“The Scorpion King” is described as a prequel to “The Mummy,” but it owes more to the more modestly budgeted “Conan the Barbarian,” which with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the title character, was able to take a pulp fiction character and make him mainstream, largely with comic book action and humor. “The Scorpion King” tries to do the same, and just as Schwarzenegger became everyone’s favorite barbarian, The Rock could become everyone’s friendly neighborhood Scorpion King.
“The Scorpion King” begins thousands of years before the events of “The Mummy,” where we meet a master killer named Mathayus(WWF superstar The Rock), who wages war against an evil warlord named Memnon who, with the help of a sexy sorceress, has been able to defeat all of the tribes in the land. Mathayus plans to kill the sorceress to free his people. But since he’s going to fall in love with her, he kidnaps her instead, as the evil warlord kills everyone and everything to get her back.
The opening sequence of “The Scorpion King” sets the tone for the B movie, Saturday morning serial feel of the film, as we see an outrageously over the top battle takes place, full of blood, carnage and half naked women. “The Scorpion King” isn’t half the movie of say “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or even “The Rocketeer,” and the film knows this, like when The Rock stares into the camera and gives us his patented eyebrow. It’s nice to be a part of the joke. The movie looks great too especially during a scene where a great sandstorm blows over everything, sort of like a poor man’s “Lawrence of Arabia.”
“The Scorpion King” is not as good a movie as “Conan the Barbarian,” because it doesn’t have a great villain, certainly not like James Earl Jones. Remember when the Jones character cut off the head of young Conan’s mother? There’s nothing half as interesting in “The Scorpion King” in terms of motivation, although The Rock does witness his brother being murdered right in front of his eyes. Ralf Moeller, who plays the leader of the warlord’s army, sent to kill The Rock, is not very satisfactory. I’m tired of villains who exist only to be shot in the head, or in this case, much worse. Don’t these guys watch movies and figure out how the story ends for them? The rest of the characters are pretty ordinary too(the comic sidekick, the hero’s muscular right hand man, the intellectual), but the action keeps moving, and it’s fun to watch effects rumble across the screen.
I liked The Rock in his first starring role, but I hope he asks his agent for more dialogue in his next role. The Rock can be a wicked comedian, as seen on his wrestling broadcasts, but I have a feeling that Director Chuck Russell and the producers hedged their bets by keeping him protected in the film, and within the box of the cartoon plot. The Rock, like Hulk Hogan before him, may have limited range(he doesn’t seem to grasp what the other actors are doing in some of the scenes), but not as limited as we see in the film. On the other hand, he looks physically great and “The Scorpion King” would fail if he wasn’t a strong action figure. Then again, maybe like Clint Eastwood and Chuck Norris before him, The Rock will be the type of action hero who will insist on a bare minimum of dialogue in his roles, preferring dry humor instead. When he raises his eyebrow, it’s pretty funny.
You can go two ways on a film like “The Scorpion King.” The film is dumb, formulaic, the other actors are scarcely worth mentioning, and the plot is merely an excuse to set up the action scenes. But it didn’t bore me; The Rock is ceaselessly entertaining, it’s fun to see the characters get killed(good or bad, I didn’t care), and the women are so beautiful I thought I was watching “Kama Sutra 2,” especially when The Rock gets “trapped” inside a harem. Maybe there’s a test for a film like this: Are you a wrestling fan? Do you know what it means when The Rock lays the smackdown on somebody? That’s what “The Scorpion King” is all about.