their Master. Lin breaks cover and breaks for the General, trying to kill him before he gets a chance to perform the ritual. She is stopped by Alex, who takes her for one of his men.
After a brief exchange of gunpowder and blows (and a failed attempt by Rick to stop the ritual), the Dragon Emperor rises from his slumber. This is the perfect point to begin showcasing the Emperor’s crudest, flashiest powers;
|By say, tearing apart an entire street, consuming an entire company of soldiers in an instant.|
As well as his invulnerability. Lin makes her way to the Emperor, to kill him before he is restored to his full power but doesn’t stand a chance. Alex saves her and then the Emperor dives inside the asphalt of Beijing along with General Yan and his surviving men, getting away.
The Chinese government, knowing exactly what the re-emergence of the Dragon Emperor could mean for them and the world, decides to aid the O’Connells and Lin any way they can. Despite her initial doubts, Lin soon realizes that she could not have survived her primary attack against the Dragon Emperor without Alex’s intervention. Meanwhile, Rick blames himself for failing to stop General Yan.
“I could have decked that bastard with a punch, when I was young.”
“You’re not young anymore.” Evellyn tells him.
Meanwhile, the Dragon Emperor regroups with his followers in Mongolia. He appears lost and confused, barely even comprehending modern Chinese. General Yan’s finest historian shows maps of China and the world to the Dragon Emperor, but he only stares.
“Is this man your most learned servant?” the Dragon Emperor asks.
The Emperor draws the historian’s blood with a touch, withering him and consuming his knowledge, becoming instantly informed of the world around him. This showcases his powers and also shows the true extent of Yan’s devotions, as he bends the knee to his lord:
Yan is not going to be sacrificed by the Dragon Emperor. Instead, he and his men are willing to die for him. The Emperor is, above all, a tactician and would not send his soldiers to die for no reason but this fierce devotion will serve him well.
The O’Connells are led by Lin and a number of Chinese agents into Tibet, currently caught in the throes of the Tibetan Rebellion, making their way to Sangri-La. Despite Lin’s original protestations, she has agreed to allow outsiders into Sangri-La, so she can stop the Dragon Emperor from being restored to his full power.
In this iteration, Sangri-La is more than the resting place of the gods. It is also the most powerful center of occult power in China, its ancient gleaming spires built around the Fountain of Eternal Life. Should the Dragon Emperor reach this place, he should be restored to the fullest extent of his power. But he will be vulnerable as he enter’s Yi Zuan’s domain and therefore prone to be destroyed.
Their aeroplane is shot as the Emperor, emerging from the roots of Mount Everest, notices them and calls a snowstorm that crashes them into the mountain. The heroes, having lost their edge, begin a race to Sangri-La, as we see them clash with the cultists, who quickly overpower them
Just as their situation appears bleak, Lin shows her occult powers: by dipping a horn in the blood of her enemies, she summons her brothers in the snow. Now, in the interest of making this movie interesting, imagine this:
|This is the movie’s original presentation of the yeti: competent, but also boting. Also, an unnecessary 3d monstrocity.|
But in this version, the Abominable Snowmen are not yeti. Imagine, if you will, ancient ice cracking, as human limbs, clad in stone armor burst out of the snow. Think of men tumbling down the slopes answering the call of their youngest sister and their mother’s incantation. Imagine men as white as snow with eyes as blue as glaciers, armed with spears and wicked blades, descending on the cultists.
|tl;dr something like this.|
“What the hell are these things?”
“They’re yeti. They’re my brothers” Lin responds casually.
The Dragon Emperor sees his men decimated and joins the battle. Killing one of the Yeti, he learns the location of Sangri-La and heads toward it. Alex tries to stop him by exploding a pass and is saved by Rick at the very last moment. He is badly wounded in the process, barely alive. Lin promises them a cure, should they make it in time.
This version of Shangri-La, in its glory days.
Our heroes barely make it to Sangri-La, with only moments to spare. They are greeted by Yi Zuan and her Yeti guard, who do not welcome these strangers to their home. Shangri-La is their home; it has been ruined after all those millennia, abandoned by the mysterious race that had built it. The few that have remained are degenerate descendants, barely sentient things that have grown senile but kept alive thanks to the Fountain of Eternal life.
The Yeti, Yi Zuan explains, are her ageless sons and daughters, trained by her for the sole purpose of defending the Fountain from the Dragon Emperor. The thought of her finally enacting here revenge makes her forget about the O’Connells. Even those strangers could be useful allies, even as cannon fodder.
Lin explains to Alex that she is over 100 years old, created by her mother as a new breed of agents for exactly this purpose: revenge on the Dragon Emperor. Her mother cannot survive for long periods of time away from Shangri-La, but she can.
“And what will you do? When he’s dead?” Alex asks.
Lin doesn’t answer.
The Dragon Emperor attacks Shangri-La and finds himself confronted on all sides. While his control of the elements allows him to sweep aside his enemies, the power of Yi Zuan’s sorcery and her control of the element of Wood nearly derpives him of his powers.
Yi Zuan moves in for the kill, throwing caution to the wind, challenging the Dragon Emperor. They fight like demigods, tossing each other against the rock amid fire and explosions, until the Emperor finds an opening and strikes her through the heart. They tumble into the Fountain and the Dragon Emperor rises…
His power restored.
His form shifting and mercurial, his magic restored, the Dragon Emperor makes short work of the heroes and glides away on the wind to the location of his tomb, to summon his terracotta soldiers, leaving Shangri-La in ruins.
While the Dragon Emperor is an impossibly powerful sorcerer, however, he is no longer undead (having been exposed to the waters of the Fountain), making him once again vulnerable to the Circle Curse, which begins to drain Yi Zuan as well. She knows it, but is willing to take the risk of dying by accelerated aging away from Shangri-La, for hate’s sake.
The Dragon Emperor knows this, but his survival comes second. First, he needs to awaken his soldiers and lead them to march upon the world. Meeting General Yan and his surviving soldiers, his makes his way to his ancient tomb.
Our heroes arrive in the middle of a firefight, as the Chinese Army (mobilized beforehand) attempts to intercept the Dragon Emperor and his cultists and perhaps destroy the teracotta army before they get a chance to awaken.
Rick and Alex join the fight, confronting General Yan, as Lin and Yi Zuan attack the Dragon Emperor. Their attack plan is solid and counteracts the Emperor’s shapeshifting abilities. But Yi Zuan calls the Emperor out as Lin moves in for the kill, stopping her; she wants him to die by her hand. She speaks the Circle Curse on the Emperor, who shades his dragon-ape form to assume that of his mortal shape. He wishes to kill Yi Zuan with his own two hands.
|“My only regret is that I cannot make you die slower.”|
Yi and the Emperor clash, but she is no match for him. Despite what little healing power of the Fountain remains, Yi is growing older by the second. Her body and mind fails her in the battle and she’s wounded horribly, her belly torn open by the Dragon Emperor’s sword.
It is Evellyn that finds her in this state, withering and bleeding out, but somehow kept alive despite the trauma. Yi explains the nature of the Circle Curse to Evellyn and she understands.
“Hate begot hate begot hate. And now here you are, kept alive for hate’s sake.” Evellyn says, before plunging the dagger in Yi Zuan’s heart, killing her. The Circle Curse is now broken. The Dragon Emperor is now fully mortal.
General Yan has fought Rick and Alex valiantly. Even though the General has gotten the upper hand, his momentary lapse as he sees his Master fly to his tomb gives Alex the time he needs to shoot him. The General’s gaze does not waver. He has served his master well.
The Dragon Emperor awakens his terracotta soldiers. They are creatures of the Earth: tireless, capable of gliding through rock that are indestructible as long as they are contact with the ground. While the Chinese Army has an obvious advantage by virtue of firearms, the soldiers move through the ground among their ranks and kill them, even as a new soldier is spawned from each fragment of the previous one.
Rick, Alex and Lin make their way into the tomb to confront the Dragon Emperor. He shapeshifts to make up for his enemy’s number and skill: from a giant ape-thing, to a wolf to a creature with the head of a hawk and the body of a leopard. Alex collapses a part of the tomb, forcing the emperor into a tight space where he would be unable to make use of his shapeshifting ability. Lin goes at him head on, but the Emperor assumes the form of a constrictor snake and crushes her bones.
In the end, Rick decides to attack the Emperor, giving Alex time to come from behind. Now at this point, I’d like to ask you a question: if you were Jet Li, playing a 2 thousand year old war criminal emperor wizard, would you even bother going for a fistfight with an uppity American adventurer?
The Dragon Emperor breaks Rick’s limbs in a matter of seconds, leaving him to writhe helpless on the floor, before Alex has made his move. His attack fails and is about to be killed by the emperor, just as Rick forces himself to lunge at his enemy and keep him occupied long enough for Alex to stab him in the back, into his heart.
The Dragon Emperor perishes and his army perishes with him, collapsing into the dust.
The movie ends, with Rick recuperating in the hospital. Lin gives up on Shangri-La, left ruined and inhaited only by the Yeti and its mad people, choosing instead a life with Alex and senility in
exchange for the maddening howl of the Himalayan tops. And Evellyn, who has seen the true face of hate, finally convinces Rick that the time has come to give up the mantle.
“I could have done it myself you know, if I was ten years younger.”
“I know Rick, I know.” Evellyn tells him.
“Thank God for Alex, huh?”
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