The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior
Universal // PG-13 // $29.98 // August 19, 2008
Review by Bill Gibron | posted August 30, 2008
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The Product:
Back when MTV was a media maverick, not a purposeful pop culture shill, the fledgling format was turning out supposed soon to be auteurs. From Bob Giraldi ("Beat It") to Steve Baron ("Billy Jean"), Mary Lambert ("Like a Virgin") to Jean Baptiste Mondino ("The Boys of Summer"), these newfound visionaries were prophesized to electrify the dying art of filmmaking with their outsized visual acumen. Perhaps the most celebrated of all was early pioneer Russell Mulcahy. The Australian director, known for his eye popping work with such artists as Elton John, Duran Duran, The Buggles, and Billy Idol came to define the music video format, and was pegged for instant filmmaking stardom. But after Highlander, and the Denzel Washington vehicle Ricochet, Mulcahy's fortunes faded. Now, twenty five years after he first hit the big time, he's been reduced to making prequels of prequels - in this case, the unnecessary backstory for already overwrought The Scorpion King. While competently helmed, it's indicative of the entire Mummy franchise - fast, unfocused, and mythologically lazy - and how far the once mighty have indeed fallen.

The Plot:
As a young man, future leader Mathayus looses his warrior father to the ruthless plotting of corrupt General Sargon. Vowing revenge, he discovers that the powerful leader is under the influence of the black arts. As a result, he must seek the fabled Sword of Damocles from the Underworld in order to defeat him. Joined by his lifelong friend (and wannabe fighter) Layla, as well as a Greek poet and guide named Baldo, they head off to find the Labyrinth, defeat the Minotaur, and enter the domain from which no man has returned alive. Aided by a band of rogues, they confront the evil Queen, whose been working with Sargon all along. It will take more than a magic weapon to defeat this kind of wickedness. Mathayus will have to use every bit of his Black Scorpion training to take on this formidable foe.

The DVD:
In the lingo of the business known as show, prequels are the place where once viable franchises go to die. And since that's almost always the case, what are we to make of a movie that prologues an already established preamble? When The Mummy Returns was released in theaters back in 2001, series founder Stephen Sommers was already plotting a split off sequel, the story of how Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's man-arthropod "Scorpion King" came to be. While a moderate hit, 2002's similarly titled film failed to ignite much permanent passion. Now, six years later, we are treated to a well timed tie-in to the third (and most unwelcome) Mummy update, and all one can ask is "Why?" It's not as if audiences have been clamoring for more trips into our bumbling b-movie past - especially one which offers no recognizable stars and a scattered approach to legend. Now, the last thing anyone expects from these movies is true mythos, but the blending of Greek and Middle Eastern heritage here is sketchy and stupid at best.

So is the hiring of human muscle drone Randy Couture as a lead. The former UFC fighter, built like a fleshy fireplug and about as animate, offers nothing in the way of menace or meaning as our diabolical general turned killer king. Taking a page out of the flex before finesse school of acting, our star seems to stumble when required to do anything except battle. Not that his young co-star Michael Copon is much better. Clearly learning his craft from the 'head down and glower' school of emotion, our hero is hindered by little onscreen magnetism and even less likeability. Mathayus - at least at this stage in his life - is a whiny little cuss, complaining about everything before finally getting around to raising his sword. One imagines he was more effective as the Blue Time Force Ranger during the Power Rangers phenomenon. In fact, the overall level of performance here is pretty pathetic. No one really stands out, and attempted sequences of shared feelings fall flatter than Couture's nose. From a talent level alone, The Scorpion King 2 barely rises above the level of a bad Sci-Fi Channel schlocker - and you know how hard those movies suck.

That just leaves Mulcahy to save the day, right? After all, he breathed some manner of life into the otherwise forgettable Shadow, and recently righted a somewhat slipshod Resident Evil series (he helmed Extinction). Sadly, our former MTV luminary has dulled over the decades. The look here is all flat and made of medium shots, perfectly suited for the old fashioned notion of home theater viewing. Scope is scuttled in favor of fake sets (the Underworld looks like leftovers from another '80s goof, Krull) and the limited F/X runs the gamut from bad stop motion (the Minotaur is laughable) to some even lamer CGI (how to avoid showing a massive monster attack? Turn the beast invisible!). You can sense Mulcahy trying, hoping to avoid the stench of pure "will work for food" folly. It doesn't work. For most involved, this was clearly a proposed paycheck, not some attempt at art. And since there was an equally unsatisfying Mummy movie in theaters to share the backlash, everyone goes away happy - everyone except the audience, that is. The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior is not awful, just below average - and within the framework of this uneven franchise, that's bad news indeed.

The Video:
Offered in what can best be described as a "pseudo big screen" transfer, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is decent, if not definitive. The range of color stays firmly in the sun and sand drenched dynamic, and details are well defined - that is, when the F/X aren't required to shine. Overall, the picture quality here is good, if not great. One thing's for sure - you certainly won't be pulling this DVD out of the collection to show off your high end system.

The Audio:
Backed by a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the sonic situation here is fine. The dialogue is easily discernible, and the pompous score settles solidly between the speakers. While you won't actually call the presentation 'immersive', the aural aspects of The Scorpion King 2 are very good indeed.

The Extras: The less said about these overinflated EPKs, the better. "Making of The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior" provides the typical backstage material, positioned to sell this slop as something that it's not (i.e. good!). Elsewhere, "Fight Like an Akkadian: Black Scorpion Training Camp", "Becoming Sargon: One on One with Randy Couture", "On Set with the Beautiful Leading Ladies", "Creating a New World", and "Visual Effects" (now there's an unnecessary bit of production pimping) are all contractually obligated offerings, minor documents of a production that has 'half-assed' written all over it.

Final Thoughts:
While the best advice for any film in this series sans the first would be Skip It, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior is going to be given the benefit of the marketing doubt. Many won't find the film the least bit involving, but some may still see Sommers (and his excessive offspring) as viable entertainment. Therefore, a rating of Rent It seems to be in order. This way, the curious as well as the confirmed can experience this uneven mess without spending too much of their hard earned cash. But be warned - as with most movies founded on previously successful (or semi-successful) elements, the law of diminishing cinematic returns definitely applies here. Besides, Russell Mulcahy deserves better. Sadly, his present can't account for his formidable, formative past. Here's hoping he refuses the phone call when The Scorpion King 3: Birth of a Fighting Fetus is proposed.

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