12th Dec2018

‘Scorpion King: Book of Souls’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Zach McGowan, Nathan Jones, Peter Mensah, Pearl Thusi, Mayling Ng, Inge Beckmann, Katy Louise Saunders, Howard Charles, Rizelle Januk | Written by David Alton Hedges, Frank DeJohn | Directed by Don Michael Paul

scorpion-king-5-dvd

A spin-off from 2001′s Mummy sequel, the Scorpion King series – begun in 2002 – has official now out-lived and outlasted the very franchise it was born from. Stephen Sommers Mummy films ran for 9 years and three films, whilst the Scorpion King franchise is now in it’s fifth film with Scorpion King: Book of Souls and has go on for 16 years – with four sequels in the the last ten years alone.

This latest comes once again from Universal 1440, the direct to market arm of Universal which has consistently put out direct to DVD sequels to a myriad of different franchises like Death Race, Bring It On, Jarhead, Tremors and more. This film also sees Universal 1440 stalwart Don Michael Paul in the directors chair, having helmed six 1440 productions since 2014 – for pretty much ever DTV action franchise they have on their books. Interestingly, both Paul and Scorpion King: Book of Souls star Zack McGowan (Black Sails) would also work together on the fourth film in the Death Race franchise (not counting the Roger Corman direct sequel Death Race 2050), Death Race 4: Beyond Anarchy - and both films are also somewhat of a reboot for each series.

Scorpion King: Book of Souls sees the titular Scorpion King dragged out of “retirement” as a peaceful blacksmith to team up with a female warrior named Tala, who is the sister of The Nubian King and the daughter of Michael Clare Duncan’s character from the original 2002 movie, on a quest for a legendary relic known as the Book of Souls, which will allow them to put an end to evil warlord Nebserek (Peter Mensah), who has taken control of the Fang of Anubis, a sword that can only be destroyed by the Book of Souls (hence this quest).

Of courze by the time you get to the fifth film in the series you’re bound to be running out of original ideas – which is probably why Scorpion King: Book of Souls not only pilfers plot points from the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Stargate (and its various spin-offs) but also from the very film that spawned this DTV franchise… We get a giant Golem who kicks ass and takes no prisoners, much like the aforementioned Michael Clare Duncan did in the 2002 movie; and we get a scantily-clad mystical heroine, a la Kelly Hu’s Sorceress in the same flick. Plus there’s a scene which literally looks to have been reproduced from the The Rock-starring film too!

The real problem with the Scorpion King franchise, as it exists as a direct to DVD entity, is that none of the films have ever had a lead as charismatic as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He made that appearance in The Mummy Returns into his own starring vehicle on his sheer screen prescence alone. He made The Scorpion King into a fun romp on his wit, comedic timing and a willingness to play the character tongue-in-cheek whilst giving action fans what they wanted… Action! With each progressive sequel we seem to be getting more and more serious, our hero more and more stoic – and that’s not what these films need. They need a hero with emotion, who can play for laughs as much as drama. We need someone who’s more than just a ripped body and an ability to fight. It’s no disrespect to Zach McGowan, who does a much better job here than previous star Victor Webster, it’s just the way the character has been written.

Speaking of former Scorpion King actors, this film is head and shoulders above BOTH Webster’s entries in the franchise – but, ultimately, that’s not saying much. By taking a step back, almost re-booting the story somewhat by returning to various aspects of that original film, Scorpion King: Book of Souls suceeds in crafting a decent tale. But that’s all it is. Decent. There’s a lack of excitement in the action and a lack of real danger when neccesary; but at least this film does have more of a sense of scale than some of the other DTV entries – you feel like the desert is a foreboding place, you feel like its a character in and of itself…

But that scale cannot make up for the the films other foibles, making this one for franchise completeists only.

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