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SYFY WIRE The Scorpion King

The Scorpion King Is a Wild End to the Original Mummy Saga - Stream it on Peacock

Let's take a look back at one of The Rock's earliest starring roles. 

By Matthew Jackson
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in The Scorpion King (2002)

After the success of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, you had to know that Universal Pictures was going to work on continuing the franchise. Stephen Sommers' one-two punch of period action/adventure worked extremely well for the studios as the '90s became the '00s, so a follow-up felt inevitable. What was less predictable was what we actually ended up getting.

Yes, we eventually did a get third installment in the Mummy series proper, but that didn't come until Tomb of the Dragon Emperor a few years later. While the iron was hot, Universal decided instead to take an antagonist from the end of The Mummy Returns, put him 5,000 years in the past, and give him his own origin story. The result was The Scorpion King (now streaming on Peacock!), a film that didn't endure nearly as well as The Mummy or The Mummy Returns, but which still ranks as an important piece of the franchise thanks in no small part to the man the studio picked to lead it.

RELATED: Stream The Mummy Trilogy on Peacock Now

That man was, at the time, credited almost exclusively as "The Rock," and was best known for popping up on TV every Monday and Thursday night (and once a month on pay-per-view) as one of the WWE's most bankable and commanding superstars. His brief, CGI-heavy appearance in The Mummy Returns was promoted heavily on Monday Night RAW and Thursday Night Smackdown, and The Scorpion King was positioned as the film that would catapult him from guest player to major movie star. Twenty years later, now that we know what the man who now prefers to be called Dwayne Johnson has become, it's hard to shake the feeling that the film is important, even if many fans don't count it today as one of Johnson's standout movies.

But how does The Scorpion King really work as a film today, beyond its importance to the trajectory of one of the most recognizable household names in Hollywood so far this century? Watching the film on Peacock now, you get the sense that it's simultaneously both a very of-its-time blockbuster and a very prescient indicator of the kind of movie star Johnson would turn out to be. It might not pack the same blockbuster punch as The Mummy trilogy, but there's a lot here to entertain, and it all begins with the charisma bomb that is The Rock. 

Johnson stars as the title character before he landed that particular title. When we meet him, he's a warrior named Mathayus, a member of an elite tribe of fighters in a time when a tyrannical new ruler is sweeping across the desert, claiming every individual kingdom for his own. This ruler, Memnon (Steven Brand) does this with the help of a gifted sorceress (Kelly Hu), who's able to tell him every facet of the future thanks to her magical gifts, and thus grant him the advantage in battle. To defeat Memnon, Mathayus is tasked with taking out this sorceress, only to find they have more in common than he might have realized. 

It's the kind of story that you could imagine following with just about any sword and sorcery hero, complete with moments of magic, sword fights, major battle sequences, and no small amount of sexy exposed skin from the film's stars, and that's part of The Scorpion King's charm. Sommers, who co-wrote the film but left the directing up to Chuck Russell this time around, clearly understood the vibe The Scorpion King needed to achieve in order to set itself apart from The Mummy while still remaining part of that universe, and whatever you might think of that vibe, the film achieves it. It's campy, it's full of quips, and it's a showcase for its muscled star to prove himself both in terms of big-screen action and charisma.

It's here, fittingly, that Johnson starts to find a certain rhythm that's come to define much of his blockbuster career in the 20 years since. When we meet Mathayus, he's a cocky, bruising, strong-jawed warrior through and through, who only really cares about victory and protecting those closest to him. Over the course of the film, we see more dimensions as he starts to get to know the sorceress he was bound to capture, and starts to realize his destiny not just as warrior, but as leader. That suits Johnson just fine, but where the film really proves prescient is when it starts to add in layers of physical comedy that challenge our preconceptions of Mathayus as an invincible super-warrior who can't be bested. That side of the character is still there, to be sure, but the longer the film goes on, the more we get to see Johnson adopt the in-over-his-head action vibes that so defined The Mummy (and Indiana Jones before it) in the first place. It's charming, it's fun, and while it's only a shadow of what would come later, it works. 

So, the next time you're launching your next Mummy rewatch, take some extra time and throw The Scorpion King into the rotation. It might just be better than you remember.

The Scorpion King is now streaming on Peacock, alongside The MummyThe Mummy Returns, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor!