Was it just the bastard offspring of The Mummy , or does it deserve some love and re-evaluation, ponders Jayne Nelson?
Case for the defence : Esteemed members of the court, I present to you this week’s neglected nugget of popular culture desperately seeking a second chance. It’s a much-derided fantasy adventure from 2002 starring The Rock, known to most people as “that film spun off from The Mummy Returns which was even worse than The Mummy Returns .” I give you: The Scorpion King !
Case for the prosecution: Great opening summary! But why are you doing my job for me? Aren’t you supposed to say positive things?
Case for the defence: Aha! But that’s the problem with The Scorpion King . Before you can say anything positive, you need to get the negative out of the way. The negative in this case is its association with Stephen Sommers’s godawful behemoth of a movie. A film that is the very definition of CG porn, The Mummy Returns is dire – a monstrous, overblown mish-mash that doesn’t deserve to live. No court in the land would argue otherwise.
Case for the prosecution: Agreed. But it’s where the Scorpion King made his debut, and aren’t you supposed to be defending him?
Case for the defence: We’re defending the Scorpion King movie, not the character. To do that, we respectfully ask the judge and jury to pretend he never appeared in The Mummy Returns . In fact, wipe The Mummy Returns from your brains. It never happened. The Scorpion King was a standalone movie. It existed in a vacuum. It’s a singular entity. Got it?
This also helps to address a huge flaw with very concept behind The Scorpion King as a movie. The character in The Mummy Returns was evil, and yet the one we meet in the spin-off – set years before he became a monster – features him as a guy named Mathayus who is a totally likeable hero. It’s very, very hard to reconcile the two (despite a few hints at the end of SK suggesting that his reign wouldn’t end well), unless you pretend The Mummy Returns never happened.
Case for the prosecution: We concur that we should ignore The Mummy Returns [ stops and waits for cheers in the gallery to die down ]. However, we’re still waiting for proof that The Scorpion King wasn’t a big pile of camel poo. We’ve seen it. It’s silly, unconvincing, cheap-looking and badly acted. The stench of dromedary dung still burns our nostrils.
Case for the defence: Your enjoyment of this film depends entirely on what you expect from it. If you’re looking for great drama, you’re going to have to keep on looking. Its hero, The Rock (in the days before he asked to be known as Dwayne Johnson), is a wrestler-turned-actor – he’s not going to be bringing Shakespearian levels of gravitas to the role, is he? His co-stars include a former Mr Universe (Ralf Moeller), a reject from crackers US daytime soap opera Sunset Beach (Kelly Hu) and a Brit who’d appeared on Casualty , Heartbeat and The Bill (Stephen Brand as the baddie, Memnon). This isn’t a film about acting – god forbid. This is a film about having fun!
And it’s obvious from the start. The very first word The Rock utters on screen is “Boo,” to which a horde of bad guys run away screaming. It’s almost a pantomime, with a camel instead of a panto horse. You said it’s silly; yes it is! I’m not denying it. Why is “silly” a bad thing? Haven’t we had enough of po-faced fantasies with all the sense of humour of a lump of putty? Imagine if they’d managed to shoehorn a few jokes into the recent Clash Of The Titans remake; how much better would it have been?
Case for the prosecution: Are you honestly implying that the dialogue in The Scorpion King is good? Half of it’s guff about “destiny” and “living free” and “dying well” – pah!
Case for the defence: But there are some corking lines here and there. “After a hard day of looting and pillaging, there is no greater city than Gomorrah,” says one character, before adding: “except maybe Sodom.” Hilarious!
Case for the prosecution: Your honour, please may I approach the bench with this dictionary in order to show you, and then the court, the definition of the word “hilarious”?
Case for the defence: Clearly you have no sense of humour.
Case for the prosecution: And I have better things to do with my time than watch The Rock do his trademark eyebrow-lift.
Case for the defence: He only does it once in the entire movie!
Case for the prosecution: Once is too much!
Case for the defence: But he’s just landed in a harem and a bevy of beauties are running their hands all over his oiled-up chest! Of course the eyebrow goes up – what’s a guy to do?
Case for the prosecution: Now that’s an interesting slip you just made. “Oiled-up chest”, indeed! Your honour, I put it to this court that my colleague only likes The Scorpion King because The Rock gets his man-pecs out. A lot.
Case for the defence: So? He’s got a great chest; he might as well show it off. It’s not like he’s the only one being objectified. Kelly Hu plays a sorceress who runs around half-naked through most of the film. I’m sure you’re not complaining about that.
Case for the prosecution: ...Mea culpa.
Case for the defence: Look, The Scorpion King sets out to be a tongue-in-cheek, family-friendly fantasy, and that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t overdo the CGI effects like The Film That Shall Not Be Named (its budget was a modest $68 million, as opposed to Mummy Returns ’ $98 million) and relies on real stunt people doing real, often impressive stunts. If you watch the outtakes you’ll even see The Rock accidentally punch Michael Clarke Duncan in the face during their hand-to-hand combat scene! It’s old-fashioned, warm-hearted action. Where’s the bad in that?
Case for the prosecution: Would a little originality have hurt? It’s cliché-ridden and predictable!
Case for the defence: Oh, come on. The clichés are there for a reason: they’re gloriously cheesy, the kind of things you’re supposed to applaud in a cinema for being so ridiculous! Our heroes are left to die in the desert to be eaten to death by fire ants; Mathayus hides behind a giant brass gong to shield himself from arrows, then rolls it across the room to make his escape; he falls through a skylight into the sorceress’s bathroom; he fights using flaming swords; he takes down a battalion of soldiers using his wiles, a sandstorm and some quicksand; he pulls a bloody arrow out of his own back to fire it at the villain... Honestly, it’s the stuff of legend! You’ll see half of this nonsense in Prince Of Persia , too. It’s never going out of fashion.
Case for the prosecution: But the film you’re describing is more like a cartoon than an action film. It’s a Rock-y horror. Where’s the dignity?
Case for the defence: There is none. This is escapist nonsense. Deal with it. The Scorpion King doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t: it’s comfortable being a rollicking little fantasy film, and it wasn’t its fault that it got paired with that other rotten movie and suffered in comparison. These days, nine years removed, it’s a perfect post-pub Friday night delight.
Case for the prosecution: [ Raises eyebrow ]
Case for the defence: Very funny.