Friday, June 16, 2017

Worth Mentioning - Rivers of Blood Can Never Bring Peace

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

A Mummy villain is a hero in his own series.


Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was given very little to do in The Mummy Returns, for most of his screen time he was just a CGI head on a giant scorpion, but Universal saw promise in him. Well before The Mummy Returns was released in theatres, the studio was already at work on a spin-off centered on his "Scorpion King" character. The Mummy '99 / The Mummy Returns writer/director Stephen Sommers crafted the story for the spin-off with Jonathan Hales, then co-wrote the screenplay with William Osborne and David Hayter, but he didn't take the helm of the project, instead handing over the reins to a director that made me begrudgingly interested in the film despite how much I disliked The Mummy Returns. That director was Chuck Russell, the man behind A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and the 1988 remake of The Blob. If Russell was going to direct this movie, I was going to have to watch it at some point.

The Scorpion King was presented as being a villain of sorts in The Mummy Returns, a man out to conquer the world. That's not the case in his own movie, where he's a man out to stop a man who's out to conquer the world. Set thousands of years in the past, The Scorpion King feels like a movie released twenty years after its time; although its budget was bigger, this would have fit right in with the goofball sword and sandal fantasy movies that were released in the wake of Conan the Barbarian.

Not yet the Scorpion King, Johnson's character is named Mathayus here, and he's one of the last of a tribe of assassins and mercenaries called Akkadians. A horde of warriors are wreaking havoc in the ancient world, led by a great swordsman named Memnon (Steven Brand, who really doesn't match up against The Rock very well) and guided by a sorceress named Cassandra (Kelly Hu), who can envision the outcome of any battle, and the Akkadians are hired to put a stop to this reign of terror. This doesn't turn out well for them, making things personal between Mathayus and Memnon.

The casting of Kelly Hu made me even more interested in this movie, because I knew her from an entry in my beloved Friday the 13th franchise - Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, to be exact. I didn't watch the TV shows she had been in over the thirteen years between these two films (Sunset Beach, Nash Bridges, Martial Law, etc.), so the fact that she had been cast in a major role in a studio blockbuster was a surprise to me. And she could do fight choreography?! She went on to be in X-Men 2 the following year, fighting even more.

Adding to the personal aspect of this film's battles is the fact that Cassandra and Mathayus end up running off together. There's a bit of the James Bond movie Live and Let Die in the plot here - a villain advised by a female psychic who ditches him for our hero and will lose her psychic gift if she has sex. If you're going to steal from somewhere, the Bond series is the best choice.

Mathayus attacks Memnon's men, Memnon's men attack Mathayus, back and forth, and that's pretty much the whole movie described right there, building up to the climactic battle between Mathayus and Memnon, face-to-face, sword to flaming swords. It's simple, it's action-packed, and it's blissfully brief, cutting to the end credits after 85 minutes, Godsmack blaring on the soundtrack.

It's a silly movie, but not gratingly so, and it's over-the-top - Mathayus can survive a fall off a tall building, people can get launched thirty feet into the air when he shoots them with an arrow - but it's not constantly over-the-top, and it works. It's easy to accept when something The Rock does defies reality, because he has a superhuman quality to him to begin with.

Against all odds, The Scorpion King is a fun movie to watch.


Universal produces a lot of straight-to-video prequels and sequels to their films, which is a business decision I fully support - that's how the world receives new installments in the Child's Play and Tremors franchises, for example, and I'm thankful for every Child's Play and Tremors movie the studio wants to make.

Sometimes these straight-to-video projects can be quite unexpected, like the decision to make a prequel to The Scorpion King six years after the Mummy Returns spin-off was released into theatres. A prequel without Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

The Rock was the main reason anyone saw The Scorpion King in the first place, so what could a Scorpion King franchise be without him? The answer to that question must be "fairly successful", because Universal has, as of right now, made three Rock-less Scorpion Kings, a turn of events that could be listed prominently under the heading "Things I Did Not Foresee Happening". I wouldn't think that any more Scorpion King movies would get a greenlight unless Dwayne Johnson was signed and sealed to star in it.

It may seem counterintuitive to have a movie without its established star as the title character, but within the film itself it does make sense that The Rock isn't playing Mathayus, because the story begins when he's just a young child. At this time, Akkad was still a thriving kingdom, as opposed to the time of first movie, when Mathayus was one of only three remaining Akkadians. Akkad was protected by the warriors called the Black Scorpions, one of whom was Mathayus's father Ashur (Peter Butler). Young Mathayus wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, but was forbidden to - so he just snuck into the training sessions anyway.

The head of the Black Scorpion training sessions is Randy Couture as Sargon, a practicioner of black magic who bears a grudge against Ashur. So he conjures up a swarm of black scorpions that sting the man to death in his bed.

Six years after the death of his father, Mathayus officially becomes a Black Scorpion at the age of 19, and the actor who will be playing him for the majority of the film steps into the role. He is Michael Copon; no Dwayne Johnson, but he does a decent job.

Mathayus sets out to avenge his father's death, but killing the supernaturally powered Sargon, who now rules Akkad from a throne he killed his way into, will prove to be a very complicated endeavor. To strike down Sargon, Mathayus will need the legendary Sword of Damocles - and while in the actual story about the Sword of Damocles it was merely a sword that was hanging from a ceiling, here it is said that the sword was struck by a lightning bolt from Zeus and can now cut through anything. The sword is now in the possession of the goddess Astarte (Natalie Becker), who resides in the Underworld, guarded by a minotaur.

Accompanied by childhood friend Layla (Karen David) and a poet named Ari (Simon Quarterman), Mathayus ventures into the Underworld to retrieve the sword... But don't let your imagination run away with you when you hear of the Underworld, it's mostly just stone passageways with torches on the walls. That minotaur isn't very cool, either. There are some interesting and slightly disgusting sights when the heroic trio, and some other friends they meet along the way, get out of those stone hallways and into a bog full of the dead and dying.

Directed by Russell Mulcahy and written by Randall McCormick, The Scorpion King 2 is, like its predecessor, reminiscent of the sword and sandal Conan knock-offs of the 1980s, and with the lower budget this prequel gets even closer to being like those '80s flicks. There are moments when Rise of a Warrior could pass for something made twenty years earlier, produced by Roger Corman or an Italian company. If you liked this sort of movie back in the day, rejoice! Those fantasy cheapies had a revival of sorts with this movie. They just needed to up their exploitation levels a little.

This prequel isn't all that great, its biggest problem being that it's twenty minutes longer than The Scorpion King was. A running time of 109 minutes was totally unnecessary for this. Bloat aside, it's a watchable B-movie if you don't miss Johnson too much.


Well, making one Scorpion King movie without Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson seemed to work out for Universal, so the studio decided to give it a try again a few years later, and this time they dared to do what Rise of a Warrior didn't: they followed up the events of the first film. Michael Copon could play Mathayus as a teenager because the character hadn't yet reached Rock level and age. But now director Roel Reiné's Battle for Redemption is a sequel, and the viewer is asked to accept that Mathayus has aged into Victor Webster as the few years have gone by since The Scorpion King, changing ethnicities along the way.

By the time the story writers Randall McCormick, Brendan Cowles, and Shane Kuhn put together begins, Mathayus has already lost the kingdom he took control of at the end of the first film and his wife Cassandra has passed away, a victim of a plague. Now Mathayus is a mercenary, drifting through days of drink, sex, and murder.

With his latest job, Mathayus finds himself in the middle of a deadly rivalry between two brothers - King Horus (Ron Perlman), the most powerful ruler in the world, and Horus's jealous brother Talus (Billy Zane), who is building an army with the intention of conquering Horus's kingdom. Building up to taking on his brother, Talus is first seeking to conquer the kingdom of King Ramusan (Temuera Morrison), who is described as being "Horus's last ally". Which makes me wonder, how can Horus be the most powerful ruler in the world if he only has one other king on his side? Regardless, Mathayus is hired to protect Ramusan's kingdom against Talus's invaders, and is forced to take along Horus's boorish trusted warrior Olaf (Bostin Christopher). If Olaf lived in the 1980s, he would have been Ogre in the Revenge of the Nerds movies.

Defending Ramusan from Talus's first attack is simple enough, but there turns out to be several stages to this job. Ramusan sends Mathayus and Olaf to rescue his adult daughter Silda (Krystal Vee), who has been kidnapped by Talus, then before they can accomplish that task Silda is whisked away from Talus's camp by a group of ninjas led by someone called Cobra. Ninjas in a sword and sandal movie? Now we're talking!

Next thing you know, Talus has hired Mathayus and Olaf to get Silda back from the ninjas, and while they're busy doing that, Talus raids Ramusan's kingdom and steals a very important item that he had been guarding: the Book of the Dead. Talus uses that tome to raise the "Warriors of the Book": Kevin "Kimbo Slice" Ferguson as Zulu Kondo, Selina Lo as Tsukai, and Dave Bautista as Agromael. These three will go on to cause some trouble for Mathayus and Olaf, by which time those two are working with the ninjas, who are led by Silda, who is Cobra.

There are a lot of twists and turns and alliance changes in this one, which makes it a much more interesting film to watch than I expected it to be. It keeps things fun and keeps the action coming, even if it is, like Rise of a Warrior, a bit too long. (105 minutes.) The Scorpion King had the perfect running time, why are these straight-to-video movies longer?

Webster has over 70 acting credits, mostly on projects I've never watched, but apparently I have seen him in a couple things before, among them Wishmaster 4. Despite that, I had no idea who he was before watching The Scorpion King 3. He seems to be having fun in the role of Mathayus, and brings the character to life well enough. I was content with following him through this adventure. He's no Dwayne Johnson, but no one else is.

Webster is helped out with a great supporting cast. He has a wonderful chemistry with Christopher, and Perlman, Zane, and Morrison are each always a welcome presence in any film. Zane hams it up real good, just like you would want him to. The Warriors of the Book are also a nice, goofy addition to the movie... And, like I mentioned, it has ninjas.

Ninjas! That aspect alone is almost enough to cause The Scorpion King 3 to overtake The Scorpion King as my favorite Scorpion King movie.


Producer/director Mike Elliott and screenwriter Michael Weiss have a whole lot of sequel credits between them. Elliott directed the sixth Beethoven and the second Blue Crush, in addition to producing movies like Bloodfist 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, direct-to-video American Pie sequels, Rob Zombie's Halloween II, Kindergarten Cop 2, the upcoming Tremors 6, and many more. Weiss has written the third I Know What You Did Last Summer movie, a sequel to The Butterfly Effect, Hostel: Part III, and Jarhead 3, among others. This pair combined their sequel-crafting talents to make The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, which marks the first time in the series where the title character is played by a returning actor - Scorpion King 3's Victor Webster came back to reprise the role.

Despite the presence of Webster, 4 doesn't really pick up on any storylines left over from part 3. Battle for Redemption companions Olaf and Silda are left in the past, as is the kingdom Mathayus had started ruling (this is the second time this legendary king has lost a kingdom), as the character continues moving forward. Or the more accurate description may be that he's just going in circles.

Mathayus is back to being a mercenary, and has been hired by King Zakkour (Rutger Hauer) to retrieve an item that belonged to Lord Alcaman, a sorcerer and the last king to rule the entire world. This item holds the secret to Alcaman's powers. While trying to steal this item, which is guarded by the likes of Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Lou Ferrigno, Mathayus realizes that his protégé Drazen (Will Kemp) is a traitor.

Drazen aims to learn the secret of Alcaman's power so he can take control of the world himself. He starts by killing his own father, King Yannick (Michael Biehn), and taking over his kingdom, Norvania.

As you can see from all the names I've been listing so far, Scorpion King 4 follows 3's lead by having a really impressive cast, even if Don "The Dragon" Wilson is seriously underused. M. Emmet Walsh also shows up along the way, and I was glad to see Brandon Hardesty as one of Drazen's lackeys. That name isn't as well known, but about ten years ago I would watch Hardesty's YouTube channel, which he used as a sort of acting showcase where he would perform scenes from movies. It was kind of stunning to see this guy who I used to watch mess around in his house on low quality video suddenly show up in a sword and sandal flick.

Most of Quest for Power concerns a race to find Alcaman's hidden palace, where the worthy will be able to gain his magical powers. While Drazen seeks the power, Mathayus is joined on his quest to stop his former friend by the family that rightly should be ruling Norvania, the Raskovs: quirky inventor Sorrell (Barry Bostwick) - who is trying to figure out the secret of flight and has drawn designs of a motor vehicle - and his daughter Valina (Ellen Hollman). Of course, Valina becomes Mathayus's latest love interest.

It's likely that budget is dropping over the course of these straight-to-video sequels, and that definitely seems to be the case with The Scorpion King 4, which feels quite cheap. For much of the running time it looks like a syndicated television series from the late '90s. That has no effect on my enjoyment either way, it's just an observation.

What did affect my enjoyment is that I just didn't find the story to be very interesting, and the tone was a bit too silly for my taste. These goofy flicks have to find a delicate balance, and The Scorpion King 4 tipped that balance in the wrong direction. If things get too childish, my attention starts to drift. This one runs about the same length as parts 2 and 3 did, and when I was ready for it to start getting things wrapped up there was still an hour of movie left. The adventure was really only getting started and I was trying to tap out. I stuck around, though, and for it I was rewarded with a steampunk dragon and a shameless Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade rip-off. I mean, homage.

The Scorpion King 4 isn't bad, I just wasn't into it personally. And it suffered from a severe lack of ninjas.

I remain shocked that a Scorpion King franchise even exists, and that it went on without Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I guess fans of sword and sandal movies have to get their entertainment from somewhere, and there are a lot less of these types of movies to choose from these days. There is an old school charm to the style of this series, watching it made me think of movies I would watch when I was little kid in the '80s.

Now that the Mummy franchise that the Scorpion King was tied to has been rebooted, it will be interesting to see if this spin-off series will continue. There's really no reason why it shouldn't, if the movies are profitable for Universal, because the events of The Mummy Returns have next to nothing to do with what goes on in the Scorpion King adventures.

1 comment:

  1. Although I do like your pictures, What do you think about adding gifs or videos to your posts?