The 95th Academy Awards ceremony is coming up in a week, which still leaves curious film fans a little time to catch up on the nominees — most of them are available to stream by now. But as usual, the contenders are mostly a bunch of serious stories. If you need a break from watching graphically gruesome trench warfare in Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Brendan Gleeson performatively mutilating himself in The Banshees of Inisherin, or rich people projectile vomiting en masse in Triangle of Sadness, here’s a palate cleanser for you.
Brendan Fraser is heavily favored to win the Best Actor Oscar this year for his mournful role in The Whale, while Michelle Yeoh is the odds-on favorite for Best Actress for Everything Everywhere All at Once. So why not take a couple of hours to watch the only film they ever made together? 2008’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is readily available on streaming services.
Granted, you won’t get to see Yeoh tenderly caressing Jamie Lee Curtis’ face while wearing floppy, disturbing hot-dog-finger gloves. Or Fraser symbolically taking on other people’s sins in another Darren Aronofsky Biblical metaphor. Dragon Emperor is the kind of movie that didn’t even merit the Oscars’ attention back in 2008, before the Best Picture category was expanded to gin up public interest in the awards by making room at the top of the nominee list for mega-hits like James Cameron’s Avatar. It was
tragically snubbed understandably overlooked by the Academy, but it’s still a pretty fun time today.
And it’s even more enjoyable in the light of the interactions Yeoh and Fraser have had together on the awards circuit: Fraser tearfully hugging Yeoh at the Critics Choice Awards, Yeoh hauling Fraser into the Everything Everywhere group photo at the SAG Awards, the two of them gushing over each other’s projects on the A24 podcast after both ceremonies. (Yeoh says she wants to give director Darren Aronofsky a big hug for bringing Fraser back to acting.)
The third movie in the popular Mummy franchise didn’t do as well at the box office as the previous two, but it was still a respectable $400 million hit, and it plays as lighter and much more meta than The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. Fraser is back as floppy-haired international adventurer Rick O’Connell, though Maria Bello steps in to replace Rachel Weisz as his wife Evelyn. Their adult son Alex (Luke Ford) kicks off the undead action this time by digging up an ancient Chinese emperor (Jet Li) cursed by immortal sorceress Zi Yuan (Yeoh). When a handful of devoted cultists resurrect the emperor, Zi Yuan and her equally immortal daughter Lin (Isabella Leong) join forces with the O’Connells to stop him.
The one really regrettable part of Dragon Emperor is that Yeoh and Fraser barely share any screen time. As a martial artist and magic wielder, Zi Yuan spends most of the movie on mystical projects, while Rick spends his time racing around with guns, swords, and improvised weapons, fighting cultists and trying to keep them from accomplishing various tasks on their way to reviving the emperor, breaking Zi Yuan’s curse on him, and reviving his immense CGI army of terra-cotta soldiers. On their recent A24 podcast appearance, Fraser and Yeoh really don’t have any joint memories of the film to share — apart from both talking about how exciting it was to work with Jet Li, and what a sweetheart he is in real life.
But for fans of mildly goofy action-thrillers in the vein of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and (most obviously) the first two Mummy movies, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is an underrated good time. It’s fast-paced and amiable, full of family banter and big, high-energy chases and fights, courtesy of The Fast and the Furious and XXX director Rob Cohen. Fraser is fully on board in his charming, boyish action-star mode. (It’s never really plausible that Alex is Rick’s son; Fraser is only about 13 years older than Luke Ford, and looks a lot younger when he’s grinning his way through yet another Errol Flynn-style stunt.)
Yeoh gets to show off her acting skills as well as her martial arts skills in this movie, with her side plot revolving around her close, supportive relationship with Lin, and with Lin’s father in the opening flashback sequence. It’s only a small echo of what Yeoh gets to do as a character in Everything Everywhere All at Once or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it’s still more dimension than she gets in a lot of her fighting movies.
But maybe the most charming and distinctive thing about Dragon Emperor is in the relationship between Rick and Evelyn, who have clearly reached the point of being bored (and openly sexually frustrated!) between world-hopping and mummy-fighting adventures, and who wind up seeing this latest jaunt as more of a get-your-groove-back couple’s outing than a save-the-world crisis. The first Mummy movie leaned into the horror of dealing with an undead creature and its supernatural minions. By this point in the series, the franchise was just about charismatic people hanging out and getting some noisy, weapons-focused exercise together. It’s a cheerful, upbeat time-waster — for Fraser and Yeoh as much as for the rest of us.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is currently streaming on Hulu and Tubi, and is available for rental or purchase on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital platforms.