In the opening sequence of The Scorpion King, a Bronze Age barbarian camp celebrates the capture of Jesup (Branscombe Richmond), just one of the very last survivors of the rival Akkadian tribe. Flagons are hoisted. Filthy, fight-hardened adult males cheer. 50 %-nude gals pose like they are sitting for Frank Frazetta portraits. Just right before the barbarian chieftain can execute his prisoner, an interloper crashes into the scene, environment up the film’s first major motion setpiece. The intruder is Jesup’s half-brother, Mathayus (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), whose chiseled, 6-foot-5 body is lit and framed for highest ogling opportunity. His very first line, supplied to a roomful of startled warriors and their party visitors: “Boo.” A melee ensues, a star is born — and so is the modern-day blockbuster. No one particular realized it at the time, but The Scorpion King was surprisingly prescient. Found currently, it appears like an early case in point of the films dominating the box place of work.
Twenty several years back, when The Scorpion King strike theaters, Johnson was probably the most recognizable professional wrestler in the entire world, a multi-time WWF champion with sufficient mainstream star energy to host Saturday Night time Stay. But he wasn’t a motion picture actor still. His initially film position was as Mathayus in 2001’s The Mummy Returns, exactly where he gives a wordless functionality that is mainly buried below levels of hideous, PlayStation 2-cutscene-type CGI. In The Scorpion King, he reprises that purpose. But except for a few clumsy bits of dialogue about how “the blood of the scorpion will usually flow in his veins,” this version of Mathayus stands on your own.
“The Rock has the authority to perform the part and the fortitude to continue to keep a straight face,” Roger Ebert wrote in his three-star evaluate of the movie. “I expect him to come to be a resilient motion star.” The fruition of Ebert’s prophecy, as Johnson rose to come to be 1 of the most recognizable and bankable action-movie stars in The united states, is just one of quite a few strategies The Scorpion King expected the up coming two decades of blockbuster videos.
The occasional dodgy bit of CGI aside, The Scorpion King is an appealingly outdated-faculty piece of filmmaking. Helmed by veteran director Chuck Russell, it sits in a lineage that involves the Technicolor Biblical epics of the ’50s and ’60s and the pulpy sword-and-sorcery flicks of the ’80s. The tale is flimsy and comfortingly common — a noble warrior is tasked with killing a sorceress whose magic aids a tyrant, but they tumble in really like alternatively, teaming up to usurp the throne.
Russell shoots it with surroundings-chewing delight, with only nominal breaks for expository dialogue in between its bouts of swordplay and derring-do. The movie it most resembles is John Milius’ 1982 adaptation of Conan the Barbarian, starring a younger Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role. Like Johnson, Schwarzenegger was not solid for his performing chops so a lot as the way his bodybuilder’s physique appeared on celluloid. But the two men sent striking performances that lit a path ahead for them in Hollywood.
The reality that Johnson was nevertheless largely regarded as a wrestler is applied as an in-joke in The Scorpion King’s script. In an early scene where Mathayus comes in the harem of the despotic Memnon (Steven Brand), the tyrant’s concubines stealthily steal his weapons, so when the palace guards enter, he has to wrestle them. In a later on battle among Mathayus and Nubian warrior Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan), their swords promptly shatter on impression, forcing the males to grapple and suplex one yet another for quite a few sweaty minutes.
At moments, Mathayus just wrestles dudes due to the fact he needs to, even with his bow and sword at his back again. Russell’s digital camera in these scenes is kinetic without having being frantic, and the times when The Scorpion King turns into what the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink termed “wrestling pictures” are amongst the ideal issues about the motion picture.
But the motion picture did help develop the options accessible for wrestlers-turned-actors like Dave Bautista and John Cena, adult men who had been at the time cast for their brawny bodies, but now work regularly in major movies, crossing genre strains in the procedure. (Equally have produced into improved actors than Johnson, but his pure film-star charisma continue to outshines theirs.) The act of casting a wrestler in a motion picture utilized to feel like a reflexive gag — believe Andre the Large actively playing a giant in 1987’s The Princess Bride, or Roddy Piper in 1988’s They Dwell getting time out from uncovering an alien plot to wrestle Keith David for practically 10 minutes. Currently, this form of career crossover just feels typical.
The Scorpion King’s position in the cultural firmament seemed unremarkable in 2002. It was a very low-stakes spinoff of a productive motion collection, with a charismatic guide actor and a breezy screenplay that played to his strengths. Studios made a dozen of these videos each and every calendar year, most of which identified audiences significant ample to maintain them coming. The Scorpion King built $180 million from a $60 million price range. It was a tidy gain for Universal, and evidence that the gamble of generating Johnson the optimum-paid actor in a debut guide function paid out off. 3 months right after the film’s release, every little thing improved.
On Might 3, 2002, Sam Raimi launched his superhero trilogy with Spider-Man, an uneasy companion piece to The Scorpion King. Equally films handed the keys of PG-13 popcorn franchises to administrators who’d produced their names with ’80s horror movies. (Russell directed the properly-regarded 3rd installment in the Nightmare on Elm Road collection, as very well as the 1988 remake of The Blob. Raimi was the lo-fi wizard guiding the Evil Dead films.) Each films introduced their marketing and advertising campaigns with exceptionally-of-their-time alt-rock songs, with The Scorpion King tapping Godsmack for “I Stand Alone,” and associates of Nickelback and Saliva teaming up to publish “Hero” for Spider-Person.
And each walked the line of taking inherently absurd material critically and knowing when to inject a giggle. Not like The Scorpion King, even though, Spider-Gentleman redefined the company of films, earning $825 million and encouraging set the stage for the all-consuming Marvel Cinematic Universe that introduced in earnest 6 decades later. (The way The Scorpion King was immediately overshadowed by a superhero motion picture is perhaps the a single way it was most forward of its time as a blockbuster movie.)
Prior to very long, the burgeoning superhero genre all but pushed films like The Scorpion King out of cinemas. The moment it was apparent that there was extra money to be manufactured in exploiting acquainted IP than in introducing audiences to new characters, the writing was on the wall for Mathayus and his ilk. The Scorpion King spawned a handful of direct-to-video clip sequels, none starring Johnson. In 2021, 5 of the leading six domestic box office hauls were for Marvel adaptations. The sixth was F9: The Fast Saga, the most up-to-date installment in a franchise that until eventually recently included Dwayne Johnson. The fashion of filmmaking that served make Johnson a movie star was likely extinct — but he located a way to transcend it.
By 2005, Johnson had drop “The Rock” from his stage name, rightly assuming that identify recognition for his videos was rapidly outpacing his wrestling fame. He joined the cast of the Quickly & Furious series, headlined his personal franchise with Jumanji, led movies like Suffering & Gain and Skyscraper, and even turned an not likely Disney star with his voice get the job done in the animated attribute Moana and the Indiana Jones throwback Jungle Cruise. The most dependable film franchises outside of the MCU and Star Wars may possibly be “movies with Dwayne Johnson in them.”
Most likely it was unavoidable that Dwayne Johnson would become a star, but anyone had to give him his first guide function. Even though The Scorpion King came at the finish of 1 epoch in blockbuster filmmaking and the dawning of another, it undoubtedly seems to be prophetic in its massive casting gamble. It also predicted modern cinema’s mania for interconnected worlds, prequel spinoffs, and the inclination to take even vanishingly slight figures from successful franchises and construct full universes about them.
Mathayus didn’t close up anchoring a cinematic Mummy-verse, but in retrospect, the guiding ideas powering The Scorpion King search a ton like the logic that led to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and to Disney Plus’ vastly popular MCU and Star Wars spinoff exhibits. (Who is Hawkeye if not the Mathayus of the Avengers?) The Scorpion King is also a correctly pleasant movie on its individual deserves, a brisk 92-moment adventure romp with prosperous configurations, unforgettable people, and sharp battle choreography.
It’s no masterpiece, but it’s the type of motion picture that we utilized to consider for granted, until eventually it became an endangered species. Multiplexes nowadays are purveyors of as well-massive-to-fall short spectacles, with marathon runtimes, hulking lead actors, and universe-enveloping stakes. The Scorpion King appears to be quaint by comparison. But although it belongs to an earlier period of blockbuster filmmaking, it aided plant the seeds for the one we stay in now.
The Scorpion King is streaming on HBO Max and is accessible for rental or buy on Amazon, Vudu, and other electronic platforms.