Ah yes, film adaptations of video games. These should hold up well.
When it comes to violence, Mortal Kombat took the standard and quintupled it. Dismemberment, mutilation, and whatever kind of excessive gore one can possibly imagine, the franchise has likely indulged in some variation. Due to its rampant success despite all the controversy, live-action films were inevitable—whatever looks like a gold mine, mine it to hell.
Recently, I’ve heard around the interwebs that the original 1995 film is actually a gem of a time. Super cheesy and full of personality, the likes not represented in the newest live-action film. A wondrous sense of goofiness and good nature that only an unpredictable, video-game film could achieve. With my recent Mortal Kombat kick in full swing, I ended up watching both the ’95 and ’97 sequel within the span of 24 hours a few days ago. As the post title would imply, I have some thoughts on them, organized by individual film.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
When that techno theme plays, you know you’re in for a good time. At least within the duration of the track’s runtime.
Something I was not expecting going into this was its rather formulaic structure. Can’t recall if I’ve ever spoken about the “origin story” plotline in films, or how I find them intensely boring. Perhaps it’s in a Letterboxd review, I don’t know. Regardless, Mortal Kombat (the film) is a loose re-telling of Mortal Kombat (the game). Lots of exposition, lots of characters’ origins being highlighted, and lots of fighting. Interestingly enough, very little of it actually graphic!
Such is the second big surprise going into this: it’s PG-13. For those outside of America, that’s like third-highest in maturity scale. Even with this, I could almost see this being passed off as PG—only the occasional impaling and lots of neck-snapping makes it worth the tag to me. There’s hardly any blood! They say “Bullshit” once! How is it that I never hear anyone address the fact that the film is an incredibly sterilized version of one of the most violent video games of all time? Did people not have a problem with this? I personally didn’t care, but I could definitely see purists crying foul.
Not as violent and heavy on filling in the details for those not aware of the franchise. Two great attributes already. Yet those are things that general fans can overlook. What they care about is the cheesy action, over-the-top acting, and references to the game. As a passive current fan and former hardcore fan, I did like all three of these aspects. To what extent, however, is what makes the results so unfortunate.
Haha, Shang Tsung’s actor said “Fatality.” Haha, a couple people said “Flawless Victory.” Haha, Scorpion said “GET OVER HERE!” Haha, Johnny Cage punched Goro in the balls. Things like this are of little consequence to some; really, they’re of little consequence to me. Hence why I point out that these references don’t really add anything for me. They’re cute more than anything, though don’t heighten much in the long run. Whatever cheesy spirit is exuded from the film, it’s not much by way of references, rather how it manages to incorporate the sheer stupidity of Mortal Kombat‘s plot for general audiences.
Said incorporation is actually fairly solid. I don’t think there was ever a portion of this film (sans the last twenty minutes) where I was bored. To provide vague spoilers (skip to next paragraph if you desire a fresh mind), Sonya Blade (more on characters later) is used as a damsel in distress by the end, because lol. Things escalate to a point where you would have to be a fetus to have never seen it before. While simple, the absolute energy of the cast and their performances pretty much carry the entire thing.
By and large the best thing about this film are the actors. Don’t let this lead you to believe they are good actors—they get a pass mostly for how well they play their established characters. Specifically, Robin Shou as Liu Kang, Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage, Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung, and Trevor Goddard as Kano. These five, whenever onscreen (bonus points if together), made the film pretty fun. Doesn’t always stick, but Cage especially with his stupid one-liners was a great time. I think the chemistry between the characters is almost surprisingly fluid.
Raiden, though… didn’t care for him here. Christopher Lambert, his actor, has him doing this weird froggy voice that I cannot take seriously at all. And he does basically nothing the whole film. What is the point of him being here?
Special effects were also, predictably, not great. This being 1995, a lot of the special effects look incredibly out of place; hell, even the practical effects looked pretty bad. Goro? Looks absolutely terrible. Shout out to my dude Kevin Michael Richardson for the voice role, but appearance-wise? Yeesh. Some things were easier to overlook, like Sub-Zero’s ice powers, though generally it was pretty distracting. Maybe adds to the cheese factor for some—not so much for me.
I also found myself amused with the action bits. This is important because action is one of my least favorite genres, and action generally bores me (in films). Yet Mortal Kombat managed to invigorate an aspect of cinema I usually find dull. Now, I’m no martial artist, so I can’t say definitively whether the techniques used in this film are “real” or “accurate.” What I can say from an uneducated standpoint is that it looked pretty genuine. Not usually too cut-heavy or strangely framed, either. Just good ol’ fashioned dudes in yellow/blue/green ninja garb fighting.
I don’t know how exactly this portion of the post has come across in terms of how I feel. So to end, I’ll say this: it’s pretty dumb. Enjoyable in a sort of “I cannot and will not take this seriously” kind of way, only I’m not one who turns that into extra points. When it comes to things like this, the “So bad it’s good” quality only works in overall enjoyment, which is not the sole factor in my ratings. So keep in mind that while my score for this is rather low, I did have a good time with it. Maybe not to the point that makes this a “good” movie, but if Mortal Kombat is your thing, I’d recommend it.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Here we have the opposite. Whatever goodwill the original film provided for goofy film lovers, its sequel ended up stomping on their necks. Considered among the worst films of all time, it has a putridly low 1.5/5 average rating on Letterboxd. And it birthed one of the worst-delivered lines in cinematic history. With so much potential for ironic amusement, I once again hyped myself up for a very good time.
Much like the first Mortal Kombat, Annihilation surprised me in two ways:
- It was not funny bad.
- It’s not as bad as people make it out to be.
Sure, it has one of the worst-delivered lines in cinematic history. Y’know what else it has? A lot of the same qualities as the first film. Not nearly as effective, but the same qualities nonetheless. It’s really dumb, it’s really cheesy, and the special effects are still bad. I feel like speaking about this film would simply be a close copy/paste of the last film.
What makes this worse comes mostly in the way it progresses the story, as well as a lowered bar for character chemistry. Only Robin Shou and Talisa Soto (as Kitana) are holdovers from the last film; all else have different actors playing them. Also, Johnny Cage is killed within the first five minutes. Whoops. New characters such as Shao Kahn, Shinnok, Motaro, Sheeva, Ermac, Jade, Jax (who was in the first film minimally), Rain, Sindel, and Sub-Zero (technically a different character) do not hold a candle to any of the old characters. Although, old characters don’t hold a candle to old characters, either.
At least Raiden has a point in this film! I still don’t like the performance of the character, but at least he does things in this one!
Mortal Kombat (1995) had a very “origin story” plot that necessitated a lot of exposition and set-up. Annihilation is trying to follow up on how the original film ended, except they have no idea how to do so effectively. Scenes kind of happen at random, with their relevance to the whole somewhat suspect. I would wager they’re excuses to get in random action scenes, as well as… a scene dedicated to Sonya Blade and Mileena mud-wrestling… or a half-naked Jade trying to seduce Liu Kang… yeah.
In terms of new actors, do any of them perform better than in the first film? Uhhhhh… better in terms of actual acting? Maybe Raiden. In terms of enjoyment? Pretty much no one. Sonya is a huge step-down; she loses a lot of “badass” energy for a very vanilla female action hero thing with a penchant for mud wrestling. I did like Lynn “Red” Williams as Jax—he had some charisma, though perhaps maybe a tad too stereotypically snappy and talkative given he’s black. The fun camaraderie I liked from the first film is basically gone with this.
Despite all of this, it wasn’t terrible. It’s about as hard to take seriously as the first film, with a goofier, more memorable plotline. Messy and terribly performed, the first film is certainly better directed, though still within a realm of terribly niche and goofy antics that don’t much appeal to me. This is basically the first film, only slightly worse. I don’t understand why it’s so despised—rather, I don’t understand why this is so much more despised compared to the first.
Action is still relatively immersive. Also features some kooky robot fights via Cyrax, which was fun. Liu Kang vs. Shao Kahn near the end relied maybe a little too much on random CGI effects and a lot of filler one-sidedness before the inevitable good victory. Individual fights may not be as memorable as the first, though it all amounts to a similar stupidity. Doesn’t drop much in quality with this department. At least not to me—I don’t much care about action.
This post is getting on the longer side, so I’ll wrap it up before it gets to be too long. Both of these films are pretty dumb, though one is more enjoyably dumb. The other one is also not as dumb as people make it out to be, even if still the lesser product of the two. Would I recommend these films in general? No. Would I recommend these films to Mortal Kombat fans? The first one. Would I recommend the second film to fans of terrible cinema? Probably not. In the end, it’s almost disappointingly predictable that both would end up just “goofy bad” to me.
These aren’t the wonderful displays of cinematic goofiness that appeal to me. Ho-hum.
The rating for these films and all others can be found on my Letterboxd.
For more reviews (and review-esques) on this topic, check out the archive of film reviews!
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.