Note: Non specific portions of this review are used in both this DVD review and the Blu-ray review of the "The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior".
The "Mummy" franchise offshoot "The Scorpion King" became a hit for Universal Studios and helped boost the acting career of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The film was an extension of an early scene during "The Mummy Returns" and re-introduces the character of Mathayus (Johnson) in a historical prequel to the films featuring Brendan Fraser. With a third "Mummy" film making decent money for Universal in the theaters, the studio expanded the "Scorpion King" storyline by delivering the direct-to-video prequel of the Dwayne Johnson film with actor Michael Copon portraying a younger Mathayus and five-time Ultimate Fighting Championship champion Randy Couture stepping into the role as primary villain.
My personal feelings towards the first "Scorpion King" film was that it was a low-brow take on the "Conan" mythology and that Dwayne Johnson lacked the heroic acting chops of Brendan Fraser. The film was a spin off and simply could not compete with the "Mummy" films. The third "Mummy" picture turned out to be a disappointment and with the tent-pole franchise showing weakness, my expectations of this direct-to-video follow-up of the lesser franchise were reasonably low. Deep down I had hoped that "The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior" would surpass my lower expectations, but they were not and I'll save you from having to read too deeply into this review and simply tell you that "The Scorpion King 2" is not very good at all.
Director Russell Mulcahy helmed the original "Highlander" film starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, as well as the 1991 maligned sequel. He was responsible for the Alec Baldwin bomb "The Shadow" and took over for Paul W.S. Anderson with "Resident Evil: Extinction." Some may remember his name under the directing credits for "3: The Dale Earnhardt Story." Needless to say, Mulcahy's best work has been in the music video world and "The Scorpion King 2" feels like a series of music videos sewn together, but without the music. This direct-to-video film is geared towards the same audience that enjoyed pro wrestling and has moved on towards the UFC. I'm not going to try and guess why Mulcahy was chosen for this project or why anybody gave "Speed 2: Cruise Control" scribe Randall McCormick another job, but "The Scorpion King 2" misses the mark and I have to think a lot of the blame should be pointed towards the writer and the director.
In the film, Mathayus father Ashur of Akkad (Peter Butler) is a famous mercenary and a member of the elite Black Scorpions warriors who are tasked with defending the emperor of Akkad. Sargon of Akkad (Randy Couture) is the head of the military, but betrays Ashur and the current emperor. Mathayus is sent to train as a Black Scorpion and years later graduates with honors from the tough fighting school as a full-fledged member of the Black Scorpions. Sargon is now emperor and has Mathayus assigned as a member of his personal bodyguards. However, Sargon demands that Mathayus murder his own brother for treasonous thoughts and this quickly pits the two warriors against one another.
The story continues with Mathayus reuniting himself with his childhood friend, the female warrior Layla (Karen David) who had caused the initial disruption that led to Ashur's death. During their flight to Egypt from Akkad they meet a young Greek poet with the familiar name of Aristotle (Simon Quarterman) who is not the famous philosopher, but somebody looking for adventures to scribe. Ari tells Mathayus and Layla about a magical sword that would allow them to defeat Sargon and they are sent on an adventure into the Underworld where they must battle minotaurs and the goddess of love, Astarte (Natalie Becker). Of course, there is some danger, treason and fights to show off Mathayus skills.
As I previously mentioned, "The Scorpion King 2" feels like a series of themed rock videos with short choreographed fights, tacky looking sets and quick editing. The narrative is relatively weak and aside from a series of betrayals towards the end of the film, everything in the story can be seen coming from a mile away. While I feel "Power Rangers" actor Michael Copon handles a Dwayne Johnson-like performance nicely, the rest of the cast is two dimensional and flat; with the exception of Chinese American actor Tom Wu. Wu took the role of a Chinese acrobat named Fong and there was something about his performance that I found refreshing. I especially felt that Simon Quarterman was a little over the top as Ari and he and Randy Couture seemed to be acting in the wrong millennium for their roles.
The action itself is limited because of weak storytelling and a relatively thin budget. The ‘invisible scorpion' that appears in the film is laughable and makes the badly CGI'd Dwayne Johnson scorpion from "The Mummy Returns" look incredible by comparison. The film features large briar-like trees that vault into the air from the ground and a round pillar as some of the highlights. "The Scorpion King 2" is a direct-to-video release and by golly, you can easily tell after just a few minutes of watching the film. It is limited, overly tame in its sense of adventure and features sub-par acting, storytelling and pacing. I didn't particularly enjoy "The Scorpion King," but I downright disliked its prequel follow-up. Only those that truly loved the first film will have any reason to sit through this one.
Universal has provided "The Scorpion King 2" with a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that is mastered with the VC-1 codec. The Blu-ray presentation of the film is decent and does not show any glaring problems aside from two or three shots in the film where the level of detail drops quite quickly. The film is a low-budget presentation and was released direct-to-video. Detail is strong in a few scenes and outdoor sequences under a hot sun seem to benefit from having the strongest level of detail. Other moments suffer from a muddy mess of lighting and detail. The result is that "The Scorpion King 2" looks dull and unimpressive in its 1080p existence. Marred with low-quality special effects and poor black levels, "Scorpion King 2" seems almost as dated as Mulcahy's cult film "Highlander." Compared to most other Blu-ray releases, "Scorpion King 2" is a low-budget affair and the release looks every bit as low in production quality. Thankfully, the print used was in good shape and aside from some heavy film grain moments, there aren't many issues with the source materials.
"The Scorpion King 2" is packed with a sole English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. This mix was fairly potent and a noticeable upgrade over the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is provided with the base DVD release. Bass was far more noticeable in this release and imaging seemed to move nicer across the various channels. I felt the DVD release was on the flat side, but this Blu-ray mastering was far livelier. Some of the directional effects still felt forced, but it was a noticeable improvement. The Klaus Badelt musical score is warm sounding and never takes precedence over the dialogue. The dialogue itself is intelligible and while you may not want to hear every poor line of dialogue, it is easily delivered to your ears. Subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.
The DVD release of "The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior" redeemed itself just a smidgeon with some decent bonus materials. Unfortunately, Universal has packed the film onto a BD-25 platter and every vignette and deleted scene is now missing. The only piece of value added content contained on the Blu-ray disc is the My Scenes feature which, as the packaging states, allows you to "collect your own movie clips." I can't say I've ever been overly excited by the My Scenes and Bookmarking features on either Blu-ray or HD-DVD and this is a bare minimum bonus feature to provide on a disc that saw its standard definition sibling get roughly an hour's worth of features. With a film such as "The Scorpion King 2," one would tend to think value-added content is a must. However, this film does not benefit from any on the high definition Blu-ray format.
I didn't like "The Scorpion King 2" the first time I watched it and I only found a few more plot holes the second time around. I wonder how I mustered the strength to watch the film a second time, but I managed to survive. This film is just another example of throwing out trash to capitalize on a marketable franchise. The first film did good business and it appears that somebody is out to make a fast buck with this prequel. The Blu-ray release does benefit from having slightly better visuals and a markedly better soundtrack. However, any semblance of value added material has been lost in translation from standard definition to high definition and there are no mentionable extras included on the disc. With this in mind, I'd have to recommend the DVD release over the Blu-ray version as the best part of that disc was the bonus materials.