Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Scorpion King (2002)

2011's Conan the Barbarian is a pretty dire film, which was disappointing.  But not only that, it's perplexing, because nine years earlier we'd seen the release of the best Conan film this side of 1982.  Heck, depending on how fond you are of the Schwarzenegger film, you might even say the best Conan film ever.

Because while The Scorpion King's protagonist might be named "Mathayus", the parallels with Robert E. Howard's famous character are kind of obvious.  He's a barbarian who is scorned by men of "civilisation", but who operates by his own personal code of honour.  He's a mighty warrior, and basically not a cruel man, but nonetheless a thief, assassin and reaver.  And let's not forget that he is destined to overthrow a terrible tyrant and become a king himself.  All you'd need to do to make this a Conan film is change his name, make his race Cimmerian rather than "Akkadian", and tweak his weapon choices ("By this bow I rule!" doesn't have quite the same ring to it).

Mathayus is, as mentioned, an assassin.  He is hired to kill the sorcerer who serves the wicked king Memnon, but is betrayed and left to die in a torturous manner (though not by being crucified to a tree - that would have made the parallels to Conan just a little too obvious, I suspect).  Needless to say he escapes and plots revenge on Memnon, though his attitude toward the "sorceror" has become a little more confused since learning that she's a very attractive sorceress.

Yeah, there's a whole lot of patriarchy in the "he doesn't kill her immediately because she's pretty", thing.  And it's not a movie that's short on such elements in general frankly (though I quite liked the subversion in the harem scene).

Ultimately though the movie sinks or swims on its action sequences, and these all deliver.  It's not even remotely realistic stuff, of course, but it is all imaginative and well-staged, making the fights and stunts one of the strong points of the film.

Not a strong point, on the other hand, is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in his first starring role.  He's not terrible - better than Arnie 30 years earlier, to be honest - but having seen Furious 6 recently, I can definitely see how much more assured and capable he has become in front of the camera.

If you're interested in a fast paced, action packed adventure story with a charismatic (if occasionally slightly wooden) lead, then The Scorpion King has you covered.

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