Heya, popping in today to share my friend Tempest's trip fundraiser and include you in The Scorpion King rewatch comments we posted on Twitter. The idea behind Tempest’s fundraiser is simple: You want her comments on movies like Gods of Egypt? Pitch in a few bucks and join the fun.
So how do I figure into all of this... Well readers, when Tempest told me she was going to rewatch The Scorpion King I told her no one should do that alone. Timing worked out, and she invited me along for the fun.
#TheScorpionTempest hashtag on Twitter is the result of our surprise and horror. Feel free to peruse at your reading leisure!
I do want to comment on the overall concept, but before I can do that—I messed up the spelling on two fronts. (See also: This is WHY we need a spell-check *shakes fist* Twitter!) The actor starring in The Scorpion King is Dwayne Johnson, playing Mathayus. I didn't call the other characters out by name, because if their names were mentioned it was only the one time, so they got nicknames instead.
One of the most frustrating things about this movie franchise (I’d heard of The Scorpion King 2, but hadn’t realized they’d made five of these films) is the lost potential of the main protagonist. I’ll let Tempest speak to the issues with the mythology in more detail, but the short version is that this is an extraordinarily Greco-Roman othering view of Egyptian mythology. And, as far as the female characters are concerned? We covered some of that on Twitter, but it doesn’t even come close to passing the Bechdel Test. It is a dudes be dudening kind of a movie.
Mind you, I love a good action movie just as much as the next person, but sometimes I need just a bit more narrative than “let’s kick some butt.” I also don’t see any reason why women-kicking-butt would be a detriment to the story, at all. The Scorpion King had so much potential to stand on its own, but it fell flat. I kept getting Indiana Jones vibes with a little bit of Conan thrown in. Thing is: Mathayas has his own tragic backstory that gives him weight to stand apart from any other franchise, and it’s just not explored. The last of his people, he's now a highly skilled assassin seeking...what, exactly? The death of Memnon, for what reason? Rubies?
Tragic heroes make us care about the actions they’re taking, and while I found myself rooting for Mathayas because he was played by The Rock—it’s not enough to develop an origin story for any tragic figure, let alone the “villain” portrayed in The Mummy Returns at the temple of Ahm Shere.
With no character arc, there’s nothing to hold up the franchise, because the entire backdrop is based on the presence of his character and the setting is underdeveloped. With Conan, you have the books of Robert E. Howard to draw from. With The Scorpion King, it had an opportunity to break out on its own, but the world was surface-level built and the motivations just weren't believable. If you removed The Scorpion King from the story and replaced it with another warlord of the time, it’d be the same movie.
What would I have liked to see? For starters, a far more personal, character-driven story. I wanted to know why Mathayas is assassinating his way across the realms, putting himself at great risk, instead of finding a new home and building a family.
Oft-repeated: He’s the last of his kind. Okay, when did that happen? So long ago he can no longer remember? Or within the past decade? Why wouldn’t he want to look for others like him who might be in hiding? Or try to bring them back from the dead?
Can you imagine the power of a “found family” story for this character? Imagine Mathayas increasingly frustrated that magic is real, but it can only go so far—something that does make sense for his character who shuns visions and prophecies only to make a pact with, erm, Anubis... Instead of, say, the scorpion goddess Serqet or, better yet, a mysterious deity whose name has been lost to time. Say he makes a pact to bring back his lost people. So far, so good until everything goes sideways when he realizes the only way to do this is through necromancy. The people who help/save him at the end? His found family who remind him he’s not alone. The people he’s met along the way, building a new community, vested in helping each other get the job done together. A bit like The Crow, sure, but my point is that loss and grief are powerful motivators to work with the supernatural. It just seems like a logical choice for this particular character, for all the reasons I mentioned above.
If you’re wondering if a “feel good” ending is possible in an action movie, I’d like to present Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw as evidence—very specifically, when they revisit Hobbs' childhood home in Samoa. (Not commenting beyond that just in case you haven’t seen it.) It really is a beautiful scene with a lot of heart that gets the job done. And, since there is a reboot in the works, well...a girl can dream a new Scorpion King would have some heart. Gah!
What about you? Agree? Disagree?