I saw The Scorpion King less than two days ago, yet I can scarcely remember anything about it. I’m not surprised that I’m sketchy on the plot details; there’s never much plot in such films. But what does surprise me is that the film left me with no lasting images. Particularly in the case of the actors – whereas I can remember dozens of wonderful, individuals facial expressions from The Fellowship of the Ring, the faces of the actors in The Scorpion King seem vague and hazy. Plus, there were no impressive visual effects. The Mummy Returns gave us a gigantic face in a wall of water, dog-like Egyptian demon-warriors and monstrous little pigmies. Oh, and the Rock as a ten-foot scorpion. The Scorpion King gives us the Rock, but minus the huge pincers and plus the huge pecs. Unfortunately, with the exception of a CGI sandstorm and, I suspect, a computer-generated city of Gomorrah, there’s not much to look at.
The plot is fairly simple. In the prologue to The Mummy Returns we met the Scorpion King – the first ruler of Egypt, whose armies swept across the ancient Middle East and Africa until they were finally defeated. This bloodthirsty king then made a pact with an evil Egyptian god and was granted revenge against his enemies – then the god killed him, turned him into a giant scorpion and buried him for thousands of years. But forget all that – The Scorpion King tells the story of how the Scorpion King became a king in the first place. The film is set in 3000 B.C. A warrior named Memnon (Steven Brand) is bent on conquering the entire known world. His secret weapon is the sorcerer Cassandra (Kelly Hu). Those being conquered don’t take kindly to Memnon, so they hire an Akkadian named Mathayus (the Rock) to take the sorcerer out and, thus, destroy Memnon’s power.
So Mathayus heads off to Memnon’s capital city of Gomorrah to ice the sorcerer. From there, it’s a fairly predictable series of action sequences and noble speeches. Lots of clashing swords, flying arrows and hissing snakes fill up the rather brief hour-and-twenty running time. Was it fun? For me, no. I was hoping for something so bad it was good, but what I got was something I found fiercely mediocre. Strangest of all was the Rock himself – for some reason, his face could not register any kind of impression on me. Maybe it’s the large forehead, or the smooth skin, or that soft coloring that almost blends in with all the browns and beiges of the landscape – for some reason, the Rock’s look just wasn’t distinctive, in my mind. I wonder whether the director, fearing (unjustly) that the Rock would be unable to handle his acting duties, avoided having too many close-ups of his star. But the Rock’s acting is better than Schwarzeneggar’s at the same point in his film career.
The other actors handle their duties well, for such films – Hu is sufficiently mysterious and rebellious as Cassandra, and Brand makes a passable, if rather dry villain (though I still don’t know what a white man is doing in ancient Egypt – other than, of course, oppressing everyone else). Michael Clarke Duncan, as “Balthazar,” comes very close to reprising his role in Planet of the Apes; this time, rather than being a huge, muscled warrior ape, he’s a huge, muscled native warrior. Grant Heslov rounds out the cast as “Arpid,” Mathayus’s comic sidekick, though I’m not certain his name is ever uttered in the film.
I suppose in the end, the only thing I can blame is the script. It’s written by the director of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (among others), yet it’s lacking something. As Gladiator proved, audiences don’t always want their blockbusters to be perfect popcorn films with heart-of-gold do-gooder heroes and utterly mindless plots. Mathayus will eventually become exactly what Memnon is, conquering half the known world and butchering thousands in the process. He’ll pledge his soul to the devil in exchange for vengeance. But there are no hints of this in the character or the script – this is just a retread of Conan the Destroyer, except without Grace Jones.
I’ve already devoted much more text to a film that doesn’t really deserve – or need – an in-depth review. I’ll recommend the film to WWF fans, fans of the Rock, and women who like half-naked men with huge pecs.