For the fourth week in a row I took it upon myself to review video game movies! How long can I keep this up?! How much can my brain take before it turns into mush! Has it turned to mush already and is that why I am willingly watching video game movies? I do not know! What I do know is that this movie is one of the higher ranking of the 40ish video game movies. Ranking it at I believe number 5 on Rotten Tomatoes with an approval rating of 49%. Oof! I do actually agree that this is one of the better video game movies out there! Yet the grade doesn’t seem to far off either!
Mortal Kombat is a 1995 movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and is almost exclusively known for its killer soundtrack. I think everyone who reads this will read MORTAL KOMBAT, in that shouty voice of that totally retro track that since has become a part of the series.
Fairly recently Shang Tsung has been added to the roster of DLC fighters for Mortal Kombat 11.. and with Aftermath being released he finally got his part in the story there. What you might not know is that THIS Shang Tsung has been based on Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s portrayal of said character.. in this movie. Including his iconic catchphrase! Your Soul IS MINE! Which I think is really nice! I did love that character in this movie and to be fair.. it isn’t even that bad of a movie! It deserves some recognition, however this movie is completely overshadowed by its sequel for all the wrong reasons! So let’s judge this movie for what it is! Not for what it produced. For those who like to see me suffer… I shall review the sequel soon too!
The movie is centered around the three iconic good guys from the first Mortal Kombat game and also seems to loosely follow the plot of that game. As far as Mortal Kombat had a plot back then of course. Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade , unknowingly get selected to participate in a tournament called Mortal Kombat. When a realm loses 10 Kombat’s in in a row the Emperor Shao Kahn can take over that realm. Earthrealm has lost 9 matches already so now these three are our only hope! Well them and of course the legendary MK fighter Art Lean! You know! That guy! Whose been in none of the games, who might be a reference to the great Kung Lao.. but only shares a fate. Art Lean will be the chosen one I am sure. Anyhow! Lui, Johnny and Sonya have to fight in the tournament to defeat the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung to prevent Shao Kahn from taking over Earth Realm! The term tournament can be used very lightly here though! They mostly just fight! There is a comic though that shows how the tournament actually worked!
Let’s start with the positives here! What this movie does do right is setting up a few fairly interesting characters that do feel like their video game counter parts, all with a journey ahead of them.
Liu has a vision/dream of Shang killing his brother and wants revenge..but with this pain in his heart he can never win. Johnny is to arrogant he is concerned to look good and stylish, he fights for selfish and mostly petty reasons. Sonya wants to kill Kano and she wants to do it herself! She has hardened herself so much after losing her partner that she never wants a partner again. Closing herself off towards others refusing help. While their journeys are incredibly simple and somewhat cliché it does work quite well. It makes Sonya less annoying when she becomes the Damsel in distress, it makes Liu start out as a much more interesting and flawed person than his video game counterpart and Johnny Cage.. well he is just amazing because he is Johnny cage! I really think Linden Ashby portays the man quite well. His comedic timing is a bit off at times but overall he’s the character I enjoyed the most.
Kano’s portayel would really bleed over in how the character appears to be in the “cinematic MK games” (9 and up) so clearly he and Shang Tsung did a great job as well. Sonya as an actress I found rather one dimensional and not very engaging, in part due to the writing but also because she can sound needlessly bitey in her delivery, which could be intended to make her even colder..but it just makes her unappealing. Liu does a fine job over all, I do believe his acting and I actually like this Liu better than the preachy one in the video games. This one feels more like a Kung Lao and Liu Kang Hybrid and I like that. For 1995 standards I don’t think the effects are to bad either. Reptile looks bad, and Goro can be kinda derpy but it’s never that distracting. It usually knows how to frame these shots. The plot and progress over all is enjoyable with a bit of a slip up pacing wise at the end.. but over all I do get Mortal Kombat vibes.
I liked the sets as well, the creepy ship, Tsung’s palace, Goro’s Lair there are a lot of winks and nods to Mortal Kombat Stages. I just wish they’d fight in them more instead of running through.Given how so many MK stages are very narrow though I can see why they went this route though! Its shot fairly smart! You get those MK vibes without actually seeing fights in the tricky areas. The best thing of this movie though is .. as mentioned earlier.. the sound track! This movie can really get you hyped up for the action through a slew of hype tracks! They are all cheesy..but most of the actors lean into this cheese as well! Johnny, Tsung, Liu and Lord Raiden in particular. While I have some less nice things to say about Christopher Lambert’s portrayal of the thundergod tonally they are fairly in sync! Goro as well! Only Sonya seems a bit over dramatic and more down to earth I guess. The B-movie vibe is real throughout and that means it can get away with a lot of things! Like that amazing soundtrack!
All of the above makes this movie pretty fun to watch! At the very least watchable!
However this movie is also plagued with numerous mistakes that ever prevent it from being more than.. a fun watch. Christopher Lambert’s portrayal of Raiden was one of my biggest gripes that took me out of the movie every time he shows up. He is just SUCH an incredible piece of doo-doo! His laughs are almost as fake as Tommy Wiseau’s! This Raiden is not a fighter but a mentor, who guides the three through their tournament. Yet to save the world he is in charge of he is incredibly cryptic and misleading. He treats Liu like he is an ass.. and true he Kang can be an dillhole has well but jeesz! Why would you not be straight with people trying to save the world. He just shows up.. scolds people or makes fun of them and teleport away. He feels more like a evil power ranger than anything else. While he isn’t poorly acted all the time there is no gravitas to him, he feels like a guy having fun and will see if Earth goes up the down the drain or not! Which in it’s own makes the character a bit of a throw-away.
He isn’t the worst person though! That honour goes to the fight coordinator. These fights are done HORRIBLY! From a stunt work/flow perspective at least. Watching Corridor Crew on YouTube has taught me some things about how to frame stunt work and this is not how you do it! There is so much cheating. Nearly every connecting punch is shot in a close up, all kicks once again close up on the foot making an impact that often isn’t even the actual foot I think! Just a prop being applied! We get ugly cuts in fights so a character that makes a low sweep is suddenly up right again and stuff like that. This happens through EVERY fight! Actions chosen make no sense from a dynamic fighting stance. Like in the heat of battle fighters can stop fighting each other and back down for some slow posing.
Characters wait while someone invokes a painfully slow technique. People refuse to use their legs when their arms are grappled even if it could break them free and other stuff. These fights did not flow at all. It’s a static combination of brief shots that do mimic the sense if impact.. but because we lack the actual impact.. we aren’t fooled. Most fights resolve in stupid ways as well. Most enemies are dealt with through trickery or special moves. Like when Johnny cage picks up a shield and slightly slices scorpions head with it .. who as a result explodes. Or how Goro is dealt with.. Sub-Zero doesn’t have the most gracious ending either.. why did his technique suddenly change from a small frosty ball to a huge frosty field. That seems rather stupid. How did Raiden know he would use that technique instead of the tiny frost ball they saw him use earlier?!
The final fights, against reptile and Shang Tsung are a bit better but the reptile fight ends incredibly silly. Most of the fighters get down from a blow to the chest anway.. many of them do not feel like a finishing blow! The first half of the Shang Tsung fight was kind of nice! We see some actual hits being taken in a more flowing combat but that then is taken away completely by the second bout of the fight. Shang transforms in Liu Kang’s brother in front of his very eyes! For some reason that prompts him to believe he is seeing is brother?! How! You JUST SAW the villian transform! You know you have to overcome your greatest fear and you know the chinese magic man has your brothers soul?! How on Earth Realm did you get fooled! Worst of all! Shang Tsung doesn’t take advantage of this.. there is a pit of spikes down below and instead of tossing in the distracted Liu Kang down killing him.. he tries to convince him to jump in himself.. so they can be together! The heck! I know this movie did not make a lot of sense before but this is pushing it! After he finally sees through the illusion Tsung takes the time to transform back before the fight resumes! Why?! You can still exploit the smaller body stature to your advantage! Reeeeee! Pinkie Tantrum!
After beating the transformed back Shang Tsung and tossing him into the pit… Liu Kang had the audacity to claim Flawless victory!
That my boy, was not flawless! You got punched a lot .. plus you got fooled. We skip forward to people being back at Liu’s temple! Everyone is happy they won Mortal Kombat when suddenly Shao Kahn attacks! People take a fighting stance and the movie ends. This movie has always been a guilty pleasure but learning more about stunt work and framing the camera has taken away a lot of it’s charm. It isn’t exactly bad but the fighting in this movie really isn’t all that! Given that it’s a movie that’s about fighting that is a negative. I had more fun with the character moments, the meal, the boat ride and most Johnny Cage stuff. Which doesn’t make it less fun.. but if you go and watch football would you say the match was nice because of the halftime act?! Not sure myself because I do not watch football. Still if I order a steak in a restaurant I care more about how that tastes than the side dishes! This steak has tasty sides but the meat is overcooked.
This film however has become more than just a movie! It has become a legacy! It’s soundtrack, it’s rendition of Shang Tsung , the way it’s character portayles have seeped into the main series. It’s as much a part of Mortal Kombat as the first arcade cabinet itself. It wouldn’t be able to do that if this movie had nothing going for it either. It has a charm to it and a certain likeability. It’s like your Dojiko friend! It stumbles a lot and when they ruin a nice moment for you.. you could really scold at them but then if you look it into those innocent well meaning eyes you can not help but to crack a smile and say “there there” while giving a head pat. The movie is there for you.. it respects it’s source material (for the most part) and of course it has Art Lean! The guy who got to act out that Mortal Kombat “Finish him!!” pose.. and kinda gets away with it as well! You know where they just spin on their legs! It’s cheesy but it works!
It’s a harmless watch that can be kinda fun that offers you one hour and forty minutes of low brow entertainment. Sometimes you go to McDonalds to buy a happy meal. You know the toy will be of less than stellar quality and besides the Yoghurt the food will not taste very good.. but it’s fun. This is the same situation. I would not recommend it yet at the same time I think many people would have a pleasant enough watch. If you want to see something more legendary though.. the sequel is definitely the better pick. Chances are though that will be a much less pleasant experience. Edit: By the Time I post this I have watched the sequal ..and boy …past Pinkie wasn’t wrong when she told me I would have a more memorable but less pleasant experience! You will know about it.. in two weeks!
What did you think of this movie?! What video game movie should I review next? Who is your favorite Mortal Kombatant? Let me know in the Komments!