For a teenager in the 90s, this movie was a big deal. The games were already a huge deal for me and many others like me, so seeing that a film was being made damn near broke my brain. Nevermind that it was PG-13. There was a MOVIE!
Remember kids! Video game movies were much rarer than that they are today. I think by this point there may have been 2 or 3. I know Super Mario Bros. was already out. I’m almost positive I saw the trailer for this film when I saw Street Fighter, but I could be wrong.. I also think there was a Double Dragon movie out around the same time. Those are all I can remember and I struggle to say positive things about them, so I’ll move along.
To me, Mortal Kombat is one of the best video game movie adaptations ever made. I could even argue that it still is. Obviously, films like Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu are good films featuring video game characters. But could you say they are faithful adaptations of the material? I don’t think so.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson was fairly new at this point, having only directed one other movie prior to this. I didn’t know who he was. Although I could say I didn’t know many directors at the time. I was aware of a few. Anyway, I had no preconceived notions about what he would or wouldn’t do wrong here. Now, after his string of Resident Evil films, I’m a harsher critic of his. That said, I did dig Monster Hunter so the guy is hit and miss for me.
At this point in time, there wasn’t much to the story of Mortal Kombat like there is today. So sticking to the basics of fighters competing in a tournament to protect their world wasn’t difficult. And they chose not to complicate it either. Which is great for this film because it’s all you really needed. Just lay the groundwork.
One thing that can ruin a good plot is bad actors. While I can’t say the entire cast crushes it, none of them are terrible. Robin Shou who was fairly unknown before this flick does just fine as Liu Kang. Linden Ashby might not look the part of Johnny Cage (at least in my mind) but he’s great. Bridgette Wilson is fine. That’s all I can muster for her. Trevor Goodard is clearly having fun as Kano, which is bittersweet when you are reminded that he died of a drug overdose in 2004… don’t mean to bring the room down. Just pointing out factual information.
And while I know everyone will be tearing the Goro puppet three extra assholes, at least recognize Kevin Michael Richardson for doing an outstanding job voicing him. You all know that guy! Even if you don’t, you do. Oh and Frank Welker essentially doing Inspector Gadget villain Dr. Claw for Shao Kahn is funny but works all the same.
But the two stand-outs here are Christopher Lambert and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, with the latter being the most memorable. Christopher Lambert does fine but his French accent fumbles over a line or two. Tagawa chews scenery and elevates the movie to another level. Much like Frank Langella did as Skeletor in Masters of the Universe but that’s a whole other topic. I was truly excited to see Tagawa return to the role in Mortal Kombat 11 and really be able to do so much more with the character. I would have said the same about the other actors… but… well, meh.
The martial arts in the film are alright. For some people, this could seem like the best fight scenes ever and perhaps I thought so as well when I was 15. However, once you’ve seen legit fight scenes coming straight out of Hong Kong cinema, everything else pales in comparison. But I’m not knocking them.
The Liu Kang/Sub-Zero fight was pretty cool. I always loved that backflip Sub-Zero pulled over Liu Kang’s head. The Johnny Cage/Scorpion fight was pretty intense, although it does go off the rails a bit when they teleport to Scorpion’s domain. Just an odd choice to make mid-fight, I guess. Then as random as it feels to just happen out of nowhere, the fight between Liu Kang and Reptile is pretty badass too. I’m not sure how everyone else feels about it, but I’ve always loved the use of the video game audio when Reptile was fully formed. Always felt proper to me for some reason… like I would have made that choice too.
The special effects in the movie have not aged well, but I’m pretty sure they were impressive enough back in 1995. A few hold up here and there like Sub-Zero’s ice powers. And look while I can admit that Goro’s design is flawed, I really don’t know how else they could have pulled this character off any better back then. CG wasn’t good enough for a fully formed character. Just look at Scorpion’s hand parasite thing. Seriously what the hell was that?
I appreciated the film not trying to cram as many video game references into the movie as they could have. Another film made that mistake and we’ll talk about that NEXT time. As disappointing as it was not getting to see Scorpion and Sub-Zero go at it, at least they made a passing reference to their history and why they aren’t fighting each other.
And the film wouldn’t be the same without the signature theme Techno Syndrome. It’s bizarre that this particular tune has persisted after all this time. That whole Mortal Kombat album felt like nothing more than a quick cash grab but somehow that tune rose above it all. It is catchy though. You can’t help but yell “Mortal Kombat” when it starts.
Overall, I felt this movie did a respectable job in translating the source material without deviating so much that it feels foreign or adhering so much to it that it isn’t a coherent flick. Too bad that lesson wasn’t remembered the second time around.