The Scorpion King

Common action movie elements such as family, revenge, sex appeal, a comic relief sidekick, a wise older character, eclectic creatures/animals, challenging antagonists and eventual alliances factor into the standard drama between fast paced action sequences in The Scorpion King, the first leading role for The Rock (a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson). His character, Mathayus, originates from the 2001 movie The Mummy Returns and the story is set about 2000 years before the Mummy Returns timeline.

“I make my own destiny,” says Mathayus, as The Rock does all the heroic, admirable actions an audience would want him to do – knock out an jabbering thief, battle bad guys and defend the female character. Mathayus gains admiration as he protects and genuinely cares for people, typically the opposite character trait you would expect from him given his profession. After he knows more about the characters through events and questioning, he begins to learn important lessons that curb his impulsiveness so he can make wiser decisions. This character progression comes into practice during a key scene where he must decide between two people. His lifelong theme of “live free, die well” eventually changes without compromising his basic principles.

Most of the kudos for The Rock’s performance is the high amount of action he completes including some “rock” climbing (excuse the pun) and fights non-stop seas of adversaries. Obviously, his athletic proficiency in professional wrestling helps in this area which is why the role was well cast. As Jackie Chan does, The Rock does all his own stunts in this movie. Notice the particularly dangerous scene involving flaming swords that most other action stars wouldn’t even consider.

The beautiful TV veteran Kelly Hu (Martial Law, Sunset Beach, Bold and the Beautiful), plays Cassandra, a seemingly mysterious figure that plays an important role between the lines of good and evil. She has good character development which reveals more about her past and has powers described as “shimmers in a pond.” In one scene, Memnon tests these powers, but it has little effect on the audience because they haven’t seen have no barometer to compare it against, but instead provides as a lead in for the predictable confrontation during the movie’s climax. Besides the Rock, Hu’s performance stands out among the other actors and will hopefully expand her blossoming movie career.

Steven Brand plays the antagonistic king, Memnon, a ruthless king. His arrogance in his actions and battle tactics eventually, and predictably, get the best of him, especially in the end (how about just getting out of the way dummy!). Memnon is backed by his right hand man, Thorak, well played by Ralph Moeller (Gladiator). Peter Facinelli (Supernova) also stars in a purely functional role as Takmet. His only scene with any depth exists to make audience dislike him more. Michael Clark Duncan (Armageddon, Green Mile) has an important, but mostly physical role as Balthazar, the strong leader of his people who are threatened by Memnon.

Other “likeable” characters telling the audience how to react to comedy (“that’s funny”) and high action/drama (“ohhh!”). Grant Heslov (True Lies) plays Arpid, the comic relief sidekick who want to be part of Mathayus’s adventures. The wise older character Philos, played by Bernard Hill (Ghost and the Darkness, upcoming Lord of Rings films), provides help through science.  A small boy character is key to the story’s progression and Mathayus’s character  His character also attempts to add appeal to a wider younger audience. You can tell by the look on his face when holding his club that he’s going to hit someone, but when he does he couldn’t even see to hit guy. Other attempts to add charm, most notably through a camel, come off a bit cheesy, but have good intentions.

Writers Jonathan Hales (Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Adventures of Young Indiana Jones), David Hayter (X-Men) and William Osborne (Twins, Real McCoy) start with a unique explanation of the story’s background, accomplished through interactive hieroglyphics then filters into a simple story that’s easy to follow. There’s plenty of action and admirable themes the characters communicate through some fairly good dialogue like “rivers of blood won’t bring peace”; “how about we go around and not kill anyone” and “nothing lasts forever…it’s the destiny of all kingdoms.” You also get a few new settings and elements not seen in the Mummy movie series, written and directed by Scorpion King producer/co-writer Stephen Sommers such as the “Valley of Dead” and “sandfalls.”

Director Chuck Russell (The Mask, Eraser) orchestrates many amusing and enthralling sequences particularly a sequence involving fire ants, sandstorms, and an underground desert cave. He also has a very impactful angled shot of a character almost sliding off a rooftop. Don’t worry wrestling fans, Russell does a close-up of The Rock during one small homage to his wrestling persona (though I think the bodyslam on top of a castle wall might also count). Coincidentally, Vince McMahon served as executive producer on this movie.

If you see this film before The Mummy Returns, it might be harder to dislike the Scorpion King.  The Scorpion King will vault the Rock into action hero status building on his white hot popularity and appeal.  The Rock could’ve stolen the movie from Brendan Fraser in the Mummy Returns had he had more screen time (surely some people believe he did). Recommended with reservations and rated PG-13 for sexuality and action violence.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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