After receiving news that her brother, Luke (Wu Chun) has disappeared while on assignment in the far back blocks of China, venomous creature expert Jia (Li Bingbin) joins a rescue expedition mounted by biotech company CEO Mason (Kelsey Grammer). Also along for their trip into the remote Asian desert: rescue specialist Ridley (Kellan Lutz playing who Brendan Fraser would have played 20 years ago), comic relief Shane Jacobson, and a couple of expendables (Stef Dawson and Jason Chong).
What they find is the tomb of a Chinese Emperor dating from 200BC and guarded by an extremely ferocious horde of highly venomous funnel web spiders – a species normally only found in Australia. Given that a) Luke is probably inside the tomb, and b) so is the possible secret to immortality (just go with it), the team venture within. Arachnophobes are not going to have a good time with this one…
There’s nothing wrong with being derivative, per se, but you’ve got to do something. Written and directed by Bait 3D‘s Kimble Rendall, Guardians of the Tomb drinks deep from the Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider/The Mummy well, but comes up pretty short. All the window dressing is there – exotic location, ancient tomb, arcane secrets, creepy critters – but there’s no life, no anima. Instead, we get our dogged team trudging from chamber to identical underground chamber solving the occasional puzzle, interspersed with close-ups of the arachnid adversaries, who grow less menacing with repeated exposure.
Put it this way: the set up is nigh-identical to the 1995 Michael Crichton adaptation, Congo, a notorious stinker, and that film is a more deserving investment of your time.
It is, to be fair, not the cast’s fault; everyone does what they can with the tools at hand. Lutz is a solid square-jawed hero, Li is commendable in her commitment to playing it straight, Jacobson drops a few passable one-liners, and Grammer gets to go full loon evil later in the proceedings, which is always good value. The problems are all in the script, which fails to escalate the stakes or the action to any effective degree, and the execution, which is sluggish and unengaging.
A Chinese/Australian co-production (it was partly shot on the Gold Coast), Guardians of the Tomb has been touted as one of the first examples of a new era of financial and creative cross-pollination between the two countries’ film industries. But perhaps in this particular case, to paraphrase an older film that did this sort of thing so much better, the power that be were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.