Let’s cut to the chase. The ‘Mummy’ series, while heavy on camp, dense plotting, and swordfights with the undead, wasn’t built to sustain as many sequels as it has generated. ‘The Mummy Returns’ already struggled with establishing its own identity (awkwardly rehashing plot points and characters ad nauseam) while its prequel, ‘The Scorpion King,’ had to contend with cardboard sets, poor CGI, and supporting actors who should have been serving lunch on the studio lot rather than eating it. So it was with great trepidation that I approached ‘The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior,’ the direct-to-video prequel… to the prequel… to the sequel of a fairly innocuous adventure flick.
’Rise of a Warrior’ digs into the series' past and reveals the origin of the would-be Scorpion King, Mathayus (previously played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, now played by “Power Rangers: Time Force” alum Michael Copon). It seems the legendary swordsman was once an uncharismatic weakling whose daddy issues and thirst for revenge somehow transformed him into a sneering bore desperate to vanquish his father’s killer, Emperor Sargon (UFC fighter Randy Couture). Mathayus hooks up with an old friend named Layla (Karen Shenaz David), a Greek named… sigh… Aristotle (Simon Quarterman), an acrobat (Tom Wu), and a collection of red shirts aimlessly devoted to the boy-warrior’s quest. The plan is simple: break into the underworld, defeat a minotaur, and steal a magical, unbreakable sword. First, however, Mathayus must face a goddess named Lady Astarte (Natalie Becker) and avoid a curse that…
Forget it, it doesn’t really matter. ‘Rise of a Warrior’ is painfully overplotted, yet so mind-numbingly simple that it’s impossible to care about its characters or central conflicts. I’d be more forgiving if it were shooting for the camp value of the first ‘Scorpion King,’ but everyone on-screen is so serious that they seem to think they’re working on the next ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Adding insult to injury, stiff deliveries, wooden acting, and ‘70s B-movie dialogue, the film itself is littered with recurring locales and sets, villains dressed in $40 Halloween costumes, weapons off the adjacent rack, and astoundingly primitive CGI that would have made ‘Tron’ look bad in 1982. ‘Rise of a Warrior’ even seems to reject its own series mythos -- instead of exploiting Egyptian mythology, the creators become far too distracted by Greece and other cultures that have nothing to do with the first film. By the time I clawed my way to the end credits, I couldn’t believe the movie existed, much less had earned a Blu-ray release.
All in all, the whole production feels like an aborted TV pilot; one that didn’t stir up enough behind-the-scenes buzz to warrant any further effort. In fact, it's basically a shinier version of the home videos you and your childhood friends used to make in your backyard with clunky VHS camcorders. I know Peter just declared ‘Lost Boys: The Tribe’ the worst straight-to-video flick he’d ever seen, but he didn’t have to sit through this brain-scrubbing mess. It’s not even cheesy or campy enough to net a little bit of fun.
I didn’t expect any amount of technical polish to redeem ‘Rise of a Warrior’ or help its visuals overcome such shoddy, low-budget roots, but I did expect to encounter an above average high-def presentation. Unfortunately, it seems Universal was all too eager to toss this one out the door. Haphazardly presented with a problematic 1080p/VC-1 transfer, ‘Rise of a Warrior’ suffers from drab colors, contrast wavering, unresolved blacks, and errant softness. Detail is fairly impressive from time to time, rendering fine objects without the aid of edge enhancement or unnatural post-production sharpening, but too many shots are handicapped by haziness, dull textures, and flat dimensionality. While the image occasionally pops, depth often falls victim to a weak palette that doesn’t allow the foregrounds and backgrounds to properly separate.
As it stands, the only resounding compliment I’m willing to pay ‘Rise of a Warrior’s transfer is that it doesn’t struggle with significant artifacting, source noise, or banding. While each issue appears to a minor degree during the presentation, they’re never intrusive enough to become a major distraction. I didn’t have the opportunity to check out the DVD, but I can say the BD picture is acceptable enough to outclass a standard definition presentation. However, if you managed to enjoy the film itself, you’ll have to search for true high-def value elsewhere on the disc.
’Rise of a Warrior’ fans rejoice (two people shrug their shoulders and clap), Universal’s DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track manages to inject a bit of legitimate value into this release. While the track definitely doesn’t offer reference level sonics, dialogue is generally crisp and well prioritized, LFE support is booming and weighty, and the rear speakers are engaging. I also wouldn’t call the mix immersive, but the soundfield utilizes decent pans and precision to create a mildly convincing surround experience. The downside is that the film’s sound design is as clumsy as the production itself. Sound effects are thin and stagey, crumbling stone doesn’t sound much different than breaking furniture, and looping and mediocre balancing keep everything sounding like an overblown television romp. Sure, it doesn’t affect the technical quality of the mix, but it does undermine the overall impact of the track.
Regardless, the high point of ‘Rise of a Warrior’ is, without a doubt, its Master Audio surround track. It at least gave me something to smile about while fighting to keep my eyes on the screen.
A lack of supplements on a direct-to-video release like this one normally wouldn’t surprise me, but the DVD edition of ‘Rise of a Warrior’ includes featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and other assorted features. Since Universal only saw fit to drop their usual “My Scenes” option on the disc, I can only guess they had zero interest in pushing the high-def version of the film.
Dull, dim-witted, and entirely unnecessary, ‘The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior’ doesn’t offer ‘Mummy’ series fans anything to get excited about. This Blu-ray edition is just as unbearable as the film. Aside from an above average DTS HD MA track, the release continues to soil itself with an unattractive, problematic video transfer and the decision to leave all of the DVD’s supplements on the cutting room floor. If you see this release on a shelf at your local Wal-Mart or Best Buy, save your money, shield your eyes, and hurry your children past this cinematic abomination.