Mortal Kombat (1995)

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Talisa Soto

What’s the greatest video-game to film conversion? The jury seems to be out on this. In terms of financial success, the figures would point to Tomb Raider. But for many, this is not the case, and a considerable slice of the nerdy video-game pie would put Mortal Kombat forward as the greatest conversion of all time. However, a great deal of this would appear to be fond nostalgia…

The plot:
(This is going to be short). Three individuals, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, are selected to fight in an otherworldly tournament called Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat, in order to decide the fate of their world.

It can be so easy to overlook glaring flaws with films when you’re a child. Many’s the time I’ve re-watched films such as these over a decade later, only to realise that I had no idea what the hell was going on in the first place. Mortal Kombat is very much a 90s film, absolutely ideal for 10 year olds who are just starting to feel a bit rebellious and have grown tired of the Disney animated films (…as if anyone can really get tired of them). It features “radical” warriors doing “awesome” moves, in “totally wicked” fight scenes.

Sadly, the use of inverted commas is very much necessary here. As you’ve probably guessed from the plot outline, there’s not an awful lot to keep you hooked here. It plays out almost exactly like the games do, with your character (the good guys) fighting against a series of opponents (the bad guys) in order to win the tournament. That’s it. No big M. Night Shyamalan twists. Not even any regular twists, that’s as complicated as the plot gets.

To be fair, it was never going to be about the plot. For Mortal Kombat, it was all about characters and action. In that sense, the film is very imbalanced. Some of the actors seem to fit into the characters shoes really well. Ashby steals the show as the ego driven Johnny Cage, and is given all the best lines (It is most likely with his performance that the pleasant feeling of nostalgia lies). Tagawa is also surprisingly well suited to playing the sinister Shang Tsung, managing to be both calmly mysterious and powerful. For everyone else, however, there is much to be disappointed with.

Shou is boring as Liu Kang, injecting nothing into the performance that would make you eager to see him onscreen. Wilson could be argued to put in a good performance in that she’s an utter bitch, which is how I always pictured Sonya Blade anyway. As an unlikeable character however, it is a small blessing that she’s not given as much screen time. And whereas Scorpion and Sub-Zero are simply glorified stuntmen, Lambert, who plays the mighty Lord Raiden, puts in a very mixed performance. The director clearly couldn’t decide whether to make him a straight character or the comic relief, and so opted for both. To give Lambert credit, he is capable of being both cryptic and comical, it’s just aggravating to see him bounce between the two radically opposing persona’s so quickly.

As for the action sequences, it is here you’re going to see the biggest difference between the Mortal Kombat you’re watching now and the Mortal Kombat you saw 15 years ago.

(I distinctly remember the final fight scene being the fastest fist fight I’d ever seen, or ever would see as I was convinced at the time. There were many recreations of this in my back garden that resulted in bloody noses and broken swing sets)

It is clear that just about all of the cast do their own stunts. They’d have to because nothing they do is all that impressive. It’s entertaining enough, sure, but very little of what you see is going to blow you away. One of the biggest disappointments of the film is the fight between Johnny Cage and the 4-armed Goro, which is shot almost entirely from a distance so that you can barely see what’s going on, and lasts about ten seconds. Obviously, this is because the animatronic upper arms couldn’t move convincingly enough to make the audience believe he was the reigning champion, but still, it stands out as being particularly aggravating.

Overall:

If you’ve seen Mortal Kombat before, the best way you can enjoy it is not by watching it but reliving it in your mind. Keep telling yourself that the fight scenes are lightning fast and full of emotion, you might just believe it. However, if you’re watching it for the first time, you’re only going to be mildly entertained. Enjoy the below average special effects (Reptile), giggle at Johnny Cage’s occasional one-liners and remain totally indifferent while watching the actual Mortal Kombat take place.

Awful Rating: 4.5/10

Those were five hundred-dollar sunglasses, asshole!” – Johnny Cage

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • Despite the low score I gave it, this was one of my favourite films of all time as a kid. How could it not be? Nerdy little 7-year-old sees Scorpion remove face in order to breathe fire, nerdy little 7-year-old almost craps pants at the awesome!
  • The one thing you will take away from this film is its infectious theme song, a rave entitled “Techno Syndrome”. It plays in the trailer above, but I have taken the liberty of adding it here also, because I’m good that way.
    Techno Syndrome
  • I distinctly remember my brother and I coming up with a “brilliant” plan, to write to “Mr Nintendo” and “Mr Sega”, and tell them we had a great game idea. All the fighters from Street Fighter fought against all the fighters from Mortal Kombat. With extra characters. One of which had a tigers head… It feels like I’m describing a dream I had…
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