Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King is a relatively bloodless endeavor. Despite the giant weaponry, sea of flying arrows, and massive gathering of armies, the movie was made for a general mass audience, hence the desire and achievement of a PG-13 rating. This is no surprise to anyone who has seen the other two films in the The Mummy franchise, starting with the original The Mummy, which was continued in the sequel, The Mummy Returns. Stephen Sommers, who penned and directed both The Mummy movies, is only credited as co-writer and producer on The Scorpion King, but there’s no doubt this is another entry into what is shaping up to be a very profitable franchise with mass worldwide appeal.
The Scorpion King stars pro-wrestler turned actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a giant of a man in the vein of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Johnson is Mathayus, one of three surviving Acadians, a race of men trained to be assassins. After Mathayus, his brother, and the third Acadian is betrayed while on a mission to kill the sorceress of a maniacal warrior general whose army is cutting a swath across the land, Mathayus escapes as the lone survivor, determined to exact revenge. After a failed attempt to kill Memnon (Steven Brand), the maniacal general in question, Mathayus ends up with the sorceress, Cassandra (Kelly Hu), who is Memnon’s prisoner. The duo, with horse thief Arpid (Grant Heslov), escapes into the desert, but Memnon’s army isn’t far behind…
As Schwarzenegger had done before him, Johnson has chosen a perfect vehicle to start his real movie career. (Johnson had a cameo role in The Mummy Returns.) There is absolutely nothing about the The Scorpion King that would challenge Johnson as an actor, and in fact the only thing Johnson flexes here is one eyebrow and a whole lot of muscle, of which he has plenty. That isn’t to say Johnson doesn’t act — he just doesn’t do a lot of it, not that the script calls for a Robert De Niro here. The Scorpion King is essentially a live-action cartoon and action-adventure movie with sprinkles of comedy. It’s a bloodless version of Schwarzenegger’s own breakthrough film, Conan. Despite the giant weaponry being brandished by everyone including Johnson’s Mathayus, there’s very little blood to speak off.
That isn’t to say the film is for kids — the PG-13 rating is perhaps too generous in my opinion, since there’s plenty of implied bloodbath and Kelly Hu certainly finds herself in various stages of undress. (Mind you, not that I’m complaining about Ms. Hu’s, er, lack of wardrobe.) Taken for what it is, The Scorpion King really doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve seen other entries in The Mummy series, then this one is no different.
There are plenty of big budget special effects, like a giant sandstorm and a cgi rendering (and actual real-sized version of the interior) of the ancient city of Gomorrah. Mathayus leaps from building to building like Superman and despite his giant frame, is quite agile — although this is thanks to the physical special effects guys more than Johnson’s own natural ability, unless he’s learned to leap over tents during his wrestling days.
Direction by Chuck Russell (Eraser) is not flashy, just workmanlike. This fits in with Russell’s previous film credits. The man never shows a lot of flash, and he seems to be most comfortable doing films that have a straightforward narrative. He certainly doesn’t break the mold here. The writing is very light on substance and concentrates (rightly) on the action. Again, The Scorpion King most resembles a live-action cartoon than anything else.
Not much of The Scorpion King breaks any type of mold, and I doubt if the filmmakers had any desire to do anything different. The movie is comical, action-packed, and Dwayne Johnson certainly proves his likeability and mettle as a future action star. In fact, I can easily picture Johnson as the next Terminator once a certain muscleman hangs up his dark shades and leather jacket…
Chuck Russell (director) / Jonathan Hales, David Hayter, William Osborne, Stephen Sommers (screenplay)
CAST: Dwayne Johnson …. Mathayus
Steven Brand …. Memnon
Kelly Hu …. Cassandra
Michael Clarke Duncan …. Balthazar