Monday, 9 March 2009

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008)

I don't know how effective it is in combat, but this Akkadian
armour is great at displaying rippling abs, boobs etc.

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior is a prequel to The Scorpion King, which was a spin-off of The Mummy Returns, which was a sequel to 2000's The Mummy, which was a remake of 1932's The Mummy. So we're quite a ways down the food chain. Although it's Direct-to-Video, this is one of these heavily advertised and high-for-DTV budgeted releases that had me thinking it might be okay. I mean, it wouldn't be too much to hope for the lofty standards of the first movie, right?

When it was mentioned in The Scorpion King that Mathayas was an Akkadian, I figured they were simple barbarians, like Conan the Cimmerian, but it turns out they've got a whole civilisation going. There's even a group of super-elite soldiers called the Black Scorpions. Young Mathayas dreams of becoming a Black Scorpion like his father, but his dad doesn't want him following in his footsteps. Mathayas sneaks away to the initiation test anyway, during which he intervenes to save the life of his friend Layla from the asshole instructor Sargon. Then his dad intervenes to save him. Then the King intervenes to save his dad. In return, the King forces him to let Mathayas join the Black Scorpions. Sargon isn't happy, and he uses his black magic to kill Mathayas' dad with a black cloud that turns into magic scorpions.

After Mathayas montages his way through his training and into adulthood, he returns to the city to find that Sargon has killed the King and taken over rule of the kingdom. Sargon invites Mathayas to join his group of elite bodyguards, the one catch being that he has to kill his brother Noah for treason. Of course Mathayas releases Noah, kills Sargon's men (elite bodyguards, huh?) and escapes. Unfortunately Sargon shoots out some sort of magic heat seeking arrow which spears Noah in the back and kills him. Luckily he's got a spare brother Jesup, who survives long enough to die in the beginning of The Scorpion King. It's bad news to be this guy's sibling.

Mathayas vows revenge against Sargon, and along the way he picks up his now-grown childhood friend Layla (Karen David) and a Greek poet/comedy sidekick named Aristophanes (Simon Quarterman) who tells them of a mystical weapon he can use to defeat Sargon. Unfortunately it's not the awesome bow he uses in The Scorpion King, but the Sword of Damocles which, I believe, was never actually used in the Greek legend and was really more of a metaphor for the perilous and precarious position of the ruling class. But whatever, that's boring. Here it's a kickass sword that can float and cut through anything and burn off tattoos that spoil film continuity.

His quest for the sword takes him on many adventures, during which he picks up a host of poorly differentiated and highly disposable side characters. Ari also convinces a dude named Fong (Tom Wu who played General Jantapan in Belly of the Beast) into joining them by tricking him into thinking he's going home to China, which is a pretty dick move if you ask me. What follows are several excruciatingly long scenes of them walking slowly though spooky corridors, swamps etc. They also fight a minotaur, which is represented by an animatronic mouth and very short glimpses of CGI. Ari distracts the minotaur with a flute and says "Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast". The actual line is "breast" and as a poet he should know better, but to be fair the line he quotes wouldn't be written for at least a thousand years.

After battling their way through the Underworld, Mathayas disses Astarte, Goddess of Love and War, steals the Sword of Damocles (which she's got for some reason) and high-tails it back to the real world so he can use it to fight Sargon. Unfortunately it turns out that Sargon is actually working for Astarte, and that Aristophanes was in Sargon's employ the whole time. The whole thing was a trick to get Sargon the sword, which is pretty stupid because I think Astarte would have noticed when her missing sword suddenly showed up at his place. However Ari does end up tricking Sargon by giving him an identical fake sword, so I don't know. Maybe there are a few replicas floating around.

The production values are pretty impressive for Direct-to-Video, but they must have blown their load early on because in the end Sargon turns into a giant scorpion that is also invisible, which is probably the weakest special effects copout ever. Mathayas defeats him by splashing him with oil and then employing the old lying-back-with-the-spear-in-the-air-so-the-monster-falls-onto-it trick. You'd think movie monsters would have caught onto this by now, but not this one. While this is going on Layla and Fong foil Sargon's bizarre Rube Goldberg assassination plot, which involves leading hundreds of people into an arena and roasting them alive using needlessly complex ancient machinery.

If you just saw the original movie, you might have thought the title of Scorpion King came from the fact that Mathayas was poisoned by scorpion venom and therefore had the scorpion venom running in his veins for all eternity, or some such nonsense. Well here we've learned that he joins a group of elite warriors called the Black Scorpions, his dad is killed by a bunch of magic scorpions and at the end he fights a guy with a stupid-looking scorpion tattoo on his head, who transforms into a giant scorpion. That's a lot of scorpions. No wonder he's the Scorpion King.

There also seem to be some real ideas struggling underneath somewhere. At the beginning of the film his dad hints at some dark deeds in his past and urges his son not to become a warrior like him. Mathayas also teams up with an asshole mercenary who speaks highly of his father, and Astarte tells him "Scratch a hero and find a monster inside." All of this points pretty clearly to some deeper themes about his father, maybe questioning of the nature of being a hero. I guess all that stuff got cut out, though, because it never amounts to anything except a throwaway line at the very end.

Mathayas is played by Michael Copon, who has been in a bunch of TV shows I haven't seen. He looks the part but he doesn't have the natural charisma of Dwayne "He'll always be 'The Rock' to me even if he doesn't go by that name anymore" Johnson. Copon's attempt at Mr Rock's signature eyebrow-raise isn't great, but I figure he can work on it. Maybe put him to work in a few more Direct-to-Video prequels, give him some practice. Doom 2: Sarge's Story or The Rundown 2: The Early Years. Sargon is played by some UFC champ named Randy Couture. In wrestling you can pick a scary stage name to offset your goofy real name, I guess in Ultimate Fighting you're stuck with what you've got. As far as athletes-turned-actors go, he rates somewhere above Shaquille O'Neal but below Brian Bosworth.

This film is directed by Russel Malcahy who directed my favourite jaws rip-off of all time, Razorback and well as Highlander. He may have also directed Highlander II if we lived in a universe where that movie existed, which we don't and I won't be told otherwise. If this film had more giant mutant boars or decapitations or a song by Queen it would probably be a whole lot better, but unfortunately it plays things pretty safe and boring. It's more Kull the Conqueror than Conan the Barbarian.

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