THE SCORPION KING
Director: Chuck Russell
Cast: The Rock, Kelly Hu, Steven Brand, Michael Clarke Duncan, Grant Heslov, Peter Facinelli
MPAA Rating: (for intense sequences of action violenece and some sensuality)
Running Time: 1:33
Release Date: 4/19/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
The Scorpion King may hold the title for the strangest and most painfully obvious attempt to cash in on a movie property. Here it is, the first (to the best of my knowledge) spin-off of the sequel of a movie that was a remake in the first place. How do you approach a movie like this without even a slight edge, let alone a strong dose, of cynicism? Taken as a continuation of the Mummy series, it offers nothing we don’t already know or that expands our knowledge of the other movies. For those who don’t know, the Scorpion King is one of the main villains of The Mummy Returns, a character whose importance demanded an entire three minutes of screentime in that movie (unless you count the pathetic CGI creation in the finale). So I guess the simple question is: Can a character with such slight introduction provide enough material for his own feature length move? In this case, the answer is no.
In a time "before the pyramids" (but apparently not before hard rock and action clichés), a warrior king named Memnon (Steven Brand) is slowly and systematically conquering the world. Why slowly and systematically? He has a sorceress named Cassandra (Kelly Hu) on his side who tells him whether or not he will succeed in each battle. First question of logic: If a sorceress only gives you the ability to know whether or not you’ll win and the entire world knows this fact, wouldn’t it stand to reason that if Memnon doesn’t fight your tribe, you could defeat him? Anyway, the tribes come together and hire a group of Akkadian assassins, led by Mathayus (The Rock), to kill the sorceress. It all goes wrong, and Mathayus’ comrades, including his brother, are killed. As for killing the sorceress, well, Mathayus may be the best archer in the known world, but he’s the worst assassin. He lets her live and instead goes off on a quest to avenge his brother’s death.
It’s nothing earth shattering, but what did you expect? This is the kind of plot simple action movies are made of, and the movie is most definitely a typical action movie—full of gratuitous non-violence (nothing is seen, but a lot is heard) and mind numbingly absurd sequences. It’s not really fair to criticize it for that. So what is the problem? As part of the Mummy series, The Scorpion King is missing something that was vital to the success of the first movie and some of the better aspects of the sequel: neither of those movies took themselves seriously. This one takes itself a bit too seriously. It certainly has its jokes, including a pointless opening sequence that seems to exist only for a punch line and a horse thief whose sole purpose is to provide ironic humor, but most if not all of this dialogue needs to be delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. So instead of a nudgingly ironic tone to the silliness, all of the proceedings are simply silly. The movie is separated from its predecessors in this vein.
However, there seems to be a need to connect it to the first movies. After all, it’s important to understand the origins of the Scorpion King, right? Perhaps it’s the fact that The Mummy Returns didn’t strike me as wholly entertaining or that the character’s intentions and motivations seem so obvious in three minutes of establishment, but I simply don’t care about the Scorpion King. Do I care that he got the title because he was shot by an arrow laced with scorpion poison and survived thanks to the sorceress? Does the movie imply that this event means or will mean something to him? No and no. If anything, The Scorpion King serves as a vehicle for the WWF’s The Rock. I found him more effective in his three minutes of screentime than his entire appearance here. I guess he could make a decent action star, but his first step should be to find better material than this.
So beyond the silliness and clichés and overall cheesiness, how is The Scorpion King as a mindless action movie? It’s a well-made but not at all involving semi-escape. It never manages to set itself apart from the previous Mummy movies to display a purpose and disconnects itself from them in tone. Mind you, for a movie whose existence seems completely pointless, this is grand praise.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.