The_Mummy_Tomb_PosterIt took seven years to get a sequel to the Mummy Returns. Helmed by the Fast and the Furious and Dragonheart director Rob Cohen, The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is set in China.

Rick and Evie’s grown son Alex has followed in his parent’s footsteps and has discovered the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.  While investigating, he meets a ninja named Lin, who tries to stop him from making the kind of mistakes the O’Connells are prone to making.

Meanwhile, Rick and Evie have settled into a less hectic lifestyle, with Evie writing pulp romance novels inspired by their adventures.  They are asked to transport an artifact to China which leads them to meet Evie’s brother Jonathan in Shanghai where he has a mummy themed restaurant called Imhoteps. They meet up with Alex and Li who has joined him as they need to stop the Dragon Emperor who was raised by Chinese General Yang.

This leads our gang on an adventure that includes women thousands of years old, Yetis and good guy mummies.  The end result is mixed.  The adventure is there, the humor is there.  And the effects are greatly improved.

It serves the franchise well that they left Egyptian Mummies behind, giving them a fresh setting.  The majestic mountains of China make for an impressive backdrop.

The thing that feels off most of all is the change for Evie.  While most of the primaries returned, Rachel Weisz did not.  While Maria Bello is a perfectly fine actor, she has a different presence, so much so that Evie feels like a noticeably different character, especially next to Fraser who is the same Rick O’Connell.

The film is a decent enough sequel, though not anything special unless you are a die hard fan of the franchise.

The_Mummy_Returns_posterStephen Sommers returns to helm the next installment of the franchise.  Set about ten years after the first film, Rick and Evie are married and maverick adventuring archaeologists.  Think if Indiana Jones was rich, rather than a college professor.  With their young son, Alex, they explore an ancient site and discover artifacts related to the fabled Scorpion King.

The film actually begins by establishing the myth.  In his film debut, Dwayne Johnson (billed in the film as The Rock) is the Scorpion King.  A fierce Warrior who wandered the desert and on the verge of death made a pledge to the god Anubis.  In the present day, a Cult has resurrected Imhotep with the help of Meela, the reincarnation of his beloved Anck-Su-Namun.

Alex tries on a bracelet that reveals a map to the oasis of the Scorpion King…and the bracelet won’t come off.  This sets into motion both the O’Connells and Imhotep racing to the oasis.

The Mummy Returns is guilty of the sequel tendency to be “bigger”.  Every action scene is a major event.  Every character a greater purpose.  Evie suddenly has super fighting skills, and it is discovered she is the reincarnation of Nefertiti, daughter of the Pharoah and opponent of Imhotep and Anck-Su-Namun.  And Rick? Well, he is revealed to actually be Magi (with magical knowledge of their code phrases) the watchers over Imhotep from the first film (Oded Fehr returns as Ardeth Bay).  They must fight an army of pygmy mummies.  I mean, the movie is full of mummies beyond Imhotep.

This is not to say the film is not fun.  It actually carries a lot of the spirit of the first one.  The action is fun, there are daring saves, exciting sword fights and so on.  The film relies on the same humor of the first.

The digital effects are mostly on par with the previous film. There were not real leaps in technology for these films, and it all looks…okay.  But there is one glaring issue here.  Even by the standards of digital effects in 2001 (and remember, this is post “Phantom Menace”)?  The digital Scorpion King monster looks absolutely terrible.  It looks like a sub par video game creature.

In spite of the ridiculous flourishes (reincarnation for Evie, Rick being Magi, etc) the Raiders of the Lost Ark feel still works in the film, and it comes out as a fairly decent sequel.

You Gotta Go

It is a very common movie tactic to have the couple whose relationship has collapsed.  One has moved on, and one, usually our main character, has not.  They are frustrated, even bitter, about how things have turned out.  But it really about regrets.  They still love their ex and would be back with them in a flash.  But of course, the person who moved on is now in a relationship.  And so screenwriters have a problem…how to get the person out of the way before the stories end.  And outside of romantic comedies, the solution can often be…um..drastic.

I am about to spoil the crap out of the movie San Andreas.

In San Andreas, Dwayne Johnson’s Ray Gaines and his wife fell apart after the death of one of their daughters.  This has led to Carla Cugino’s Emma having moved on with Ioan Gruffudd’s Daniel Riddick.  And of course, their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is caught in between.  You know that the film wants to get Ray and Emma back together.  But they do not have time for the two to have a mature discussion and then an amicable breakup with Daniel.  Instead, the film knows what must be done.  Daniel must die.

This happens repeatedly in films.  Bait.  2012. The Fate of the Furious (sort of).  This is a quick and easy way to resolve the problem.  Now, in some cases, such as Bait, the person killed gets to be heroic.  Which, I guess is nice.

But it is just as likely to be rather unceremonious.  In the aforementioned San Andreas, Daniel is with Blake when a massive earthquake collapses a beam on their car.  Blake is trapped and Daniel promises he will get help.  Except, he basically runs off screaming.  In fact, Daniel is repeatedly shown to be cruel and cowardly right up until his death.  Up until the point he leaves Blake, he had come across as a pretty decent and nice guy.  He was kind to Blake and was clearly into having a good relationship with Emma.

But here is the thing.  He is a romantic rival.  And he is physically positioned in an opposition to the Rock.  While Johnson is large and muscular, Gruffudd is a slighter frame.  He works in an office, he is not physically imposing or tough.  And this is kind of coded to suggest he is a weak opposition who needs to be swept aside.  Making him a vile coward who leaves her daughter to die, while she rushes to find Blake with Ray allows for her to first be angry and then forget about Daniel entirely.

This type of flourish tends to be unnecessary.  In the case of San Andreas, you could have made a far better dramatic moment of Daniel running to the door, calling for help and the  Ben and Ollie characters seeing him.  They race to the door and Daniel returns to the car to start trying to get Blake out.  Daniel, Ben, and Ollie work to get Blake’s leg’s free.  As they are getting her out, Daniel realizes that for her to successfully get free, he will have to stay in a position that will result in his death.  Saving Blake is what he sees as important, and to the horror of the other three, Daniel allows himself to be crushed for their survival.

The fact is, none of Daniel’s later scenes add anything to the film.  So you do not lose anything.  And he is an entirely unnecessary villain.  Natural Disaster stories do not inherently require a human villain.

It seems like the main reason such choices are made are that a romantic rival is made to be not just an impediment to the hero’s romantic situation, but a threat to (most often) their masculinity.  And this is where things get to be troubling.  The need to make a villain out of the rival to the extent that they are a legit villain before they are killed is a troubling attitude to perpetuate.  Killing off a character to make a romatic connection happen is pretty lazy story telling.

The_Mummy_1999_PosterIn the 1930’s an ancient book has been discovered.  with the help of her brother and drunken adventurer Rick O’Connell, librarian Evie Carnahan leads an expedition to locate a lost city and the tomb full of treasures and antiquities.  They are racing against mercenary thieves. Both sides have a person who has been to the lost city before(Rick for Evie and the mercenaries have the cowardly Beni).  Upon finding the city, both sides set to exploring the tomb they find at the center.  Each has a piece of the puzzle, Evie a key to the  Book of the Dead, the other group has the Book.

After discovering a corpse that seems to still be fresh, in spite of its age, Evie gets drunk and reads from the Book of the Dead.  This sets off a chain of events that could result in the end of the world. On a more personal level, Rick and Evie must find a way to stop Imhotep from using Evie to bring back his beloved Anck Su Namun.

While the Mummy has traditional been a character of horror canon, this film takes a very different approach.  Stephen Sommers opts for an Indiana Jones style adventure full of crazy action and special effects.  Lighter on the gruesome and elevating comedy, this is a fun film.

It’s heavily reliant on digital effects, and almost two decades later they hold up to varying degrees.  It definitely dates the film, and yet, in the end, does not change that it is a pretty solid action movie.

The cast turns in entertaining performances.  Rachel Weisz is charming as the beautiful, clumsy and ambitious Evie.  Brendan Fraser channels Indiana Jones with swagger and goofball confidence.Sommers regular Kevin J. O’Conner is funny as the duplicitous Benji who ends up helping Imhotep to save his skin.

The film’s approach to the Mummy mythology is nicely thought out, tying Imhotep’s return to the ten plagues that beset Egypt in the Old Testament.  The film even connects the oppression of the Jews under Egypt with Benji trying a variety of religious symbols to ward off Imhotep, only for Imhotep to pause when he sees a Star of David.

The Mummy is full of action and humor.  It still holds up in spite of the dated effects.

Deep_Blue_Sea_PosterScientists may have cracked the code for an Alzheimer’s cure. but they need to keep their funding.  Rich business man and adventurer Russell Franklin needs convincing, so he is visiting their research facility.  The facility is a floating fortress, with most of it being below water.  The reason for this is that the research involves sharks.

It is the weekend, so it is a bare bones staff of scientists, a shark wrangler, an engineer and the cook.  The shark wrangler, Carter, has a checkered past and this concerns Russell in the beginning.  As a storm approaches, they try and prove their success with Russell.  Russell (as well as Carter) is startled to see just how smart the sharks seem.  When a tragic accident forces the team to try and medivac out a scientist, the storm interferes and gives the shark an open.  In a freak series of events, the facility is heavily disabled.

The crew is forced to outwit the sharks and try to reach the top of the facility, which is sinking fast.  Russell is stunned when Dr. McAlester confesses they broke laws regarding genetic research and have genetically altered the sharks’ brain structure, making them larger and smarter.

The cast of characters are pretty stock characters, I mean, Samuel L. Jackson’s Russell Franklin is the type of guy you expect him to be.  Cause this is Sam Jackson.  He is quietly intense, but also loud and bombastic.  Carter (the Punisher’s Thomas Jane) is calm and smart, rarely rattled.  Preacher (the cook) is kind of the stereotypical Black Movie Guy.  Sarcastic attitude and brief comments about God (the character’s backstory includes being a failed pastor).  But LL Cool J has fun with the role.  At one point Preacher believes he may not make it and grabs a video camera to leave a legacy…it is not quite what you expect.

The sharks are a combination of digital and practical.  The mechanical practical sharks actually look really good.  The digital ones vary from scene to scene.

Easily one of Renny Harlin’s better films, Deep Blue Sea is a fun thrill ride of a film with a good cast.

 

Cleanup In Aisle 4 (Bait, 2012)

Bait_Poster

Bait is trying to be a terrifying drama set in a below ground grocery store after a massive tsunami hits.  The film actually opens up a year earlier in the life of a young couple who are engaged.  A shark kills the young woman’s brother, and her fiance fails to save him.  He blames himself and damages the relationship.  When she shows up in the grocery store with a new man, her former fiance is not thrilled.

There is a subplot with a robbery gone bad, a police officer who has a strained relationship with his daughter and her boyfriend.  This is all interrupted by a tsunami, which fills the grocery store and the parking garage.  Trapped inside, the people start to try and work out a way to get to the surface.  This becomes much more complicated when several large sharks get in.

Bait means to give meaning to the lives and deaths of the characters, but what ends up happening is characters die for terrible convenience…the new boyfriend dies heroically, but it is clear he had to die so that the original couple could rekindle their relationship.

I do not have a ton to say about this film…the drama is overwrought, the sharks painfully cartoonish and there are no actual scares.

Worst Plan Ever (Shark Night 3-D, 2011)

Shark_Night_PosterShark Night 3-D is the exciting tale of pretty college students under siege by digital sharks in a swamp.  Oh, this may sound like a Sy Fy film, but it actually appeared in theaters.

All the kids are going to Sara’s family home.  After the camera follows the drive at high speed and set to a pop alternative rock song.  They meet up with some hicks who have a grudge against Sara. These are the kind of stereotypical creepy hicks who hate things like “learnin'”.  And one has apparently filed his teeth into “shark” teeth.  Foreshadowing.  They also meet the local water sheriff played by Donal Logue.  Just a good old boy who still likes Sara.  Not romantically.  Just buddies.

While water skiing, a shark takes the arm off of one of the kids.  This unleashes a series of problems that just get worse and worse.  But the guy who lost an arm and a whole lot of blood manages to stab a hammerhead shark to death in revenge for another shark eating his girlfriend.

Of course, the film does not leave it a mystery as to why the swamp is full of random sharks.  Some of the creepy hicks did it.  You know why?  To get rich.  Ah ha!  An elaborate ransom scheme?! No!  Do you guys know how popular Shark Week is?!  DO YOU???? The creepy hicks think if they feed people to the sharks and film it, they will rake in the cash.  So, yeah, not really a well thought out plan.

When the characters with the most depth and personality are the embarrassingly stereotypical redneck hicks, you know there are problems.  I find myself forgetting just which of the characters died.  I would wonder about where a character was…or worse, why they were suddenly back on the boat.

I feel like I need to say something positive.

The digital sharks look okay.  Is that something?  Yeah, that qualifies.

the_Last_Shark_PosterEnzo G. Castellari‘s 1981 shark epic is in no way an unofficial remake of Jaws.  It is entirely it’s own film with a unique plot.

The Last Shark is the story of a small town with a beach intended just for swimmers.  No sharks allowed.  And this one gigantic great white shark, we will call him Sharkey,  gets pissed about this bigotry and segregation.  Okay, well, not really, I mean, Sharkey is a shark, people.  A big shark.

Anyways, there are a couple shark attacks and a guy keeps trying to tell the Mayor there is a shark.  The mayor does not want to hurt tourism, so he keeps it a secret.  And then a shark attacks people at a big event in front of a television audience no less.  So some guys get in a boat and hunt the shark  Completely different from Jaws.  See?  I mean, the “No Sharks Allowed” rule at Chief Brody’s beach was more implied.

This shark actually looks better than in Jaw 3-D two years later.  That does not mean it looks good.  Just better.  The shark is a combination of stock footage of different kinds of sharks and a big immobile model.  The model bobs up out of the water to “scare” people.

The film is full of shots of people doing things in slow motion.  Running into the water.  Running out of the water. Flotation balloons moving through the water.  People windsurfing.  There is a lot of slow motion shots in this film.  A whole lot. Like, this hour and twenty minute film would be around thirty eight minutes if those slow motion scenes were played at a regular speed.

Really, the Last Shark is pretty unbearably boring that figures as long as you see a fin cut through the water and people in their swimsuits…and a cut rate Quint and the audience will be all in.  And uh…well, you might be shocked to discover that this simply is not true.

Jaws_the_Revenge_PosterApparently, the one thing that could kill the shark was this film.  Opening up shortly before Christmas, we find Sean Brody is now working for the Amity police.  He lives with his mother (a returning Lorraine Gary).  He is called out to take care of a log floating in the bay.  As he tries to get the log, a large great white shark attacks Sean.

Mike comes home to be with his grieving mother and invite her to return with him to his Bahaman home where he is studying snails.  She gives in, though starts expressing a belief that the shark has returned to take out the family.  And sure enough, once in the Bahamas, the shark appears.

Most of the film is spent with Michael and local pilot Hoagie trying to convince Ellen that it is all coincidence, but she knows better.  In the meantime, Mike and his research partner Jake are secretly studying the giant great white.

While the idea that Ellen would be obsessed with the notion that the shark is seeking revenge on her family is intriguing…it is undermined by the fact that she is right.  The shark is calculated, ignoring people who are not related to the Brody family (one death is because the shark misses a Brody) and showing itself a skilled hunter, navigating its way through a sunken ship. The dialog also seems to ignore that Chief Brody killed the previous to sharks, with Ellen and Mike talking as if this new shark is the same shark from earlier films.

The film gets even more improbable.  It pretty much eats a plane (of course the shark downed a  helicopter in the second film).  The shark pops out of the water and roars.  Like a dinosaur.

Jaws: the Revenge completely ignores Jaws 3-D, and tries very hard to ties itself to the first film.  There are several duo-toned clips from the original, meant to draw parallels.  Except, they are presented in a way that implies they are memories of Ellen’s. But she is recalling things she never witnessed.  Martin killing the shark, Sean being killed by the shark…and so on and so on.

Really, all those call backs just bring more attention to how anemic this film is.  Even Michael Caine couldn’t save it.

Jaws_3D_PosterJaws 3-D was almost titled National Lampoon’s Jaws 3, People Zero…or so the story goes.  Spielberg apparently nixed the idea.  Instead, we got Jaws 3-D.  Set years after the second film, Mike Brody works for Sea World and is dating marine biologist Kay.  His little brother Sean comes in for a visit and becomes smitten with Kelly, a Sea World Performer.

Sea World is preparing to unveil its new Undersea Kingdom…a sprawling underwater complex for tourists to enjoy.  Overseen by the flamboyant Calvin Bouchard, he spares no expense when he sees potential dollar signs.  He also brings in celebrity game hunter Manimal…uh…Philip Fitzroyce.  Manimal…look it up, folks.

A baby great white enters the bay and is trapped inside.  When discovered Kay convinces Bouchard to allow her to catch it for study, noting that having the only great white in captivity would bolster Sea World’s reputation.  But baby jaws is the least of their problems when momma comes looking for her baby.

Jaws 3-D features an all new cast, with Dennis Quaid stepping into the shoes of Mike Brody.  The film actually has a pretty good cast.  Lea Thompson (in her film debut) as Sean’s love interest and Louis Gossett Jr. are fairly memorable.

But the story just is not all that compelling.  Moving the setting to a theme park might make it all look bigger, but it is a pretty hollow story with no real emotional resonance.

In addition, I would say the film has some of the worst shark effects of the entire film, with the sharks looking like plastic toys.  Jaws 3-D is inferior to both Jaws and Jaws 2.