I’ve said it before, but The Rock is the logical heir to Arnie’s throne as the reigning beefy action star. For all of Arnie’s failings while onscreen your eyes were drawn to him even as his films grew increasingly crappy after True Lies. And even when you didn’t understand his various interpretations of the English language he nonetheless managed to make his butchering entertaining and memorable.
The Rock hasn’t the screen presence yet of a young Schwarzenegger and the refreshing willingness to embrace the ludicrous nature of a bona fide action hero, he does have undeniable charisma, a hulking frame that belies his athleticism and a grasp of English that would be the envy of Arnie, Van Damme, Lundgren, Jackie Chan, Stallone and Norris.
We have been crying out for an action hero for nearly two decades, sure Statham has filled some gaps admirably and carved a nice career for himself along the way, but he isn’t nearly the purpose built tank The Rock is.
So casting The Rock – or any aspiring hunk of beef – as a Conan-esque barbarian, handing him a sword, a scantily clad hottie and a license to roam the desert shirtless seems an unfair advantage. How could The Scorpion King arrive without making The Rock the biggest action superstar in the world?
As the leader of the Acadians Matthius (Rock) finds himself the supreme leader of two other guys, one of whom is his brother. Not nearly enough to build an army and cut a swathe through barbarian times. As Acadians are apparently a tribe of assassins and mercenaries I can only put this scarcity down to one of two things, either (1) Acadians are an impotent or especially ugly bunch, or (2) they are crap assassins and mercenaries.
I don’t think they would be too pleased with either possibility.
Matthius and co are on a mission to kill the guy who does have the manpower and resources to prove a menace. He is the tyrant Memnon. Actually they set out to kill his sorcerer, whose visions accurately predict the outcome of future battles with such accuracy that Memnon either greenlights the attacks or pauses them for retooling based solely upon the sorcerer’s advice.
The party picks up once Matthius learns that Memnon’s sorcerer is a smokin’ hot chickie (Kelly Hu) with an outfit Lil Kim might think twice about before wearing. The mission is going along swimmingly. For five minutes. Then the proud Acadian tribe suddenly consists of one man.
I’m sorry, but ‘Option 2’; crap assassins and/or mercenaries, is looking more and more justifiable.
Matthius escapes with the sorcerer (who he decides not to kill for now), and these two immaculately prepared beauties head off. Two matching lustrous black manes, two rippling toned bods, four carefully manicured eyebrows, and two spectacular boobies… but in her defence Kelly Hu is still curvy.
Matthius is now even more driven to completing his mission. But it is now one of vengeance. With the sorcerer and her sparkly barely-there outfit in his arms, a sword on his hip, an annoying yappy magician by his side and a camel between his powerful thighs off they go into the desert to rethink their strategy.
In the remote desert Matthius runs into a group of non-practising rebels, in that they hold especially rebellious thoughts and intent, but have a steadfast insistence of non-confrontation so as to avoid being another statistic on Memnon’s chart of conquests. The leader of this group is Balthazar (the sadly late Michael Clark Duncan) and after much flexing and homo-erotic tension he and Matthius unify the huddled masses and head off to meet their destiny.
Being a direct descendant of The Mummy films The Scorpion King makes the commercially sensible yet entirely frustrating decision to keep things firmly in PG13 territory. This prevents The Rock from any full on rockin’ and means we will have no gratuitous Hu-dity (which would have guaranteed more DVD sales).
The action is all very well and good in that Indiana Jones lite way but without the hack ‘n’ slash, violence and unnecessary skin The Scorpion King was never going to carve its name in history’s pages. However despite these self imposed limitations it remains better than any of The Mummy’s, and at a lean 90 minutes it is short, sharp and shexy.
Final Rating – 7 / 10. The Rock steps up into Arnie’s moccasins but even his bristling biceps and arching eyebrow cannot carve something guaranteeing his action-hero immortality from this PG13 ride.
They can call this a prequel all they like, but in reality it is a retooling. A 20 minute longer, 20 IQ point killing illustration of Hollywood’s tendency to flog any money making venture into the ground.
In truth I didn’t twig that it was even meant to be a prequel until near the very end, and my only response was a bewildered ‘really?’. (Not that the film itself gave me any reason to pay close attention, but I should have seen that the ‘hero’ had the same name as The Rock’s character…)
In ancient Egypt the leaders, dignitaries and wealthy consider the Black Scorpions to be the elite and much sought after group of bodyguards, highly trained and ruthlessly efficient.
The King himself checks in on the progress of the young men undergoing gruelling and physically exhaustive training under the watchful tutelage of General Sargon (Randy Couture), a brutal behemoth of a man who spares no-one in battle and similarly cares not for those who crumble under his intensive methods.
One of his brightest students is a young Matthius, who wants to become a Black Scorpion to be just like his late dad, a proud warrior who Matthius actually believes was killed by Sargon.
Nonetheless after several years Matthius graduates and is accepted into the Black Scorpions to the delight of his family. His first official appointment is to be the personal bodyguard to the King. It should be noted that Sargon is now the King. So now Matthius is sworn to protect the safety of the man that killed his dad. But then again Matthius is now a faithful and loyal servant to the realm, and any such personal grievances pale in comparison to his duties to the kingdom.
That lasts about 4 minutes at which time Matthius tries to kill Sargon. But Sargon is a magic King with vast powers and a special ability to hold a grudge. Matthius flees the city, and in doing so his brother is killed.
To this point Scorpy 2 was merely a drab imitation of the decent original which had thus far proven two points, that the budget wasn’t nearly as high this time around, and that this probably wasn’t the audition tape Couture sent in to get the Expendables’ gig. (Or sadly maybe it was…) This is where the film goes even further downhill.
Matthius teams up with the sassy exotic looking Kelly Hu replacement who positively brims over with Grrrrlll Power, and an annoying and all too chatty git named Ari, always quick with a quip and an inane comment. The trio are on a mission to find a magic weapon which will finally allow Matthius to kill King Sargon, but they must visit the perilous Underworld to locate it.
They might as well call this ‘Nickelodeon presents: The Scorpion King 2’.
Matthius broods (and wonders when those big ‘Rock’ muscles kick in), the exotic hottie finds herself torn between wanting to be a warrior princess of sorts, and the feelings for Matthius that this PG mess won’t allow her to address. Ari simply won’t STFU.
And all the while King Sargon waits patiently on the throne wondering why all those acting lessons never ‘took’.
For five minutes or so the Underworld sequence was actually promising something better, but it was quickly shot down in favour of shoddy CGI and formulaic plotting. (Seriously The Mummy series would never have allowed a non-CGI Minotaur, and judging by the results onscreen I find it hard to argue.) And the less said about the ‘big climax’ and the dodgiest giant black scorpion you could ever imagine the better.
If you give a young kid a million bucks with the only proviso being it must all be used to decorate a vacant house you will be left with a building filled with a million dollars worth of flashy crap that no-one would want to live in, that same million dollars in the hands of a professional would doubtless result in a magnificent home that would be the envy of all in the street.
The Scorpion King 2 is a clear example of how the same set of tools and a reasonable budget (for a sequel) means absolutely nothing when placed in the unskilled hands of those who have no idea how to utilise any of these things and make them look cool.
Final Rating – 4.5 / 10. The first film suffered by the restraints of a PG13 rating and being forced to adhere to commercial ideals. This film suffers by having anything semi-decent downsized, and by being made by the clumsy hands of a group of accountants.
No sooner have I rinsed the stink from Scorpion King 2, when I face the reality that this is a trilogy and another appalling cash in still awaits.
If I wanted two more hours of mediocrity I’d attend a Good Charlotte gig. (Granted a pretty dated reference but I think I have gone too long without professing my hatred for this over-rated pop-punk-piss-poor band.)
Nevertheless back to ancient Egypt for the concluding chapter of one of the more misjudged trilogies of all time, which in reality is the sequel to the prequel to the spin-off to the original crap trilogy…
So it’s got that going for it.
Unfortunately since ascending to the throne Matthius has had a run of luck that is perhaps the equivalent of the two sequels. In short everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
The hot Kelly Hu shaped Queen? Gone. That fancy kingdom that he fought so hard to steal? Gone. Even The Rock is long since gone, gone to star in crappy sequels and poorly realised films that scream ‘direct to DVD’ but are still streets ahead of this.
So with harsh reality staring him in the face, Matthius falls over himself agreeing to a high stakes mission offered by new king Ron Perlman that will almost certainly lead to his bloody death. His eagerness is tempered somewhat by the news that he will be accompanied by a large fat drunken oaf. No, not the director (this time), nope just a large unpleasant man who chatters nonstop throughout the film. A man I will dub ‘Comic-reliefus’ due to the fact that he firmly believes burping is hilarious.
Now consider this: the film is set in Egypt and the mission is in Thailand (whether it is or not is irrelevant – the film is set and filmed in Thailand). Now my google skills tell me that there is 7,500 kms between the two countries, so assuming exceptionally sturdy horses drinking Powerade at every stop, this would still represent months on a difficult and taxing journey. Not here my friends, one clumsily CGI’d sand dune and these fuckers are in Thailand, fresh and raring to go.
I suppose I should mention the mission, if only to give further evidence of the film’s C-Gradedness. Matthius and Comic-reliefus are hired to Kill Bill… Billy Zane that is, who is apparently trying to use a magic book to resurrect a super army of the dead. Zane hams it up mercilessly throughout the film, at least giving the film the total lack of respect that it deserves.
With the mission concluded, now comes the awkward topic of payment. When yet another King in this film can’t pony up the agreed upon dough he comes up with Plan B, his hot daughter. Matthius reluctantly accepts this poor man’s Kelly Hu, but then again this is a poor man’s movie all around.
However the shenanigans are far from over. Billy Zane comes up with a counter offer for Matthius, and I must admit there’s a good 45 minutes that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. So as the film does I will try to distract you from the sheer ineptness of it all with loud catchy distractions that sound better than they should be:
(UFC boneheads as) Ghost Warriors!
More Fire! (Seriously it seems like every stunt in this film involves someone being set ablaze.)
Then Ron Perlman shows up and waits for Guillermo Del Toro. The only difference between Ron and everyone else in the film, is that everyone else knows no-one is calling. Only Billy Zane doesn’t seem to care anymore…
Somehow despite all this I enjoyed Scorpy 3 better than the bigger budget prequel. Sure it still sucks big time but it stays in its lane for the duration, managing a Hercules and Xena appearance and low-budget charm.
This episode’s Matthius is so forgettable that I have already forgotten him only a couple days later, and everytime I try to picture him I come up with Lorenzo Lamas in the TV series Renegade – although to be fair I picture that a lot…
Final Rating – 5 / 10. Amateurish, cheap and full of performances that range from awful to absolutely awful, Scorpion King 3 is still better than Scorpion King 2. But then again so are a lot of things.
Trilogy Rating – 5.5 / 10. A better than expected start is ruined by two worse than even this material deserves follow-ups, one worthy of scorn, the other just another shitty movie.