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Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, The

Universal // PG-13 // January 13, 2015
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted February 3, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:




By my evaluation, The Scorpion King 4: The Quest for Power marks the seventh film to take place in the general universe of the rebooted Mummy series. Granted, we're in full-on spinoff territory here, where the threadbare connections to Stephen Sommers' original pair of adventures have practically vanished. That's still quite a bit of mileage out of an initial film that's generously described as a great guilty-pleasure action flick, though; and, to be honest, these inane sword-'n-sorcery by-products aren't too much worse than the bloated, big-budget Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ended up being. Scorpion King 4 goes back to the direct-to-video well by repurposing the roundabout plot idea from The Mummy Returns -- the search for a hidden location housing an all-powerful enchantment that grants influential power to those who get there first -- for a broad, mostly family-friendly escapade through an ancient era, studded with overt cameos and, uh, enthusiastic humor. While it's not any good, at least it plays to its campy strengths and doesn't try to pretend to be anything it's not.

This fourth Scorpion King movie does have one minor thing going for it that its predecessors didn't: Continuum's Victor Webster reprises his role as Mathayus, a soldier of fortune who will eventually become the conquering warlord known as the Scorpion King. For now, however, he's content in working under the guidance of King Zakour (Rutger Hauer), finding himself -- and his new assistant/partner, Drazen (Will Kemp) -- on a search for a powerful relic that bequeaths enormous political power to the person who discovers it. Along the way, Mathayus is betrayed, framed for the murder of another king as the rightful heir poises himself to take over the throne. To fitfully rule, the new heir also needs the power of the ancients; however, none of them have concrete information on its whereabouts, on a key-shaped device that might point the in the right direction. With the help of Valina (Ellen Hollman), the heir's ex-fiance who's been jailed up for her actions, and her eccentric science-minded father, Sorrell (Barry Bostwick), Mathayus continues his own hunt for the hidden power.

Despite being a rather straight-edged premise as the script from Journey to the Center of the Earth's Michael D. Weiss works its way through betrayals, assassinations, map-following, puzzle-solving, and romantic opposites attracting, the plot for The Scorpion King 4 still devolves into a mess if much of anything is given a second thought, making the goofiness in Masters of the Universe or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys seem just a wee bit more authentic in comparison. Here's the thing, though: it almost seems unkind to pick at the film for having gullible jailers and terrible archers, let alone inexperienced people who snap into warrior mode when they need to take down opponents who literally fight for a living. Most of the time, they're played for blatant humor that veers away from the series' action-driven side, and more towards overt comedy that almost seems as if it wants to lampoon the genre's tics and tropes. And it might've worked had the humor not fallen flat so frequently alongside the derring-do, its cheesy innuendos and visual cues too on-the-nose while juggling an almost-interesting viewpoint on the balance between the laws of science and the existence of magic.

It doesn't help that the volume of action in The Scorpion King 4 ain't packing the necessary oomph, either, whether in serious mode or trying to hearken back to the series' earlier films with lighthearted antics. Even with the presence of MMA fighters and professional wrestlers around each corner, both the choreography and editing feel choppy and enervated, with the violence deliberately held back to make everything relatively acceptable for a broad range of audiences. Foot chases through decently-dressed sets are plentiful yet lethargic, while the hand-to-hand fighting reveals too much rigidity on the part of the actors. In place of proper mayhem, the film defaults to humor much in the way a Saturday-morning cartoon might, hoping that the audience won't dwindle on the film's limp momentum by directing their attention to bearded mustache-twirling lackeys on power trips and Ellen Hollman's animated facial expressions as she's getting beaten to a pulp with nary a drop of blood. To a degree, it works, generating ludicrous little delights that have a taste of the intentional overzealous appeal harking back to '80s and '90s fantasy fluff.

What's kinda frustrating about Scorpion King 4 is that Victor Webster's capable, charismatic presence seems made of slightly higher-tier stuff than playing a Dwayne Johnson proxy filtered through the likes of Kevin Sorbo's Hercules. Somewhere between Webster's reputable stint on Continuum as a rugged police detective and his sympathetic, burly charm as Mathayus lies a puckish rogue of a hero who could command a fresh narrative, instead of relying on tattered tie-in material with the daffy volume dialed up too high. Like this, his subtle strengths -- and his dedicated physique-building -- get bogged down by mustache-twirling villains who are conveniently right behind the heroes at all times, guys getting catapulted around in feathered bird suits, and blunt cameos from storied character actors and C-list celebs done up in archaic costumes. Instead of Webster's lead culminating into a decent chunk of barbaric action-comedy, The Scorpion King 4 ends up feeling like a middling two-episode arc of a television series that's on its last mummified legs.


The Blu-ray:





Video and Audio:

Despite the DTV micro-budget nature of The Scorpion King 4: The Quest for Power, there's actually a lot of appealing visual touches throughout the film: faded leather and layered feathers, textured walls encompassed by both natural and stylized lighting, and a few bursts of magical whimsy from the effects department. Digital photography once again proves to be a generous asset, lending the film a crisp, dimensional high-definition presentation on Blu-ray through its 1.8:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer. While it has issues with contrast, rendering washed-out darker sequences and a noisy nighttime aesthetic that struggles with details, almost all the daytime sequences capture natural skin tones, fine details in the garments (leather stitching, fabric, gold etching), and pleasing all-around depth. The budget-conscious visual effects look surprisingly decent, too, rendering pleasing earthy and reptilian textures. There are ups and downs, but Scorpion King 4 musters a pretty decent Blu-ray treatment.

Comparatively, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track projects its own little fantastical delights, but also suffers from some wishy-washy stability and balance issues. The sounds of blades clanking together and stone demolishing telegraph clear sound effects, while subtler effects like flying arrows, galloping hooves, and magnetic pulses are finely pronounced. Dialogue is a mixed bag, however: many scenes project ample depth and natural clarity, but high-end clipping frequently emerges as an issue. Surround elements aren't in abundance, with the score commanding most of the rear-end activity, but a few flickers of fire and insect sounds accentuate the surround atmosphere. For the most part, it's a front-heavy design with a full surround treatment as an afterthought, but the track's general stability and force are enough to look past a few issues. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.


Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Director Mike Elliott and Cast:
Victor Webster, Barry Bostwick, Ellen Hollman, and Will Kemp get together with director Elliott for a fairly novel commentary track, in that most of them are watching the film for the first time. Stretches of inactivity are filled with their delight in seeing things on-screen, taking on a very casual and amiable rhythm as they chat. They marvel at the MMA fighters and Lou Ferrigno in their cameos during the opening sequence, discuss the trickery behind riding camels, relish the highly-animated tempo of Bostwick's zany character upon his feathery introduction in the film ... and name-drop Dwayne Jonson here and there. It's a fun and involving track that brings up insights rather organically, as if you're simply sitting down with the crew and enjoying what they produced.

The Making of The Scorpion King 4 (17:36, 16x9 HD): A series of three featurettes -- A Brand New World; Great Chemistry; and the Blu-ray exclusive Real Fighters, Fake Punches -- convey precisely how much fun the cast and crew had in making such a lively and humorous adventure. Behind-the-scenes shots offer glimpses at green-screen work and the bones-'n-bits of the set design, but mostly it's all pieced together to showcase the vibrant attitude on-set and the entire crew's appreciation for one another. They chat about the splendor of Romania, Victor Webster's vigorous workout regiment, and about how casual and accepting of an environment director Mike Elliott created while shooting. The third segment dedicates itself entirely to the film's action, emphasizing getting the MMA fighters and WWE performer in on the consistent rush of activity.

Also available are a lengthy stretch of Deleted Scenes (15:23, 16x9 HD), mostly unfinished action sequences with green-screen apparatus and wires visible, as well as an amusing Gag Reel (5:46, 16x9 HD). Disc Two completes the package with a standard-definition DVD of the film, which comes with almost all of the features available on the Blu-ray.


Final Thoughts:

Universal's quest to get as much as they can out of the Mummy franchise continues with The Scorpion King 4: The Quest for Power, and, surprisingly, it ends up being slightly more fun to watch than anticipated ... but not in typical ways that might elevate one's appreciation for a direct-to-video action flick. Truly embracing the rough-around-the-edges campiness that it knows it's working with, it produces a lighthearted and openly comedic adventure that's much more in-line with serialized fantasy TV shows. The action is plentiful but fairly stilted and unengaging, much of the acting is either too rigid or too overly-animated for its own good, and the story itself is a illogical mess. Underneath all that, though, lies a degree of self-deprecating whimsy that has just enough fun with Mathayus, his allies, and their hunt for a magical power-granting artifact to keep it going until the end. Worth a Rental if you don't take the viewing experience seriously, especially the Blu-ray for the exclusive featurette on the fight sequences.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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