The Scorpion King
directed by Chuck Russell
written by Stephen Sommers, William Osborne, David Hayter
starring Dwayne Johnson, Steven Brand, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kelly Hu, Bernard Hill, Grant Heslov, Ralf Moeller
In this prequel to the immensely successful “Mummy” franchise, it’s a battle to the death as a dutifully inflated assassin takes on the tyrannical rule of a seething despot. Here we have the Rock looking all meaty and formidable. He demands that we pay attention to his immaculate pecs and abs and the film makes damn sure we do. There are numerous shots that succinctly celebrate the Rock’s immense physicality as a bona fide weapon of war.
The story involves the assassin Mathayus (The Rock) and his assignment to rid the world of the sorcerer who uses occult powers to guide the heinous King Memnon (Brand) who rules with fiery tenacity and has accumulated his wealth and land through strict intimidation and a policy of instant death for dissenters from his rule. Mathayus is a fierce warrior and a deadly shot with his special bow. He takes his orders and proceeds toward the kingdom within which the sinister agent of magic dwells. Wouldn’t you know it that when he arrives to vanquish the foe he discovers his target to be an exquisitely formed woman named Cassandra (Hu) that his lusting agent will most certainly not allow him to kill. She is simply too hot and he instantly has designs on her which he sublimates into all the killing that is a necessary aspect of finishing the task.
So, we have a continuous barrage of fighting, shoddy special effects, strange modern one-liners, and an underlying urgency for Mathayus to score with Cassandra because that’s what heroes always do in these kind of films. They kill and nail whatever actress has agreed to play the part of the mostly silent sex pot who is strictly in the film to provide some much needed eye candy. Let’s face it, the fight sequences in this film aren’t particularly entertaining and in fact prove to be rather ridiculous after a short while. However, the Rock is a definite force to be reckoned with and has shown himself to be a talented action star who has managed to branch out into other roles and done a fairly decent job in the process. He carries this film as far as it goes and it’s his performance that will be remembered long after the film has disintegrated into dust.
This film doesn’t require much thought and in fact it’s certainly most enjoyable if one shuts their brain off altogether and merely focuses on the beef steak. Apparently this film is based on “Conan the Barbarian” and I’ve got to say that the Rock definitely stands up to Arnie on every level. The Rock is prettier and has more natural moves as per his terrific previous career as an insanely successful pro wrestler.
Steven Brand is very well cast as the sinister tyrant Memnon. He possesses an intensity that works well for the character and enables the audience to be torn about their dislike for him. Personally, I found the character to be more fascinating than Mathayus as I always do with “villains” as they are often more complex and colorful. In this case Memnon isn’t particularly complex and that’s one of the shortcomings of the film. He’s merely presented as a despotic leader who demands absolute allegiance from his subjects and subsequently his character isn’t particularly fleshed out. Granted it’s necessary in these films to create stock villains who don’t necessarily possess very many qualities that might be construed as sympathetic. In this film he isn’t really present as a personality. But he makes up for it with a rather decisive physical presence that doesn’t rely on the threat of brute force for its effectiveness. This is mostly accomplished through body language as the character carries himself and presents himself to his minions and slaves.
There is the sensation of conquering and warcraft throughout this film. It at least manages to convey an urgency of battle with occasional comic touches that enhance the overall quality of the film. It’s still odd, however, when the film resorts to common modern day language in a great number of scenes. The characters might as well be hanging out in a couple of car seats in the middle of the Mojave desert. Still, it’s not without its charm in the end.
The performances in this film are all adequate for the genre. Aside from his raw physicality the Rock possesses an abundance of charm and the very real ability to connect with his audience. He knows how to take charge of a film and when to leave it up to the secondary players. Kelly Hu brings an obvious delectability to her role which rides on her ability to elicit terrible pangs of longing with every faint step. Hu conveys a strength and a vitality that is clearly presented in all her scenes. Steven Brand demonstrates a commanding presence all his own in this film. He has energy plus a calm and cool exterior which works well against the physical bombast of his key opponent.
Overall this film doesn’t take many chances and very much feels like a by-the-book action film. The performances work well and there are occasional flashes of energy but these are not altogether sustained over the course of the film. Still, there is a healthy dose of sexuality tossed in which livens up the story and helps offset the raging testosterone which is readily apparent from the initial sequence. Ultimately, though, the film just doesn’t quite do enough to force its audience to care all that much about the characters and what they are on about. The Rock is dynamic and a whole lot of fun to watch smash people in the face but that’s about the extent to which this film is successful. It gives its intended audience what they want to see but doesn’t offer anything particularly noteworthy to those who do not fit in to that tight and rather limited group. And that’s about it. The story doesn’t move very far beyond the pedestrian and everyone seems to be waiting for the real movie to begin shooting. There aren’t any stunning scenes as the film maintains a rather ugly aesthetic throughout and never quite deviates from it.