April 20, 2018 7 Guardians of the Tomb (Movie Review)
The new film 7 Guardians of the Tomb, based on the title alone, sounds intriguing, right? It almost sounds like it could be as fanciful as 1983’s Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain. But the font on the poster resembles that of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, while the brief synopsis makes it sound like 2008’s The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. In this case, a team of scientists including Jia (Li Bingbing: The Forbidden Kingdom 2008, Resident Evil: Retribution 2012), Jack Ridley (Kellan Lutz: The Twilight Saga films, The Osiris Child: Science Fiction Volume 1 2017) and Dr Mason Kittredge (Kelsey Grammer: Cheers series, Frasier series) uncover the tomb of a mummified Chinese emperor, and a sealed evil force alongside it. Their only hope is to move past the tomb’s traps, swarming spiders and more, if they want to make it out alive.
Previously titled The Nest 3D, this film has become the most expensive Chinese-Australian co-production. China’s Grand Canal Pictures joined forces with Australia’s Arclight films to put this piece together, and on Tuesday April 24, 2018 it received a DVD and Blu-Ray US release thanks to Gravitas Ventures. It is also the third feature-film directed by Kimble Rendall (Cut 2000, Bait 2012), though he also cut his teeth as a second unit director on The Matrix sequels and 2007’s Ghost Rider amongst others. He also helped write the story, alongside producers Gary Hamilton (Lord of War 2005, Jungle 2017) and Jonathan Scanlon (The Courier 2012), before adapting it into a screenplay with Paul Staheli (Pressure 2015).
That is all fair enough but is the film any good? Was this collaboration worth all the yuan and AU dollars put into it? Or was 1997’s Mr. Nice Guy as good as Sino-Australian cinema got? If one does not fancy going in blind, this review should help give you an answer (probably, maybe, hopefully.)
First off, they spared no expense on the cinematography, special effects and animation. It has a lovely intro done in the style of traditional Chinese shadow puppetry, where Chinese sailors meet Australian Aborigines for trade. It could connect to the plot – where the Chinese end up bringing back more than they bargained for from Down Under – or it could be promoting the studios that put it together. It is a nice gesture either way, even if Aussie co-star Shane Jacobson (Kenny 2006, Top Gear Australia series) looks about as Aboriginal as Captain Cook. It also has some nice sweeping shots of the beaches, deserts and cities, all done through a clean lens that makes the most out of its high-definition.
The CG effects are reasonably good too: they are not realistic exactly, but they are effective at producing some freaky threats. However, it does go overboard. One particular sequence repeats the same explosion effect at least three times. At least this is not a worry for the conventional effects, where the set design looks appropriately grimy and spooky; there are plenty of cobwebs, corpses and grisly makeup jobs for the eye to see. The film certainly has style but, unfortunately, it does not have a lot going for it under the hood.
Grammer is usually a reliable hand at worst, let alone his star-making turns on Cheers, Frasier and The Simpsons. But here he is running on auto-pilot with a forced accent that makes him sound more stilted than he is. As opposed to Li Bingbing, whose delivery is as stilted as it sounds. Being fair, she does have her moments- both touching and comedic- and she has good timing; it just does not result in the best performance the film has to offer. That would likely go to Lutz, who meets the bar as the generic hero role, but does not exceed it. It is him or Jacobsen as the comic relief, though it is a sad sign when your jokey side-character puts in a better effort than the leads.
At least the action is another point in its favour. The direction helps build up the spiders as a threat, whether they are swarming together or bursting out of unexpected places (well, except for one’s nightmares anyway). The film even manages to get tense in places as they chase after the heroes, but there is not much reason to care whether they make it out or not. There is more to the story than following Dragon Emperor’s lead, but it is told in a lacklustre way.
Jia’s backstory is handled through some grainy flashbacks, while Ridley’s backstory is covered in a handful of lines as soon as he arrives on the scene. Even Jia’s connection to Dr. Kittredge is handled through some clunky exposition, newsreel-footage and solemn memento-handling. It is like establishing character motives was a chore for the writers, like it should be gotten out of the way as soon as possible to make way for the action scenes.
Some could call 7 Guardians of the Tomb a switch-your-brain-off film: it may be all style and no substance, but it is a good style. It looks nice enough, despite some over-enthusiastic CG sequences, but there are better no-think, all-style action fests out there – like 1999’s Versus or even 2001’s The Mummy Returns. If 7 Guardians of the Tomb embraced its silliness like those two films did, then it could have been a cult classic. Likewise, if it beefed up its drama and paced itself better, it might have been an okay Indiana Jones clone; it would have delivered on the feelings, as well as the fun. Instead, it is too drab for the former and too weak structurally for the latter.
Curiosity-seekers would be wise to catch it on VOD, as picking it on physical format may not be worth the price. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives 7 Guardians of the Tomb 2.5 out of 5 stars.