Christopher Lambert : Lord Raiden
Robin Shou : Liu Kang
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa : Shang Tsung
Linden Ashby : Johnny Cage
Bridgette Wilson : Sonya Blade
Talisa Soto : Princess Kitana
Trevor Goddard : Kano
Chris Casamassa : Scorpion
Francois Petit : Sub-Zero
Keith H. Cooke : Reptile
Written by Kevin Droney
Directed by Paul Anderson
Three of the best martial artists in the world – Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade – are lured into a one-on-one fighting tournament to determine the fate of their realm by a mysterious sorcerer named Shang Tsung, who Liu Kang holds responsible for the untimely death of his younger brother. Although the fight seems impossible for them to win, they’ve got Raiden, the God of Thunder and Lightning on their side.
You want to hear something really ironic? I heard about the movie beforehand, just a while after Street Fighter had come out, but the first trailer I saw was included on the Batman Forever VHS my mom bought for me. Batman Forever (God bless the soul that movie never had) spawned a video game. That video game sucked some humongous balls, but what makes this important is that the video game actually ran on the Mortal Kombat engine!
Anyway, back in 1995, the trailer did a good job in totally driving me and my best friend insane out of pure joy. You see, back here the movie went straight to video, as far as we know – we were living in the backwoods where only the biggest blockbuster movies made it to the local cinema. Even as kids, we acknowledged that the Street Fighter movie, that came out a year prior, was horseshit, but the gamers in us always hoped for the best when a new game-to-movie came along, especially if it concerned our favourite franchises. Street Fighter failed, big time. The movie remains an utter failure to this day. Mortal Kombat, on the other hand, was unbelievably very entertaining, to say the least. What’s even more unbelievable is that almost two decades later, the movie still hits all the right spots, and very few wrong ones!
The plot, loosely based on the plot of the first Mortal Kombat game, is quite good. The movie starts with Liu Kang (Robin Shou) having a nightmare about Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) killing his brother Chan and then claiming Liu’s soul would be next. Then we find out that Chan has actually been killed, and Liu has to return home to the Shaolin temples. Then we meet Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) – accompanied by Jax who’s merely a cameo – in a nightclub on the hunt for Kano (Trevor Goddard), who killed her partner. Shang Tsung is there as well, talking to Kano about how Sonya “needs to be at the tournament”. Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) is up next – in a scene that strangely reminds me of Beverly Hills Cop for some reason – beating up a group of thugs like a boss until we realize that he’s actually filming a movie. One of the crew guys says that someone’s waiting for Johnny backstage. That someone turns out to be Master Boyd, who I’m guessing is Johnny’s mentor. Johnny’s career is going downhill as the press has deemed him fake, so Boyd encourages him to take part in a fighting tournament in an undisclosed location. As Boyd leaves the set, he morphs into his true self, Shang Tsung. We see a pattern forming here.
As the three fighters come together, all for their own reasons, Lord Raiden (Christopher Lambert) appears and tells them what Mortal Kombat is all about: the preservation of life on Earth. In order for the emperor of the Outworld – that’s Shang Tsung’s boss – to seize Earthrealm, he needs to defeat Earthrealm in ten consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments. They’ve won nine. This will be the tenth tournament. “The fate of billions depends on you. Heh-heh-heh-h… sorry.” Gotta love Lambert – where is that dude?
Mortal Kombat has a very linear plot, and the dialogue takes good care that we understand what’s going on, all the time; actually, the script tends to be a little too explanatory from time to time. There are scenes wholly dedicated to explanation, disguised as something else – they’re awkward, even stupid, but they are the only scenes that prevent this movie’s perfect flow. There are absolutely no other filler scenes in this flick. It’s Mortal Kombat to the core. It’s a great video game movie, made with just the right attitude. The main focus is on a handful of characters, and the few cameos actually support the movie instead of turning against it. The fighting scenes are good, I’ll let a few embarrassing moments pass, and most of the cast deserves kudos for taking their portrayals seriously, with reception from Mortal Kombat fans firmly in mind. I love this movie – but amidst all the cheesy punchlines, gratuitous amounts of flashy ass-kicking and a stunningly faithful atmosphere, lies a turd or two.
I LOVE how they brought the groin punch from the original arcade game to the movie and made it such a crucial part of such a crucial scene that it became legend. I’m quite all right with Shang Tsung shouting out “Finish Him!” and congratulating winners with “Flawless Victory”. I can even live with the fireball Liu Kang unleashes in the climax of the movie, but I think the line between what’s necessary to bring in from the games and what isn’t fades at times, especially towards the end of the movie, but the scene I’m thinking is the fight between Johnny Cage and Scorpion. Scorpion gets the upper hand and is about to finish Johnny with his famous Fatality of removing his mask to reveal a skull (what “fabulous” special effects there…) and scorching him with his fiery breath. Well, resourceful as he is, Johnny grabs a jagged metal shield – they’re fighting in some ancient armory – and covers himself with it before sticking a spear in Scorpion, running up to him and cutting him to pieces with the shield. What remains of Scorpion, explodes. Like “KA-BOOM”. That’s awkward, but what’s most awkward is that Johnny leaves behind a signed photograph, which reflects on his Friendship finisher in Mortal Kombat II. These few seconds are way too cheesy, even for this movie – I was expecting to see something like this transpire in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. They went a bit too far with this one – you can laugh it all off pretty easily, though.
|Way less laughable than Arnold in |
Batman & Robin.
The character design is good, but not perfect. I was prepared to criticize how the writers suddenly made the age-old arch rivals Sub-Zero and Scorpion best buddies, but for the first time, I interpreted Shang Tsung’s words correctly, and figured it was not the case at all. “Scorpion and Sub-Zero – the deadliest of enemies.” I always thought he meant “deadliest of enemies” as in opponents to the three main characters, but he meant that they were deadliest of enemies to each other, but sworn to Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung’s cause. Well… Sub-Zero is a kick-ass character in the flick, while Scorpion gets the shorter straw. Once again, the line between necessary and unnecessary is stretched a bit too far with his detached cries of “Come over ‘ere!”, “Com’ere!” and “Come down ‘ere!”. He sounds like a fucking retard, I wish they’d just shut him up entirely like they did with Sub-Zero. Also, I understand that Scorpion’s trademark harpoon must’ve been difficult to implement to the flick, but I don’t understand why they had to replace it with an ugly CGI snake.
Speaking of CGI, why is Reptile in the movie? Does he have any actual purpose? His inclusion grants the movie one more good fighting scene, but at least they could’ve previewed the CGI bits before letting this one off the belt. You see, Reptile is originally a huge CGI lizard. The first time he comes into full view, be sure not to eat or drink anything while you’re watching; it looks fucking horrendous, abysmal, to be frank. This CGI bastard attacks the gang a couple of times, and every time, the CGI looks more and more detached from the movie. Near the end of the movie, Liu Kang accidentally allows Reptile to take a human form – which is kinda based on how he was introduced in the game franchise – and fights him in one of the best fighting scenes of the movie, which gives Reptile purpose. Why the CGI scenes, why not just this one? This one time, I don’t care about character development. I fucking hate CGI. Look at Goro – he doesn’t need CGI to look awesome and just like his video game counterpart.
|Five-hundred dollar sunglasses...|
The underlying romantic subplots between Sonya and Johnny, and Liu and Kitana (played by the always gorgeous, but always pretentious Talisa Soto), never grow into anything bigger, and I think that’s good. A force-fed romance would’ve just ruined the movie. I’m already a bit disturbed by the flirty dialogue, the movie didn’t need an epic kiss to prove a point, and I’m glad the film makers realized that.
Robin Shou, Mr. Kung-Fu Stock, does a good job as Liu Kang, and is one of those Chinese-American actors whose speech you can actually understand immediately. Linden Ashby is kind of a funny choice as Johnny Cage; he does have the look, but you know what this guy’s most famous for? Soap operas and teen drama. Surprisingly, this guy prevents Christopher Lambert from stealing the show; Johnny has all the best punchlines. Bridgette Wilson… is Bridgette Wilson. Oh, sorry: an ANGRY Bridgette Wilson. I loved this chick when I was a kid, she looked awesome in Last Action Hero, and she looked awesome in Mortal Kombat as well – it was only later I realized how much she sucks tennis balls (HA!) as an actress, good looks or not. She just can’t hit the right notes. Actually, as long as she remains passive in this movie, has that “look at me, I’m Sonya Blade and I’m fucking angry” face on, and just speaks, she’s watchable. Put her in a scene that requires just some emotion, or hell, a fighting scene, and you’ve got yourself an embarrassing bomb. She does deliver one of the movie’s best lines, though, and does it good. You’ll know it when it comes.
|Liu Kang wins. Fatality.|
Christopher Lambert, who I will always remember as Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, owns as Raiden… all the glorious 15 minutes he spends on the screen. Oh, wait… not all 15. The movie takes a turn for the worse only to get better again later, right after Goro’s death. It’s not any of the actors’ fault – I guess the writers just had a bad day when they were coming up with the events that take place during the five to ten minutes into this obvious breakpoint in the movie. Anyway, it’s kind of ridiculous that Lambert’s billed first, ‘cause he’s rarely seen on the screen more than a minute at a time, and he appears only in a handful of essential scenes. But, they’ve got to have a name – and Lambert’s the only semi-high-profile actor in the movie. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was also a semi-high-profile actor in the category of “Asian dudes” back at the time. Seriously, this guy had a small part in almost every movie and TV show that needed an “Asian dude”. If I’m not mistaken, the role of Shang Tsung was his first major one, and although he overacts a lot, he does a fair job, and I consider his overacting pure, honest enthusiasm for his character. It has that sort of enthusiastic vibe. Last, we have Talisa Soto as Kitana. Not only does a good, interesting character go to complete waste in this movie as some sort of an Outworld expert and mentor/lover/whatever to Liu Kang, but Talisa Soto just isn’t a good actress. I don’t have anything against women in this movie, I swear. The guys just do better jobs.
|Liu Kang: "What is that?"|
Raiden: "A bad sequel."
The music’s just awesome. There’s some metal there, industrial music and techno, all in the good spirits of Mortal Kombat. The recurring lead track is called “Techno Syndrome”, and it was actually composed back in 1993 by The Immortals (Maurice Engelen and Oliver Adams) for Mortal Kombat – The Album; this movie made the song popular and it has since been associated with the franchise. It’s one of the hardest-hitting movie themes ever made.
Overall, Mortal Kombat is very possibly the greatest live-action movie ever to be bred from a video game franchise, and I think it set an example… but you know what? It had a sequel, which set an even finer example. An example of how horrendously bad a video game movie can be, that is. Up next, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.