Mortal Kombat (1995)

Alright, so in an attempt to update this place more than once every two or three months, I decided to hunt down and write about some Video Game Movies. I’ve actually seen very few of these, offhand I can only think of Resident Evil, part of Super Mario Bros., and The Wizard if you want to count that.

Of course this is largely due to their reputation as consistent garbage. One that people seem to regard a little more highly is the original Mortal Kombat from 1995. Of course, being one of the “better” video game movies is a pretty easy contest to win considering the field, but I see people praise it sometimes without really explaining why it’s any good. I noticed it on the lineup of those Comcast free on-demand movies that you get with their digital cable on channel 1, so on a rainy evening I decided to go for it.

Now that I’ve seen it, I guess the best thing I can say about it (and probably the reason why it has any following) is that it stays pretty faithful to the source material in how characters look, and the terms of the threadbare story in the game. It’s kind of a blend of Mortal Kombat I and II in terms of plot; the main focus is Liu Kang v.s. Goro and Shang Tsung in a tournament to allow the Outworld to come to Earth, but a few elements from the second game wander in, like the presence of Kitana. The writing and dialogue are pretty horrible, though; it’s just like a 10x more cheesy version of Enter the Dragon, really.

We start out with that crazy techno song over the opening credits, the one that’s become more enduringly popular than the movie itself “MOOOORTAL KOOMBAT!!! Unf Unf UnfUnfUnf”. Then we jump straight into some backstory of Shang Tsung brutally owning Liu Kang’s brother in front of him. He doesn’t have the skullcap look from the games, more of a Captain Trenchcoat thing going on, but still looks suitably badass for our feature villain.

After a little shirtless Liu Kang for the ladies, we get Sonya and Jax assaulting a speed metal concert for some reason … crack those hesher skulls! Oh wait, apparently Kano is backstage for some reason, with Shang Tsung. Since we’ve still got like 115 minutes of screen time to fill, they both get away.

Then there’s Johnny Cage, who gets tricked by Shang Tsung shapeshifting into the form of his old master into entering the tournament. Then back to Liu Kang at the monastery for some filler. Finally, after 11 minutes of establishing identity and motivations, we’ve got our trio of heroes on board a boat to the Nether World or whatever.

Alright, then Gandalf Chrisopher Lambert shows up and bails them out from getting fucked up by Scorpion and Sub-Zero. We find out that Raiden apparently chose them for this tournament … I still don’t understand why Shang Tsung had to go out and recruit them, nor does it really make sense why Kano’s even involved at all, but oh well. The writers didn’t worry about it and neither should you!

There’s like literally 30 minutes of “welcome to the island” stuff before the tournament finally gets underway with … Liu Kang v.s. Dee Jay? Oh, and they use laundry poles for some reason. Yeah, so guess how this ends. I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that the director had to walk a fine line here between incorporating the blood & gore the game was most famous for, and keeping it at least PG-13 for the kiddy dollars and Burger King merchandising tie-ins. We see here that Good Guys aren’t gonna do fatalities, but Shang Tsung will eat the tasty soul of anyone who loses.

With no break in the action we go straight to Sonya v.s. …. Kano? Really? Already? Aside from coming too soon, this is anticlimactic in that Kano fights like a total bitch before Sonya fairly quickly calf-chokes him to death somehow.

A few problems here. One is that the actress, Bridgette Wilson, was clearly selected for looks rather than martial arts choreography prowess, so her fight scenes apparently have to stay pretty short and simple. Also, we can’t have the good guys do fatalities … but it’s OK for Sonya to rifle-butt civilians randomly, threaten anyone she sees with a pistol, and then straight-up murder an opponent unneccesarily? I don’t think it was the writer/directors intention but if you’re paying attention to this point, Sonya really comes off like a dangerous sociopath even more than Kano was. Shang Tsung also seems sexually excited that Kano is about to die, so … again, why is he even here? And couldn’t we at least see him rip a mook’s heart out before getting waxed?

Moving right along  … literally, with no transition whatsoever … Jonny Cage is wandering in some Elysian field somewhere when he gets jumped by Scorpion. Is this a tournament match? Why isn’t it on the beach with an audience like the other ones?

Somehow they crash through the forest floor and wind up in the underworld, then Scorp tries his finishing move on Jonny while he’s not dizzy, which doesn’t go well for him. Scorp goes down like a bitch then we’re right back to the beach again for Liu Kang’s second match.

This is where the structure pretty much devolves from “tournament” to “Shang Tsung just doing whatever the hell he wants.” Liu fights Kitana for his second round even though we didn’t see her win a first-round match. Maybe that happened on the beach while Scorpion was shitting on himself. Anyway, again this is another case of “casting by hotness” so Liu and Kitana sort of dance/lightly wrestle for a while before Liu wins. You’d think this would be a prime opportunity for Shang to eat Kitana’s soul and get her out of his hair but he can’t, or won’t, or anyway doesn’t for whatever reason.

Liu goes straight into a third match with Sub-Zero. Then we finally see a villain have to fight a qualifying round as Goro kills like 300 mooks by himself.

Goro looks like the mutant baby of Gollum and Quatto from Total Recall. Here he kills the guy from Scrubs just by chopping his chest really hard or something. Scrubs guy was apparently Jonny’s friend so Jonny is all Sadness and Revenge, then challenges Goro himself. I am further confused by the formal structure of the tournament at this point. Jonny wins by punching Goro in his extraterrestrial sac, then running off and tricking him into falling off a cliff.

Shang Tsung has apparently also totally lost track of how this tournament even works at this point, because he just sort of grabs Sonya and runs off with her to the Outworld. Raiden pulls some more powers out of his butt and sends everyone there, Liu Kang challenges Shang for the final match, there’s like 30 minutes of fighting, and then Happy End.

Yeah, I’m stunned too, Sub-Zero.

This would have been a way better movie as some over-the-top gore-filled grindhouse type thing, but that’s not where the money was. The movie is being “rebooted” in 2013 apparently, maybe that’s the direction it’ll go in. This one is pretty much Mortal Safe For Burger King Cups. Again, I guess the characters looked right for the most part, they got the key moves in, they even crammed in as many level backgrounds as possible (sometimes at the total expense of logic.)

Robin Chou (Liu Kang) is actually a pretty good martial arts choreographer and his fight scenes were actually decent, which was really the high point of the movie. I guess Cage wasn’t bad either, certainly looked the part.

The guy who played Kano was a little-known actor who died tragically at the age of 40, only a few years after this came out. Criminally under-used in this picture IMO. This was his only leading role, only a year before his death:

Wat.

Sonya really looked the part but Kitana, not so much. The two actresses, Bridgette Wilson and Talisa Soto respectively, were clearly selected for hotness factor while still having just enough athletic and acting chops to manage the parts. I mean, neither was terrible but they were probably the weak links of the cast. Here’s the hottest pics of them I could find to pump up the page views:

Both maybe with just a *touch* of the ol’ butterface but seriously, don’t play like you wouldn’t turbo-bang that. At least in 1995. Sonya has a semi-nude you can find in GIS but some jerk that looks like Roberto Luongo is in the way.

Scorp and Sub-Zero were kind of a joke. They looked good, but any character or backstory was totally ignored in just making them generic thugs.

Dunno what happened to the rest of the cast. Jax is in there for a second at the beginning, but decides he likes his regular arms and doesn’t follow Sonya onto the boat. They do mention Kung Lao at one point as being Liu Kang’s ancestor. No Baraka, Mileena or Kintaro.

Is it worth watching for free? Mmm … nah man, honestly I was wandering in and out of the living room constantly while it was on due to failing to hold my interest. It doesn’t work as an exploitation picture due to the toning down for the family dollar, it doesn’t work as a kung fu flick due to lack of skill on the cast plus cheap CGI to get a lot of the special moves in, and the writing is even more of a joke than the threadbare game story was. If this is one of the “better” video game movies, oh man … I guess I’m in for some pain.

(BroTip: If you have Comcast digital, they’ve got Blues Brothers, Big Trouble in Little China and Slap Shot all free for the rest of this month. All WAY better choices for an evening’s entertainment than this.)

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