*. The Scorpion King is usually described as a prequel to The Mummy and The Mummy Returns but I don’t see it fitting in the same universe. Apparently the character of Mathayus, a laughable CGI monster at the end of The Mummy Returns, is the same Mathayus who is the hero of this movie, and played by the same actor, but I had trouble making the connection (though the CGI in this film is almost as bad).
*. What I think is of more significance is the genre difference. This really isn’t a Mummy movie but a throwback to the swords-and-sorcery flicks of the 1980s. Not strictly a remake of Conan the Destroyer but very much pressed in the same mold.
*. Dwayne Johnson (still being billed as The Rock) in his first leading role. But is it the movie that launched his career? He would go on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but looking over his extensive filmography it’s hard to tell exactly when this happened. The Scorpion King did well enough at the box office, but nothing that demanded bringing Johnson back for any of the sequels (of which there have been four at the time of this writing). After this there were a string of action films that didn’t amount to much. And yet, despite not being in any movies that strike me as being memorable, in ten years he had fully inherited the mantle of the action heroes of the previous generation (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, etc.).
*. I’m not knocking Johnson though. A former pro wrestler, he moves better than Schwarzenegger or Stallone, and has a lot more charm. He’s also the only thing this movie has going for it.
*. The plot could not have been simpler or more formulaic. Johnson plays Mathayus, an Akkadian (don’t try and make sense of the history). He’s hired by one of the last free tribes to kill the Sorceress (she doesn’t have a name, and not much in the way of clothes) who is assumed to be the power behind the throne of Memnon, an evil dude whose hordes are raping and pillaging and burning villages. Mathayus picks up a nerdy sidekick, the Sorceress (Kelly Hu) falls in love with him, and together with a Big Black Man (Michael Clarke Duncan), a scientist who has invented explosives, and a bunch of Amazons, he kills Memnon and saves the world. If you’ve seen Conan the Destroyer you should recognize all of these characters.
*. No surprises whatsoever, and the unimpressive villains make it even weaker than it sounds. The lieutenants Takmet and Thorak are disposed of almost as afterthoughts, while Steven Brand as Memnon, despite being given flaming swords to play with at the end, just doesn’t have the requisite weight to go toe-to-toe with the People’s Champ.
*. I didn’t dislike The Scorpion King, but at the same time there’s nothing about it that stands out as being all that good either. It’s not as much fun as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, and only improves on the Conan movies by being a bit sprightlier. Still, that lightness is also part of the problem. As noted, there is virtually no story here at all, and indeed the original cut was apparently only 70 minutes long, requiring more scenes to be shot.
*. They literally had nothing here but the Rock kicking ass, flexing, and cracking jokes. And I guess he showed that he could carry a film like this on his own. Conan the Barbarian was Schwarzenegger’s calling card, and that was a movie that had a lot more going for it than The Scorpion King. So you have to give Johnson some credit here. Not a lot, but some. It’s a star turn.