The Scorpion King


The summer movie season used to start on Memorial Day week-end but these past few years, it kicked in with the beginning of the month of May, notably with the huge openings of The Mummy in 1999 and its sequel last year. This year, it’s only April 19th and the first big budget extravaganza is already out and incidentally, it’s a spin-off of the Mummy flicks. “The Scorpion King” takes place before the era of mummies and pyramids, when the man who would become the supernatural humanoid-scorpion was only a common man, struggling to free the people of his land from a cruel oppressor. To me, it’s odd how we’re supposed to root for a “hero” whom we know will eventually turn into a relentlessly evil monster, but I guess the filmmakers figure (accurately) that most people forgot whatever plot there was in The Mummy Returns as soon as they exited the theatre.

Don’t expect much memorable plot this time either; Stephen Sommers and his co-writers have come up with the thinnest of storylines. Assassin is hired to kill the tyrant’s sorceress. Tyrant kills assassin’s brother, now it’s personal. Assassin kills tyrant and a lot of other bad guys in the process and woos the sorceress babe. The End. That’s it, and that’s all right. When a movie is so obviously meaningless, I’m grateful if it doesn’t even pretend to be about something and just get to the good old ultra-violence already. While the film is rated PG-13 for optimum box-office potential (which is the whole point of a movie/product like this) and we don’t actually see any gushing blood and hacked off limbs, the ever louder sound effects of swords and arrows piercing and cutting through flesh make up for it.

The action scenes are mostly made up of bits and pieces from better movies, but they have a certain energy and The Rock proves to be a surprisingly solid lead. The picture lies almost entirely on his broad shoulders, and he makes it work as much as an unimaginative glorified B-movie like this can. The main pleasure of the movie can be found in the countless “hero shots” and cheesy over-dramatic fights director Chuck Russell puts The Rock in. While he doesn’t have the irresistible badass attitude of a Schwarzenegger (yet), he definitively has the physique, he delivers what little tough-guy dialogue he has (“I came for the woman… and your head!”) with conviction and he’s naturally charismatic. The rest of the cast doesn’t leave much of an impression, as they come and go as part of a gallery of stock characters (from the cowardly horse thief providing comic relief to the crazy old inventor who conveniently discovers gunpowder in time to provide a big climactic explosion), but Michael Clarke Duncan makes for an enjoyable reluctant ally, even though the best supporting performance is probably that of the Rock’s loyal camel!

As hopelessly derivative as it is, this “Conan” knock-off should please not-too-demanding adventure fans. It doesn’t have the goofy charm of the first “Mummy” movie, but technically it’s a tight, impressive picture, despite some fake looking CGI (notably, the ridiculous fire-ants scene) and even faker breasts (did 3000 B.C whores really have implants?). I can’t quite recommend “The Scorpion King”, as it’s in no way what I would call a “good” film, but it’s worth checking out if you’re hungry for a first taste of summer blockbuster thrills and of The Rock in his first but clearly not last starring role.

UPDATED: DVD REVIEW

In keeping with the standard set by the Mummy discs, the “Scorpion King” DVD packs a whole lot of special features. Right from the menus, which kick in with in-your-face clips and loud hard rock, we’re in for a good time. Watching the movie again, it still offers little in terms of intelligence or originality, but in retrospect I’d rate it as one of the most successful popcorn movies of summer 2002. If there’s one place where director Chuck Russell shines it’s in the staging of the action sequences, and The Rock is both bad-ass and likable. On the strength of this movie as opposed to the disappointing xXx, I reckon The Rock would actually make a better “next action hero” than Vin Diesel.

The DVD offers two commentary tracks, one with Russell, who really seems enthusiastic about having created his own “swashbuckler”: “Those classic films had a great sense of fun about them. They swept you away with high adventure, great heart and an uplifting spirit that I wanted to re-create for this film.” On his track (which includes portions where you can see him recording it live), The Rock is more jokey and cocky. He opens with: “Thank you for buying the DVD, or renting it. If you are renting it, then you’re cheap, you should have bought it! But that’s ok…”

Other features include:
– the usual “Spotlight on Location” making-of, in which the main cast and crew members talk about what great work they’ve done.
– 3 minutes of Outtakes, mostly problems with the numerous animals used in the film.
– “Ancient World Production Design” featurette
– “Preparing the Fight”, in which Russell talks about how he blocks fights like dance scenes.
– “Working with Animals” featurette
– “The Special Effects” featurette, where Russell mentions how “successful” the CGI is… Mmm, not quite, Chuck.
– “The Rock and Michael Clarke Duncan”, an amusing look at the camaraderie and competition between the two.
– The Music Video for Godsmack’s decent nu-metal number “I Stand Alone”.
– The Theatrical Trailer that aped Gladiator’s.
– Production Notes and Cast and Filmmakers bios.
– As well as various ads, for the Scorpion King video game, the Universal Studios theme park, WWE Legends and most enjoyably, the teaser for the “Hulk” movie!

Overall, this a pretty thorough DVD, well worth renting… or buying if you don’t want The Rock to think you’re cheap!