The Scorpion King Franchise Review


Oh, Dwayne Johnson. You have filled my heart with such joy over the years. Your persona in the ring was one of the only things that kept me watching wrestling as long as I did. (Along with Sting, which seems appropriate considering.) Since then, you have injected your charisma into multiple film franchise, even saving a few from audience fatigue, earning the title of “Franchise Savior”. But I will always remember you most from your very first film role: the Scorpion King.


Stephen Summers gave Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson his chance at stardom in the 2001 film The Mummy Returns. Dwayne appears a the fierce warrior Mathayus (aka the Scorpion King) in the opening prolog. He spends around five minutes hacking and slashing at enemy soldiers while screaming ancient Egyptian at the top of his lungs. It’s great! He then appears at the end of the film as a horrific CGI abomination which has gone down in infamy.

Look, the special effects might not have aged well, but no one can deny how important The Mummy Returns was to Dwayne and to us as audience members. We loved him!

Dwayne was immediately given the chance to star in his own spin-off about Mathayus, aptly titled: The Scorpion King. The success of that film resulted in Dwayne getting starring role after starring role until he became the absolute mountain of a Hollywood figure he is today. The Scorpion King, while not a MASSIVE hit, did well enough with audiences to warrant the creation of a whole litter of sequels that went straight to home video. I never saw them when they were released, but I recently decided to revisit The Mummy franchise. I still have a blast watching those films. After I finished that trilogy, I decide to watch The Scorpion King series from beginning to end… and in chronological order. Be warned: while some of these follow-ups do a halfway decent job of capturing the spirit of the original, others made me wonder how the film got greenlit in the first place.


So, with that being said, let’s begin with The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior.




OUCH! Okay, this is a really bad start to a franchise. And an even WORSE follow-up film to Johnson's original. If I had not already been a fan of the first film, I would NOT have finished this. I probably would have shut it off after about ten minutes. And honestly, I still probably should have shut this off and ended my suffering. This is BAD.


The budget here is less than a Sy-Fy Channel original film or even an Asylum film. These are, hands down, some of the worst specialeffects I have ever seen put on film. There is literally a moment in this film where Randy Cotoure turns into a giant INVISIBLE scorpion. Because apparently they ran out of budget for both Randy Cotoure AND special effects. I cannot believe a studio of any kind agreed to distribute a product of this quality.


I would tell you the plot, but if I’m being honest I don’t remember much of it at all. Randy Cotoure is a bad guy who does some things and so Mathayus (this time played by Michael Copon, who legit looks like a young Dwayne Johnson) goes looking for a magical sword to aid in killing this madman. There’s a minotaur somewhere and I think they go to the Underworld at some point. Mathayus comes back somehow and fights Randy again, this time with a magical plastic sword. Then the movie ends.

The directing is VERY cable tv. There is no style, no sense of urgency, no personal flair. This is a workhorse director who was hired to simply film the script and then go home. He clearly has no idea how to direct actors.

Blocking is extremely stilted and obvious. Character movements only make sense if you imagine someone off screen yelling “Okay now walk over here. Stop. Okay, now move ov here and say your line. Good. Cut.” And the less I say about the props, the better. They honestly look like they were bought at the thrift shop or dollar store, painted, then thrown into the actor’s hands. We’re talking obvious plastic swords a bows. What was the budget of this film? $80?

Writing is awful. Like, REAL awful. The acting is bad, but it’s no wonder these actors have no idea how to say their lines naturally. Speaking of the acting, some people here are absolutely trying. But the sad thing is, even their best is bad. Not their fault; I give them a 👍 for trying. But maybe search for an acting coach. Or… a completely different career path. Randy Cotoure is bad here too. Look, he’s never been a great actor, but he was at least serviceable in the Expendables series. But there he had directors that knew how to get performances alongside experienced actors to help guide him. Here he’s left floundering.

Pacing is atrocious. I felt days of my life go by while watching this film.

The first movie was a lean 92 minutes (with about 10 of those minutes being credits). So tell me why this film is 11 minutes shy of the two-hour mark!!! So much could have and SHOULD HAVE been cut. There is a hilarious moment where guards wait what feels like hours for oil to converge in order to light some innocent people on fire… never mind the fact that meanwhile there are oil spouts soaking all these people so there is no point in waiting. But I guess any kind of logic feels out of place in this film.

There is one single piece of this film that is pretty good: the sets. Sets are, somehow, surprisingly great and epic in scope. Where did they get these?!?! Did they just camp out on a much larger film’s sets? Or is this where the ENTIRE budget went? Honestly, I would kill to see a better film shot on these sets. They’re beautiful and the set designer should be damn proud. They are the only acceptable aspect of this film. Other than the sets, every other element feels cheap and lame. The Tremors television show from 2003 has better special effects!! Think about that for a moment. Overall, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior isn’t even good for a student film. Boo. Boo to the max.



1.3/10 (It gets one whole star for the sets alone and .3 for Randy)


Side Note: Pet peeve of mine - putting a number in the title of a prequel film. Don’t call a movie that takes place FIRST “The Scorpion King 2.”




Thank God. Back to the original and, hey, I’m actually having fun this time! The Rock has tons of charisma, the acting is AMAZING (by comparison), and, oh shit. This was directed by Chuck Russell?! Hell yeah!! Chuck gave us some fantastic films: including the 1988 remake of The Blob, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (aka the BEST Nightmare sequel), and The Mask (aka my favorite Jim Carrey film)! This guy knows how to make a fun film and he certainly does that here.


There isn't much of a plot, but that doesn't seem to bother this briskly paced adventure.

The basic story (Mathayus seeks revenge on an insane warlord for the death of his brother; who by the way is played by Temuera Morrison, aka Jango Fett) is only there to service the Rock’s charisma, personality, and action chops. And that’s fine. Michael Clark Duncan is also here, and he is always a treat to watch. Mathayus’ side kick is still fairly funny. He straddles that line of funny/annoying quite well. Chuck knows how to stage the action and there’s a definite sense of fun running throughout, even if it’s not all that well put together. Characters don’t seem to make decisions; they just DO because the plot demands it. The romance between Mathayus and The Sorceress is extremely forced, and the two lovers don’t have much chemistry either. Plot points whiz by because they need to not because the story flows organically. I can’t even tell you how or why characters get one place to another because none of that is important. All that is important is setting up Dwayne’s next big action scene.


This is why I almost wish this film was slightly longer. I wish it had some time to breathe here and there in order to help things flow better. This is the high point of the franchise and even then, it was never going to be art. Regardless, I certainly have fond memories of this movie from my childhood. The Scorpion King is an example of a film not necessarily being really good, but still being very entertaining. And sometimes, that’s all you need.



6.4/10


Side Note: At one point in the film, Mathayus gets an arrow coated in scorpion venom shot in his leg. The Sorceress says “If he survives he’ll have the blood of the scorpion in his veins.” Funny, because the prequel film decided to do the same exact thing, meaning that chronologically, this is the SECOND time he’s had scorpion venom injected into him. I wonder how many times he’ll have the blood of a scorpion stuck in him throughout this franchise. Hint, it’s more than twice.




Okay, we have officially left the peak of the franchise and we are headed back downhill, although not as steeply as the climb. The Scorpion King 3 basically splits the difference in terms of quality between the original and the prequel. This is certainly low budget, and the quality takes a large drop following Johnson's outing, but it doesn’t make me want to kill myself like the second (first?) film did.


Apparently Mathayus’ queen (The Sorceress) and his people died of the plague in-between films… or something. So now he’s back to be an assassin. They’re just abandoning all the progress he made and sending him back to square one, huh? Shouldn’t the franchise be pushing toward Mathayus’ ending in The Mummy Returns where he’s this leader and conqueror instead of backtracking? Eh, what do I know, right?

So anyway, Mathayus is hired by Ron Perlman to defeat Ron’s brother (Billy Zane) before he takes the Book of the Dead from Temuera Morrison (back again). Hey look! There’s a connection to The Mummy! (Side note: Other than the character of Mathauys himself, and a few references to general Egyptian mythology that appear in a later movie, this is the ONLY link to the greater franchise throughout all five films!) Kimbo Slice and Dave Bautista even show up for a few moments to liven up the party. No mention of Mathayus’ former partner, here he’s teamed up with Olaf (played by Bostin Christopher) who’s big and fat and says things like “Crime doesn’t pay” and “Make mine medium rare.” His dialogue is absolute nonsense, yet hilariously out of place.


It's like the writer had a book of cheesy action movie one-liners and just opened up to a random page every time Olaf had dialogue.

The cast is rather stacked for such a low budget film. Victor Webster is no Dwayne Johnson, but he’s got some charm and obviously knows what kind of film he’s in, and that goes a long way. He is clearly having fun with the character. Ron Perlman is also having fun, even if he’s only here taking a paycheck. Temura, Bautista and Kimbo are also all enjoyable in their roles, even if they don’t have much screen time. Billy Zane is wild to watch. He brings this odd, sarcastic modernism to his role that feels completely out of place in this period setting. It isn’t good, but it is definitely a trip to watch. The directing here is also competent. He’s no Chuck Russell, but Roel Reine knows what he’s doing FAR more than the director of the second film. Special effects are also much better than the ones seen in Rise of a Warrior. I guess they decided to give this film a bigger budget, though I have no idea what the second film did to even warrant the making of a third in the first place.


Yo there are tigers! An elephant army!! NINJAS?! What the fuck? Now they're just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and I am HERE FOR IT!

This sequel also tries to go for a campy tone; featuring ridiculous and cheesy dialogue as mentioned above. Some lines garner a chuckle. Some don’t. But the scenery is gorgeous. They shot on location in real ruined castles and they’re all beautiful. Though, they don’t exactly look like the livable castles they’re supposed to be.

Pacing an issue once again, with several scenes dragging throughout the film. This sequel clocks in at an hour, forty five minutes; making it shorter than the second film, but still slightly too long. Cut a few unnecessary scenes. This film would certainly be more enjoyable if it went by quicker. Overall, this feels like a competent fan film. It wasn’t exactly good, but it kept me mildly entertained and gave me a few good chuckles. Some intentional, some not.



3.6/10


(Side Note: I remember when Bautista was asked if he would do a Fast & Furious film he said “I only do good films.” So… what? This one doesn’t count?)




Wait a minute. Hold on a second. Is this sequel actually good? Like not GOOD good, but you know, enjoyable. This is still not as good as the first, but is certainly the best of the sequels so far. And the only one that gets the closest to capturing the spirited fun of the original.


They really went for the Indiana Jones feel with this film, filling it with boobytraps galore. It also has the most traditional “quest” storyline of the franchise. And that’s okay by me! This one was directed by Mike Elliot, a frequent producer of Rob Zombie’s films. And I’ll be damned if some of Rob’s sensibilities didn’t rub off on him. Mike knows what kind of film he’s making and directs it with the fun energy it needs. The opening sequence is very clearly modeled as a cheeky Indiana Jones-style scene and its genuinely fun.

Mathayus is once again back to being an adventurer, though this time there is no explanation given as to why he's decided (or perhaps been forced) to give up the kingdom he became ruler of at the end of the last film.

Anyway, this time his pal (yet another side kick) betrays Matahyus and steals a powerful artifact. When Mathayus returns to seek peace, he is instead framed for murder and finds himself on the run and in a race to prevent his former friend from using the artifact he stole to unleash the “Power of the Sorcerer”.

Phew! That was a lot. And in all honesty, not many of these plot details matter.

The plot is yet again simply set dressing intended to move Mathayus from one piece of the puzzle to the next. He follows clues, like Indiana Jones, which eventually bring him to his end goal. The fun is had with the characters and goofy situations he encounters along the way: including a feisty female inmate, her inventor father, a sex and fertility cult (made up entirely of attractive women naturally), a mechanical dragon, and even the power of (gasps) MAGNETS!

Performances are engaging and charming enough. Lou Ferigno is great even if he is only in one scene in the beginning. As you can see above, Lou’s a big part of the cover. So you would be forgiven to think he was the main villain. Or at least one of the main characters. Nope. Oh well. Yo! Rutger Hauer? Michael Beihn?! These guys are great genre actors and they do what they can with the dialogue given. This sequel also has the best budget so far. It actually feels like a professional low budget film instead of a fan or student film. And the CGI is actually like acceptable!! Well, the spiders are. The dragon looks pretty bad. Baby steps here, people. Baby steps. At one point there is a a full-on wrestling match between the female lead and another woman. It’s outrageous, but fairly exciting. The magnet jackets at the end are pretty goofy and provide several laugh out loud moments. Some intended, some not. Oh, but the crushing door bit was legit great.

Somehow, Matayus can now communicate with spiders and animals… I think? I’m not sure where this plot point came from or why it’s here because it appears out of nowhere and then disappears just as quickly. The biggest problem in this film (as with all the other sequels) is its pacing. This film also clocks in at an hour and forty five minutes. Which is, at least for this franchise, too long. And it FEELS long (though, thankfully, not as long as The Scorpion King 2 felt). But at least this one knows why you came to watch the film. The quality itself is, again, not that good. But The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power is quite fun in its ineptness. In terms of cornball action/comedies, you could genuinely do way worse.



4.9/10




Last one, here we go! And here at the end we find the best made of the sequels. The budget has risen yet again, and we now have a very crisp image that is handled well. Cinematography is solid and the color palette feels natural. In terms of visuals, this is certainly the best looking since the original. The production design and props are also fairly solid. I actually believe these props are real, unlike some sequels *cough* Scorpion King 2 *cough*.


Mathayus is once again out on his own, this time living the quest life as a blacksmith. I guess he didn't like being in the service of his prisoner-turned-queen leading lady from the last film.

No matter. He is contacted by Tala (daughter of Michael Clark Duncan’s Balthazar from the first film) and told that an insane ruler named Nebserek (Peter Mensah) now has possession of the Fang of Anubis (this film's magical artifact) in a bid to take over the world. This sword is rather special, in that it steals the souls of its victims and writes them in the Book of Souls. (Perhaps intended to be a cousin to the Book of the Living and Book of the Dead from The Mummy?) But, ooooh plot twist! Turns out the Book of Souls is actually a teenage girl living in a monastery protected by a Golem (played by Nathan Jones and hands down the best part of the film). Now Mathayus will need to earn the girl's trust if he has any hope of destroying the magical sword.


This one actually has a story that matters. Well, I use the term "matters" loosely.

But the events within the journey actually have an impact on the later story instead of simply being story beats to check off on the way to the end. Particularly the reveal of the Book of Souls being a person. This brings about a whole new complication which is handled fairly well (even if it is predicable). This isn’t some sort of mind blowing twist or anything, but it does add a nice wrinkle that most of the films in this franchise tend to avoid.

Acting is probably the best here since the original. Performances are solid all across the board. As mentioned above, Nathan Jones steals the show as the Golem Enkidu. He has a dry wit and a dull intelligence which is the perfect combination for the character. He’s also a genuine badass. And the fact that his effects are done through classic man-in-suit tactics rather than low budget CGI made me very happy. I do have to question the decision to cast Zach McGowan as Matahyus. It’s not that he does a bad job, but he is the smallest of the actors to play an adult Mathayus. He’s a full five inches shorter than Both Dwayne Johnson and Victor Webster and far pastier than either. He also does not have the charm of either Johnson or Webster. Though, this film plays Matahyus as a much more serious and brooding character; hiding from the sins of his past. So perhaps he was just never given the opportunity to have fun as Mathayus.

The action here is the best since the original as well. One sequence features Mathayus running from and hunting several members of a tribe called the Black Arrows. It might be the best scene in the film as it’s both exciting, and has a visual grit that feels right at home. Mathayus’ final duel with Nebserek is choreographed well enough and as I said earlier, Enkidu is a badass.


Yet again, Mathayus is injected with scorpion venom. Twice in this film alone. This time from the actual arachnids themselves.

In the beginning, Tala uses scorpion venom to heal him. (Yeah, I’m not sure how that works either.) And then again at the end, multiple scorpions are somehow drawn to him and sting him repeatedly in order to “reinvigorate him”. (Again, I don’t know how that works. Maybe its because he has the blood of the scorpion in him already?) Perhaps they were drawn to him because of that odd power to talk to animals he had for a split second in the fourth film? Maybe I’m overthinking this.

This film plays down the jokes in favor of a leaner and meaner story. That’s fine. It handles that change fairly well. Pacing is rather good here. They finally learned their lesson. Nothing in this film is outright BAD. But it is average. Pretty much every element here feels average: the story, the acting, the plot. There are a few moments that might elevate it slightly, but not enough to make it fully memorable. But in a franchise where most of the films are struggling to simply achieve “average” quality, that is a massive compliment. So while this is certainly the best made of The Scorpion King sequels, I personally found the fourth film just slightly more entertaining. Which is why I am giving this film the same score as that film.



4.9/10




Conclusion:


The Scorpion King franchise is not high art. Nor is it passible art when taken as a whole. That doesn’t mean there isn’t good in here, just not a whole lot of it. The first film is by far the bright spot in the franchise. It’s a fun little adventure. And it continued to make Dwayne Johnson a star. But the second is one of the worst films I have ever seen. EVER. The third is pretty bad, but has a few fun moments. The final two films actually succeed in being competent and even a little bit exciting and entertaining. So three out of the five films succeed in being passable time filling adventures. And that’s about the most amount of praise I can give.

Doing the math, this series would average out at a 4.2/10. That feels about right. The first is fun while the rest range from “kinda fun” to “please God kill me.” Please, do yourself a favor and NEVER EVER watch The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior. Trust me, the only thing you are missing out on is the urge to want to gouge your eyes out. If you are in the mood for some fun, just watch the original. If you’re in the mood for something goofy to either laugh at while drinking a beer, or have on in the background while you work, films 3, 4, and 5 will do fine in a pinch. But still, there are better franchises out there. Even better straight to DVD franchises.



4.2/10 (Just stick with Dwayne Johnson's original)


Side Note A: I find it hilarious that films 1, 3, and 4 end with Mathayus becoming king of a new empire (or at least in a high position) and films 3, 4, and 5 start with him having lost that kingdom. He must be a terrible ruler!


Side Note B: He’s also stung by scorpions or had scorpion venom stuck in him four times throughout the franchise. Twice happening in the same movie. Leave the poor man alone, he's been through enough!