Universal // 2008 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 29th, 2008
The prequel to the prequel to the sequel to the movie that started it all!
"Hey guys, 'member that movie The Scorpion King? Nobody remembers that or cares about it, right? So why don't we totally make a straight-to-video prequel. Huh? Hi-five, anyone?" -- some random board member at Universal Studios
Mathayus (Michael Copon, One Tree Hill) will one day be known as The Scorpion King. At the moment, he's simply known as a kid who dreams of being a warrior. Asher, Mathayus' father, is a good man who doesn't want his son growing up to be a savage man. Then an evil king (Randy Couture) kills the father. Years later, Mathayus is working as a servant of the king. He finds out that the king killed his father. Mathayus instantly becomes bitter, betrays the king, runs away, and vows to get revenge. Yawn.
Well this is an odd situation, isn't it? The character of The Scorpion King first turned up in the blockbuster action film The Mummy Returns. In that film, he was mostly played by a series of bad special effects that looked kind of like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The character was so forgettable and uninteresting that the smart folks at Universal decided to give The Scorpion King his own spin-off prequel film, aptly titled The Scorpion King. Interestingly, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson actually played the title character in The Scorpion King. Thanks to Johnson's charisma and a surprisingly unpretentious screenplay, that movie worked well enough as a modest little action flick. Now we have a prequel to the prequel, entitled The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior. This straight-to-DVD film is hitting stores to coincide with the release of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, a film that does not make a reference to The Scorpion King in any way. At this point, the only thing this film has in common with The Mummy is a lot of sand.
This time around, The Rock isn't playing Mathayus. If you look at the disc packaging, you would think the role has been taken on by another wrestler, Randy Couture. Couture's name is printed prominently just above the words The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior. There's a great big picture of his head on the front of the case, dwarfing several other people that we assume are supporting characters. Couture is the only actor mentioned in the description of the film on the back of the packaging. Oddly, Couture is merely the film's one-dimensional villain. The film actually stars a strapping young fellow named Michael Copon, who looks as much like Dwayne Johnson as...well, as that CGI creature did in The Mummy Returns. Copon makes an attempt to try and incorporate some of the charm the character displayed in The Scorpion King, but he simply doesn't have Johnson's charisma (not to mention, um, muscles).
Copon is the least of this movie's problems, though. The screenplay is nothing short of laughably amateurish. While The Scorpion King was more than willing to poke fun at itself a little, this is movie is saddled with unbearably serious dialogue and characters. For a large portion of the film's running time, everyone acts as if they're auditioning for Roland Emmerich's 10,000 BC. These irritating dialogue exchanges are contrasted with even more irritating conversational scenes, in which everyone acts like a pre-teen living in 1993. A sample: "I see your Black Scorpion training also included lessons on how to become an arrogant jerk." Judge David Johnson pointed out the anachronisms in the dialogue throughout the entire film. Similar anachronisms were present in The Scorpion King. Why were these elements so charming in that film and so grating in this one? Maybe it's the general feeling that the people who made this film don't have any idea of how ridiculous the whole thing is.
It's really hard to find anything praiseworthy or even acceptable here. The acting is bad, the writing is bad, and the direction is sloppy. Even the technical elements are all sub-par. The cinematography switches from jerky hand-held visuals to smooth long shots at random. Composer Klaus Badelt once again decides to borrow some old drum loops and weary motifs from the first Pirates of the Caribbean score. The action scenes are poorly staged and unexciting. There's never a genuine sense of danger or tension in the air. We don't care about these characters, and we don't care whether they win or lose their battles. The CGI effects in the movie are pretty crummy, as you might expect for a straight-to-video flick like this one. There's a battle with some sort of demonic goat-creature that has to be seen to be believed. I'm not even going to talk about that crazy trip into "the underworld."
Special mention should be made of just how terrible Randy Couture is in this movie. The man is not just a bad actor, he's bad enough to make everything else around him look impressive. His lines are delivered in a manner that I assume is supposed to be forceful, but Couture's bellowing is completely unconvincing every single time. Couture can't even pull off the self-promotional scenes in which he does the sort of things pro wrestlers are usually able to do, much less the scenes the scenes that actually require some sort of acting. I couldn't decide whether I wanted him in the movie more or less. Every scene he is in has no chance of being good, but his scenes were the only ones that made me smile because they were so bad.
Smiling at bad scenes can only go so far. As if I needed to make any further criticisms against the film, let me make this one. The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior has a running time of 109 minutes. I know that doesn't sound like a very long running time, but believe me, it is. The film is at least a half hour too long. In fact, it's probably about 109 minutes too long.
The hi-def transfer is a mixed bag. Some scenes suffer from significant levels of grain; others look sharp and clear. Blacks aren't very deep, unfortunately. The movie isn't really much fun to look at, everything is doused in drab shades of orange and brown. The sound is actually quite solid. The action scenes occasionally pump up the volume quite nicely, creating a rich and immersive audio experience. Too bad there's nothing good to look at to go along with it. Oh, and what about special features? I understand the DVD includes some supplements, but there's nothing here other than the lame "My Scenes" option.
At some point in this movie, somebody offers up the trailer-friendly line, "This keeps getting better and better!" Maybe that's the case in Bizarro world, pal. In my estimation, we finally have a movie to replace The Mummy Returns as the low point of this franchise. Spare yourself the pain and just skip this one.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* My Scenes
* Cinema Verdict interview with stars Michael Copon and Karen David