How Bad Is…The Scorpion King (2002)?
While The Mummy Reboot killed the Dark Universe in theaters, we look at the film that killed the original Mummy’s hopes at an expanded universe.
Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a gleam in Iron Man’s ocular apparatus, Universal Pictures tried to expand the cinematic world of their The Mummy franchise. The Scorpion King, a villain introduced in 2001’s The Mummy Returns was given a shot to expand upon the lore of the reasonably successful franchise. It was also Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s first attempt at being a movie star. While it wasn’t an out and out flop (it made 166 million on a 60 million budget), it was savaged by critics. It sits at a 45 Metacritic score with a 41% rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. It is one of only a handful of films that I walked out of in theaters. So exactly How Bad Is… The Scorpion King?
The Scorpion King
The Rock plays Mathayus, an Akkadian warrior in pre-dynastic Egypt. One of the last of his kind, he is hired by a confederation of free tribes to kill a Sorcerer. This mysterious sorcerer is the ace in the hole of Memnon, a warrior-god who has steadily been conquering and subjugating the tribal peoples. While the botched assassination attempt leaves Mathayus as the last Akkadian, he manages to escape with Cassandra, who is revealed to be the sorceress Mathayus had been sent to kill.
Cassandra’s gift is sooth saying, and she foretells that Mathayus will rise up and become the Scorpion King, the first true ruler of Egypt. Well… she actually tells him he will die if he tries, but Mathayus is determined to make his own destiny. Deciding to free Cassandra from Memnon’s slavery, Mathayus and the free people prepare to face Memnon before he can become the Scorpion King himself.
What Went Wrong?
To begin body-slamming The Scorpion King properly, I must tag in my Cimmerian friend Conan the Barbarian, the progenitor of the anti-hero sword and sorcery epic. The Scorpion King fails almost every riddle Conan the Barbarian asks it.
- The Movie is Too Tame. In an attempt to attract the widest audience, The Scorpion King was a family friendly pg-13 affair. The plot takes the half-scorpion, all-evil baddie and turns him into a likable all-human hero for hire. Conan had revenge: burning, seething, all-encompassing vengeance. Mathayus had greed and a slighted personal code of nobility. That’s a weak lift, bruh. When they tried to do this kind of softening to Conan in the misleadingly titled Conan the Destroyer (rated PG????), it hurt both the bottom line and the critical reception greatly.
The Rock. Not that Dwayne Johnson is a bad actor; surprisingly, far from it. It’s almost the opposite. The Rock is a charmer (and a genuinely funny guy), and he generated nowhere near the gravitas or menace that Schwarzenegger’s mono-syllabic murder machine did. Conan rules Gold’s Gym, Mathayus is the guy giving you a spot at Planet Fitness.
- A Weak Villain. Weak in every sense of the word. Putting kinda in shape Stephen Brand against the oiled up dumpster full of drop-kicks named “The Rock” in a final fight is one quick way to torpedo the intensity. That’s a half-rep. Give me more.
- A GodSmack soundtrack. Every time I hear “I Stand Alone” play over something, I know some lame-ass attempt to make me think your product is “BAD-ASS” is being attempted. GodSmack is the Crossfit of metal. You don’t do Crossfit, bro.
What Went Right
- The practical effects and set-pieces. The sets are bright and stark at the same time, and it helped create a sense of atmosphere. Most of the action is practical effects, and it helps the enjoyment. That they could do practical action sequences is due to…
…The Rock. While his character was less intense than Arnie, the action was better. Arnold is a beefcake; The Rock is a beefcake professional athlete. That athleticism allowed the director to open up a much bigger bag of fighting tricks.
- Chemistry. The supporting cast played off Dwayne’s natural charisma well. Michael Clarke Duncan and Grant Heslov in particular. The romance with Kelly Hu fizzles, but everything else was good. Even Conan needed a colorful party to make his movies click. The Scorpion King at least understood that riddle.
How Bad Is It?
I eventually watched all of The Scorpion King. In fits and pieces. TNT got a hold of this movie, and when Ted Turner wants you to watch something, you are damn well going to see it. I think the only movie TNT played more frequently than the Scorpion King was A Christmas Story.
Quite frankly, the movie isn’t terrible. It’s just not any good. It wasn’t the campy fun of The Mummy. It wasn’t the brooding sword and sorcery epic of Conan. This Scorpion was so middle of the road that it ended up getting run over. The Scorpion King made a decent amount of money and spawned 3 SEQUELS (the last of which starred Lou Feriggno!); so apparently somebody liked this movie a lot. I didn’t. The final verdict: contemplate your blandness upon the Tree of Woe, Scorpion King!