The Scoop: 1995 PG-13. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, and Bridgette Wilson
Tagline: Nothing In This World Has Prepared You For This
Summary Capsule: Martial arts tournament movie based on a video game featuring one of those Chosen protagonists who has to find his destiny. You know how it goes.
Shalen’s rating: Get over here!
Shalen’s review: I never played the Mortal Kombat video game. I was in middle school when it was most popular, and I led a sheltered existence in which the joy and wonder of video games was limited to Java breakout-type games, Taipei, and Minesweeper.* Among my parents’ limited Evangelical Christian circle, Mortal Kombat was more or less the epitome of why video games were bad. Often cited were the “finishing” moves, one of which apparently included an ability to rip out your opponent’s low-res spine. The AFA Journal just lived for things like Mortal Kombat to come along so they could rant about them.
This was long before Grand Theft Auto, needless to say.
So when I saw this movie, it was more or less because it was another tournament movie, I was much older, and I was curious. And it turned out to be just the sort of good, corny fun I was hoping for. The game’s old rep notwithstanding, this is not a mean and nasty sort of movie. It’s a goofy, optimistic, friends-should-stick-together kind of movie that just also happens to involve massive Gothic sets** and occasional supernatural powers.
The plot revolves around a tournament — Mortal Kombat — in which Humans can battle against Outlanders for the right to keep a strict no-alien-demon immigration policy. Several persons receive invitations packaged in neat collectible wooden boxes, including martial arts movie star Johnny Cage, angry black-ops themed bouncy blond Sonya Blade, and Liu Kang, whose brother died in a previous tournament at the hands of Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung. We never learn much more about what Liu Kang does with his time. His little apartment is stylishly minimalist in design, and he has to have a lot of spare time to devote to doing crunches, so I’m going to pretend he’s a part-time consulting architect. There’s also Kano, the obnoxiously accented Australian-or-something whom Shang Tsung uses to lure Sonya into the tournament. Apparently he killed her partner, and you know how law enforcement personnel get all vendettaish whenever that happens.
Johnny, Sonya and Liu go on to try and work out their personal issues and not get killed. They are assisted in this by Lord Rayden, played by Christopher Lambert, who is some kind of lightning deity.*** Rayden is a spoilsport who keeps messing up Shang Tsung’s plans to take over the Earth, kill the Human “kombatants” and collect their souls,**** and consummate his crush on Sonya. No review of this film would be complete without a mention of Princess Kitana, whose, er, supporting trusses are much admired by Liu. She’s a thousand years old, but still looks great in leather. Unlike most other characters, she appears to lack a defining power or attribute. I’m guessing they just wanted another pretty face on the screen for Liu to, um, spar with.
This is definitely one of the better of the video game movies, particularly given when it was made (back when CGI was much newer). The script is cleverer than you’d expect, a decent budget was used, and the acting could be worse. It’s not tremendously angsty. It’s not ridiculously stupid. And it doesn’t live by its special effects, though it does depend on them rather heavily. The martial arts are okay. They’re a little slow, but then, that’s what you get when actors who are not martial artists do their own stunts. (Except for Robin Shou, who is easily mistaken for Jason Scott Lee.) At least they’re not cut all over the place, so we can actually see what’s going on.
Liu and the Krew aren’t hard to cheer for. Shang Tsung is an entertaining villain who knows how far over the top to go while still avoiding milking of the giant cow. Best of all, nobody’s taking any of this too seriously. This is a movie whose actors look like they’re enjoying themselves, and so should we.
Oh, and nobody gets his spine ripped out, by the way. The video game notwithstanding, the movie is rated PG-13.
*Apparently it didn’t work, because I currently spend a big chunk of my spare time playing Oblivion, modding for Oblivion, and writing fanfic based on ditto. Go figure.
**Shang Tsung’s palace isn’t exactly stereotypically Asian on the inside, though from the outside it looks like a Cambodian pyramid. Those expecting a grandiose villain to have thirty billion candles will not be disappointed.
***Few people know that the Chinese Buddhist pantheon includes several gods who do not look at all Chinese and have thick French accents.
****He’s an alternative energy source fiend, and souls do not harm the environment. Too bad about the carbon monoxide from the candles.
- When the chameleon creature takes over the body of an Outworld statue and rises as a green ninja, you can hear, very quietly, a voice say “Reptile”. This is the voice of Shao Kahn, and was sampled directly from the game Mortal Kombat II.
- Shang Tsung has some very large lapels there.
- The black guy with the fangs. Was this supposed to indicate he wasn’t human? Is this why we saw so few of the Outworld competitors (makeup budget)?
- Sonya is surely going to get fired by the Black Spandex Brigade or whomever she works for, after being AWOL that long.
- Guys in movies never seem to expect to get punched/kicked in the ‘nads.
- Ed Boon, co-creator of the original Mortal Kombat game, starred here as the voice of Scorpion.
- Scripted but not filmed was a scene where Shang Tsung allowed the “Kombatants” a night to bury Art Lean and mourn his loss. They buried him the Garden of Statues, underneath the statue of Kung Lao; this is the only place where Kung Lao appears in any of the movies. Also scripted but not filmed was a battle between Sonya Blade (who wins, naturally) and Jade, another of Shang Tsung’s bodyguards.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the role of Johnny Cage to do Street Fighter (Ha ha).
- Bridgette Wilson did all her own fighting and stunts.
- MILD SPOILER: When Johnny Cage defeats Scorpion, he throws at his corpse an autographed photo of himself. In the Mortal Kombat games, this is Cage’s “Friendship” finishing move.
Mortal Kombat came onto the scene in 1992 in arcades and home consoles. It was a fighting game in the vein of Street Fighter, although it used digitized sprites of real actors instead of hand-drawn graphics. Along with Doom in 1993, this was one of the first video games to come under intense scrutiny by the U.S. Congressional Investigation for Violence in Videogames, as it featured large amounts of blood and gory “finishing moves”. The game series was also notorious for its large amount of unlockable characters, easter eggs, and just giving the same character a different color to use as a new fighter. The series is still releasing new versions of the game even in 2006.
Grandfather: Spare him, my lord Rayden. Modern life has enfeebled his mind. Too much television.
Johnny Cage: You know, you gotta admire her. When she sets her mind on something…
Liu Kang: It’s not her mind you’re admiring.
Johnny Cage. True.
Shang Tsung: Flawless victory.
Scorpion: Get over here!!
Sonya Blade: Let’s just think this through. There IS a rational explanation for all this.
Liu Kang: He’s Rayden, god of lightning and protector of the realm of Earth.
Johnny Cage: Oh yeah. THERE’S your rational explanation!
Shang Tsung: Scorpion and Subzero, once the deadliest of enemies. Now slaves under my power.
Johnny Cage (peering into bizarre palace for the first time): Gee. I wonder what the bathrooms look like.
Goro: Time to die!
Johnny Cage: Those were $500 sunglasses, a-hole.
Kano: No, Sonya, don’t! Come on, please! Give me a break!
Sonya: Okay. (Breaks his neck with her legs.)
Shang Tsung: Your soul is mine. [Pause] Fatality.
Johnny Cage: When a woman looks at you like that, it usually means something.
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
- Street Fighter
- Resident Evil