So yeah. First review and I choose Mortal Kombat. The epic martial arts film directed by then fresh faced up-and-comer Paul Anderson before he got that W and a supermodel wife and became possibly the most prolific hack in Hollywood. Why review this film? Cos I just watched it and them’s the rules.
So I have fond memories of seeing this film back in late 1995 with my buddies Kevin Glover and Luke Bailey. We were 13 at the time and Mortal Kombat was a 15 certificate which meant no entry for us. So we did what any teenager would do and bribed an adult to buy us tickets. This was the first 15 certificate film I had seen In the cinema and back then getting to see films you were too young for was a treat. So, bribe we did and to the cinema we did go.
We had seen the build up for this release for months. It had been promoted all over the gaming magazines and there was even an on set visit on classic British gaming show Gamesmaster. We knew it wasn’t going to be as gory as the games were but we were cool with that because we had seen Goro in the trailers and that’s what we wanted to see. That and to Johnny Cage punch some dude in the nuts.
See the Mortal Kombat game was huge at this time. There was always the schoolyard arguments over what was better Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. Of course the correct answer was Street Fighter. You had to be thick not to realise that. But Mortal Kombat had blood, guts and the most OMG awesome graphics of all time. I mean, it had real people punching each other in the face and ripping their heads off! Obviously I was quite dumb at that time… cos I love Mortal Kombat more that Street Fighter. Shame on me…
So into the film we did go. How was it you ask? Well I’ll tell you.
IT WAS AWESOME!!!
It looked like Mortal Kombat! It had a pounding techno soundtrack! Talisa Soto was hot! There was like a billion little nods to the game for the fans to spot! AND JOHNNY CAGE PUNCHED GORO IN THE NUTS!
For weeks I hoped someone would smash my glasses so I could say “those were $500 sunglasses asshole”. We looked for excuses to say “This is where you fall down”. We bitched about how Sub-Zero jobbed to a bucket of water. And most importantly it was a lot better than the Street Fighter film. Mortal Kombat won that argument for sure.
So how does the film hold up now. Surprisingly well actually. Now I’m one of the first to jump on the Paul W Anderson is a talentless hack bandwagon. His direction is workman like. His attempts to avoid doing anything without a license as a safety net is depressing and the guy has no idea about basic storytelling and characterisation or development. Hell there’s a 25 minute patch in this film where no story is developed beyond the tournament is happening. Literally 5 fights in a row before we get a brief hint of character development when Kitana gives us a bit of a hint that she might be a good guy by giving Liu Kang a clue on how to defeat his next opponent. “Use the element that brings life” she says, somehow knowing that Sub-Zero will pull a Goku and take 5 minutes powering up some sort of ice based spirit bomb move.
Where was I?… Oh yeah, the rest of the film. It moves along at a decent place. Every character from the first game gets to appear and has their basic character fleshed out enough for us to choose whether we root for them or hate them. A little extra background is worked in to Liu Kang’s story in order to give him a more personal reason to enter the tournament and Linden Ashby steals nigh on every scene he is in as Johnny Cage. Did I mention he punched Goro in the half-man half-dragons den?
Goro himself is one of my favourite animatronic effects ever in a film. This was one of the last films to really utilise this sort of effect on any scale. It is also, unfortunately one of the first films to feature a load of CGI. I should say first lower end budgeted films to feature CGI cos oh man it’s ropey. Even back then we knew it was ropey. We had Jurassic Park at home on video. that was what we wanted from computer effects. Reptile especially is a poor effect looking not much better than the sort of CGI you would see in Reboot.
The fights are very frequent and each one has a decent amount of variety. Robin Shou and Linden Ashby are the 2 that shine here. They do the bulk of the work and clearly are both very well trained. It’s actually quite a surprise to see how good Linden Ashby is actually. Bridgette Wilson is pretty poor though. Almost every move she does is slow and looks like she was taught in 5 minutes just before the take. There’s an especially weak looking floor sweep in a fight against a load of Tsungs guards. Also at one point she does a handstand to lock her legs around Kano’s neck. Except she didn’t. She started in a handstand and fell down and the shot was reversed. Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa hams it up no end as Shang Tsung and even manages to keep up with Robin Shou in the final climatic fight scene. Not bad for a guy who was 45 at the time.
About Robin Shou… How did he not become a star? The guy is a decent enough actor. He can do action and his own stunts very well and he appeared in this film at a time when larger framed action stars were fading away to make way for smaller, more nimble stars. I remember wanting to see him in a martial arts film with someone who could keep up with him like Jet Li at the time. he could have shone. Interesting fact about Robin Shou, he is the only person to have been in the films based on not just Mortal Kombat but also Street Fighter (in The Legend Of Chun Li) and Dead or Alive.
Christopher Lambert is also here as allegedly Raiden but as far as I can tell he was just shoe horned in for no purpose but to explain things. He literally does nothing at all movie except be cryptic and laugh a little. Like they let him onto the set and told him he’s the comic relief but he had no idea what that meant. That said James Remar wasn’t any better in the sequel and Raiden’s always been a bit of a twat.
Overall the film is a basic, dumb yet enjoyable martial arts films. There’s a lot of fights and quite a few are memorable, especially Cage vs Scorpion and Kang vs Reptile (in human form thank god). The direction and script are workman like but the set design and even the lighting is effective and fits the mood game series allowing it to actually feel like it belongs in the MK universe. As opposed to the DC Universe. I wonder if in a few years this film will really have dated beyond being enjoyable. It is starting to show it’s cracks. but as it is I reckon I could easily watch this again if someone were to suggest it.
A few years later I went to see Mortal Kombat Annihilation, without bribing someone to get me a ticket this time. Here’s my review… NO… Just No.