“See how the legend of The Scorpion King began!“
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Starring Michael Copon and Randy Couture
Mathayus (Copon) joins the elite Black Scorpions regiment in order to take revenge against his father’s murderer, Sargon (Couture), only to discover that Sargon is now King of Akkad and master of the Scorpions, as well as a nigh-invulnerable black magician. Accompanied by his childhood friend Layla and Greek poet Aristophanes (who makes a point of being one Aristophanes and not the other, but is actually neither of the notable Aristophanes), he journeys to the (archaic Greek) underworld, to claim the (late Greek) Sword of Damocles from the (Mesopotamian) Goddess of suicidal necklines, Astarte.
What’s wrong with it?
This film is the prequel to The Scorpion King, which is itself a prequel to The Mummy Returns, as a result of which any character development is beyond pointless. We know that the love interest (and every other Akkadian) is dead by the next film chronologically, and that Mathayas will a) live and b) become a mighty lone wolf warrior, en route to becoming the monstrous, soulless antagonist of the second Mummy film.
Mathyas is, frankly, a dull character; probably the dullest here, although the love interest is a close second. Randy Couture is a massive physical presence, but lacks the charisma for true menace, and ultimately ends up turning into a giant invisible scorpion to save on the effects budget, meaning that most of the climactic battle involves walls exploding next to Mathyas’ head. Meanwhile, Layla and speaks-no-Akkadian sidekick Fong are trying to prevent the immolation of the city’s population by leveling the dumbest countermeasures imaginable against the dumbest evil scheme imaginable (lamp oil doesn’t burn like that, but if it did then you wouldn’t stop it by trying to cut the flame off at the source).
The film is also full of extraneous and disposable characters, many without names, including the Greek mercenaries who are basically along to show how the Underworld works.
The script seems to forget what it’s about halfway through. Having become a warrior to seek vengeance against Sargon, Mathyas is then asked to kill his brother. He rescues him instead, only for the brother to be killed in the escape, and apparently this ‘brands revenge on his heart’. What was the death of his father? A henna tattoo of grudgeiness?
Astarte’s outfits are deeply ridiculous, even for an Akkadian sex goddess.
The Sword of Damocles is immensely fake-looking.
What’s right with it?
The inclusion of sort-of-a-real-person Aristophanes as the comedy relief is… bizarre, but the character is kind of fun. His interaction with Fong is one of the highlights.
How bad is it really?
Basically it’s like many lacklustre action films, in that its flaw is that it is dull where it ought to be exciting.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Standing in the Underworld, surrounded by magical thorns, one of the Greek mercenaries demands: “What fresh hell is this?” Apparently he was a Dorothy Parker fan.
What’s up with…?
- The Dorothy Parker quote?
- The absurd cheapness of the MacGuffin prop?
- The designated chick fight? Layla gets to fight Astarte at one point, for which purpose the goddess changes from her slinky gown with its groin-scraping decolletage for the more practical combat option of a corset.
Production values – For the most part, the film works within its budget and looks pretty good, and I was watching in HD. Unfortunately, the invisible scorpion is a let down, only justified by how bad it looks when it’s covered in oil to make it visible. 12
Dialogue and performances – There’s very little life in the script, and what there is is largely killed by the leads. Aristophanes gets a few good bits, but nothing much to write home about. 14
Plot and execution – The film stumbles through its plot, sending Mathyas first to Egypt for a call-back to the earlier films, but then to Crete for a randomly abused legendary metaphor. Astarte is only thrown in in the final third, and Ari’s face-heel-face turn is barely signposted. 15
Randomness – The Sword of Damocles? Astarte? Well, actually, Astarte makes sense for Akkadia, and is only a head scratcher because of the Greek sword. 13
Waste of potential – As microbudgetted prequels of prequels of sequels go, this isn’t bad. 4