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.
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 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.