a pop culture phenomenon in the nineties. The video games paired hoary kung-fu movie cliches – pretty standard for fighting games – with sci-fi and fantasy elements. Mostly, the game's gory Fatalities sparked controversy like the video game world had never seen before. The initially secret nature of unlocking these graphic moves and the calls for censorship made “Mortal Kombat” the hottest topic among playground debates. To cash in on the video games' popularity, there were comics, a best selling album, and, of course, a movie. The cinematic “Mortal Kombat” would become an unexpectedly big hit in 1995, staying atop the box office for three weeks. It was a movie I watched and loved a lot as a kid so I'm curious to see if it'll hold up.
The video game “Mortal Kombat” was inspired by films like “Enter the Dragon” and “Bloodsport,” so it's fitting the film similarly draws from these sources. Once a generation, a fighting tournament is held between the forces of Earth and the forces of Outworld, a diabolical separate reality. Outworld's champion is soul-stealing sorcerer Shang Tsung. Among Earth's chosen heroes are Liu Kang, a former monk who wants revenge against Tsung for killing his little brother; Sonya Blade, a special forces agent who is hunting gangster Kano; and Johnny Cage, a martial arts movie star eager to prove his ability. With the guidance of thunder god Raiden, these three face off against the forces of Outworld. Such as the multi-armed Goro, the demonic Scorpion, and the superpowered Sub-Zero.
as hopelessly tame by modern standards, ripping off someone's head in a movie will still probably get you an R-rating. In order to appeal to the games' core demographic of young boys, the cinematic “Mortal Kombat” was rated PG-13. Even without the games' famous decapitations and heart-rippings, the movie still gleefully embraces the franchise's 12 year old boy aesthetic. This is a movie that not only has the balls to introduce a ten foot tall, four-armed humanoid – played by slightly stiff but still solid animatronics – but then punches him in the balls. Save for the blood, the film perfectly captures the juvenile spirit of the games.
This knowingly ridiculous embrace of coolness above all else is evident in everything about the film. The production design is heavy on totally bitchin' stone statues and spooky old temples. The soundtrack is composed almost entirely of thumping techno and wailing guitars, the already established “Mortal Kombat” theme song playing twice. Mostly, we see this wonderful excess in Paul W. S. Anderson's direction. Fighting moves are often shown in slow motion. Fight scenes have tiger roars randomly inserted. There's gratuitous P.O.V. shots, of people and objects being punched or flying through the air. The camera whips, crashes, zooms, and flings throughout the settings. Anderson frequently employs extreme color grading, like ice cold blues or earthy purples, throughout the film. It's all horribly over-the-top, which means it's all perfectly suited to “Mortal Kombat.”
It's very, very dumb but the whole thing is so action-packed and fast-paced you hardly notice. Compared to the kind of Hong Kong-style action you might be expecting, the fights in “Mortal Kombat” can come off a little sluggish. Johnny Cage's introductory scuffle on a film set or a three-way battle between our heroes and a crowd of masked goons aren't as fast as they should be. However, things quickly pick up. Liu Kang's acrobatic kicks and leaps sure are cool. His fight with Sub-Zero, which is sometimes framed as in the video game, escalates nicely. Johnny Cage's showdown with Scorpion, in a hellish underworld setting, is by far the combat high-light of the movie. There's plenty of jumping, flipping, and mortal wounding. However, it does face some stiff competition between the gloriously over-the-top melee with Reptile and the final fight with Shang Tsung, which features some brutal and personal blows.
The hammy supporting cast does that too. Christopher Lambert is odd casting for an Asian god of thunder. However, Lambert brings a surprising levity to the part of Raiden. He likes to crack jokes and make absurd observations, contrasting with his stately status as an all-knowing god. If Lambert is cracking jokes, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Shang Tsung as high opera. He shouts every line with as much ominous energy as possible. The same overwhelming intensity is brought to his similarly exaggerated body language. Trevor Goddard is also entertaining as Kano, which he plays as a sleazeball who enjoys being so ridiculously evil.