Monthly Archives: September 2013

Mortal Kombat

MKMoviePosterRobin Shou as Liu Kang
Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage
Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade
Christopher Lambert as Raiden
Talisa Soto as Kitana
Steven Ho as Chan
Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa as Shang Tsung
Kevin Richardson as Goro (voice)
Trevor Goddard as Kano
Francois Petit as Sub-Zero
Chris Casamassa as Scorpion

Movies based on video games almost always suck. Not this one. Though I do believe that there have been some good anime movie adaptations of video games and that TV has been remarkably kinder to them than cinema, Mortal Kombat is a landmark as the first good American-made video game movie. So if you came into this review expecting me to rip it a new one like I did to the Mario movie, prepare to be disappointed.

Still, you can make an argument that this movie should not have been the one. I mean, let’s be completely honest. Mortal Kombat has never been all that good a game series. Let’s not kid ourselves. The selling point of these games is the gore. So I can definitely see the point that this shouldn’t have been the game to which justice was done.

Mostly, I think the main reason for this movie’s success is the fact that the game’s plot is on terrain Hollywood is familiar with. A number of movies centered around martial arts tournaments were made in the 1980s, such as Bloodsport. Mortal Kombat also uses the fantasy genre in a Star Warsy way. So the source material worked just fine. This movie brings the scientific theory of the multiverse to life. The main planet in one of those other universes (called “realms”) is Outworld. Its mystical Emperor, Shao Kahn, rules it with an iron fist and seeks a new realm.

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Do you need me to tell you which one?

But we have our own defenders. Raiden, god of thunder and protector of Earth, will lead our counteroffensive in any war. To avoid war, it has been agreed that Outworld must win ten once-in-a-generation Mortal Kombat tournaments to invade with only mortal opposition. Under the leadership of sorcerer Shang Tsung, they have won nine. Human warriors Liu Kaing, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, who are unaware of any of this and have their objectives, are chosen by Raiden to represent Earth.

Ordinarily, Christopher Lambert can’t act his way out of a paper bag. In this case, though, he’s passable. The others are either novices or more familiar to Asian viewers. Overall, the acting is about average.

The script and characters are what drive this movie. Blasted by critics as being “mostly one fight after another,” as Leonard Maltin put it, there is actually not all that much action for some time into the movie. Characters are developed, lines are spoken, and attempts at humor are made. As far as character development goes, these are interesting people. Liu Kang and his guilt over failing to stop the murder of his brother, Johnny Cage dealing with his undeserved reputation as a fake, and so on. It’s not Shakespeare, but it gets the job done.

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This movie’s effect on later MK games is noticeable. Kano being Australian, for instance.

There are CGI effects used for things like Sub-Zero’s freezing abilities and the lizardlike form of Reptile. These are truly amazing tricks… for 1995. Now, nothing special.

Well, one thing is special. The four-armed, eight-foot monster Goro is done very, very well. And he’s created through animatronics, so he looks more real than a lot of today’s CGI does. Although CGI has come a long way, maybe it would be nice for some people to see if there’s any improvements to be made with the old animatronics.

The action. This movie has some of the best martial arts you’ll find in American cinema. Robin Shou is a regular Jet Li. So it’s really no surprise that most of the fights involve him. Most of the others are pretty good as well. In fact, although Shou is probably the most convincing combatant in the movie, the best fight (Cage vs. Scorpion) doesn’t even involve him.

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“Blahyah! Yakaa! Mumbluu! Goblety-goblety-gaa!!!”

One criticism of this movie is that it misuses Scorpion and Sub-Zero. I certainly could never have made the decision to have them on the same side, but honestly, it’s silly to think that no tweaks were ever going to occur. Also, the ending is unworthy. It sets up a sequel, but that sequel turns out to be nearly as horrid as the aforementioned Mario movie. Otherwise, this wouldn’t have been a problem any more than the incomplete ending of the first Hobbit movie was last year. So it won’t affect the rating, since it’s not this movie’s fault that the sequel failed to deliver.

All said, Mortal Kombat is a template for how to make a movie based on a video game. Alas, that template has been consistently ignored in favor of rat shit. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it.

 Overall: 8 out of 10

Dragon Quest/Warrior

Note: this series used to be called different names in Japan and the United States, but has since largely united under a single name worldwide. To eliminate confusion, I’ll use both names in the title. But to save space I’ll otherwise refer to it as it’s now known everywhere: Dragon Quest.

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Dragon Quest is a difficult game to review. At first glance, the ways in which it’s unevolved spring from it being the first turn-based console RPG. But there had been PC RPGs that had as much or more depth than this, the Ultima series being a great example. By the time Dragon Quest came out, Ultima games were bigger and gave you more choices. Then again, PC gaming was so niche that most didn’t think it counted in the official standings. That may sound shallow, but which series has greater recognition?

Plot: 7 out of 10

Basically, it’s your typical 1980s video game story. The Dragonlord is a creature that terrorizes a country known as Alefgard. Predictably enough, he’s kidnapped Princess Gwaelin. King Lorik, Gwaelin’s father, recruits you, descendant of the legendary hero, Erdrick, to stop the Dragonlord and restore peace to the land.

Not much thought put into that, eh? I’d also add, why has the Dragonlord even bothered to kidnap Gwaelin? We’re told that it happened half a year before the game officially begins. Yet there’s no evidence of ransom demands or that the Dragonlord has used Gwaelin for a propaganda victory. And she’s held by a Green Dragon who’s too far from the Dragonlord’s castle for Gwaelin to be an unwilling bride.

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Or maybe this guy got sick of dating ugly dragons and wanted a human. Yes, that’s the ticket!

Still, the dialogue is pretty clever. Some attempts at humor, such as the one about an old man telling you that you have failed and then magically throwing you out of his home if you don’t have a certain item make me laugh.

Graphics: 6 out of 10

The landscape of the towns, dungeons, and outside world are all pretty basic. They’re not ugly, but they’re not at all detailed. Plus, the same things repeat over and over.

On the other hand, the enemy designs are very good. By far the most visually memorable thing about the game.

Sound: 4 out of 10

I gotta say, the music is not very good. In fact, it’s annoying. I seem to remember it being a lot better as a child.

Sound effects are just fine, though.

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

A clear sign of this game’s age, you have only one man fighting one monster at a time. There’s no such thing as something that can’t be equipped. You learn magic as you advance in level.

Outside and in dungeons, you get attacked by enemies such as Skeletons, Magicians, and of course, Slimes. You basically take turns hitting each other.

While this makes for the most basic RPG I have ever played, it can be fun for the same reason that Flash games can be fun: it’s addicting in its simplicity. Just don’t expect a very sophisticated experience.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

Above average in difficulty. You have to level-grind a lot throughout the game. This is because the further you go, the stronger enemies get. Later towns also have better (and pricier) weapons and armor for you to buy.

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Guess nobody left heirlooms for descendants back then. Or, at least, in this universe.

Unfortunately, this game commits a frequent sin in this industry: padding its length. Although the grinding makes it take awhile to complete, there are only a few trials by fire. This game doesn’t just train you, it actually relies on level grinding to qualify as a game.

Nonetheless, the few times you actually do spend some time away from towns are challenging enough to not bring this score down low. Plus, it was, again, a different time.

Overall: 6 out of 10

It’s a classic in terms of symbolism, not quality. I like this series because of the sequels, but based on this first effort, it’s no wonder Final Fantasy has always been a far more successful series.

LEGO Batman: the Movie: DC Super Heroes Unite

LEGOBatmanMovieTroy Baker as Batman/Bruce Wayne
Travis Willingham as Superman/Clark Kent
Charlie Schlatter as Robin
Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor

When I reviewed the video game Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, I had no idea that a film based on it was right around the corner. I had to review it as well. And for what’s essentially a children’s cartoon, it’s quite enjoyable.

The story opens with a typical confrontation pitting Batman and Robin against the Joker. This goes down about how you’d expect. But Lex Luthor, who is running for President, promises to bust the Joker loose if he will assist Luthor’s scheme. The Joker has mind control gas and Kryptonite, the latter of which Luthor will use to power some futuristic machinery. The plan is to hypnotize people into voting for Luthor. Although Batman’s trust issues make it difficult for him to ask for the help of anyone who’s not already on his team, he still ends up teamed with Superman.

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I never thought you could be both fat and ripped.

The voice acting is pretty solid, particularly Clancy Brown as Luthor. I always liked the emotionally restrained, power-hungry Luthor he played in Superman: the Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited. Here he shows that he hasn’t lost a step. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast is good as well.

Obviously, no movie about a LEGO franchise is going to be a comic drama like the new live action movies. It’s a kids movie. Still, it does provide some nods to fans of the comic book, such as Luthor’s presidential run, the JLA’s Watchtower on the moon, and Batman’s suspicion of others.

Many cutscenes from the game are recycled. Most of the movie is original footage. I’m not sure if this is done with CGI or extensions of what they used for the game, but it works. The models are well-done LEGO replicas of the DC universe we know. Despite my reservations about the blatant commercialization, I give credit where credit is due.

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Why you should not make things out of LEGOs.

Like many kids’ movies, this has a moral message. That message is that everybody needs a helping hand now and again. Thankfully, this kind of message works with the source material, rather than past attempts (*cough* *cough* Batman and Robin) that contradicted whatever they were based on for their message.

If you have kids who like action cartoons or superheroes, they’ll probably enjoy this. You yourself will probably get at least harmless fun out of this as well.

Overall: 8 out of 10

The Scorpion King

ScorpionKingPosterThe Rock as Mathayus
Kelly Hu as Cassandra
Steven Brand as Memnon
Grant Heslov as Arpid
Michael Clarke Duncan as Balthazar

Remember when professional wrestling was popular over a decade ago? I myself was into that particular fad. At the peak of my love of wrestling, I was watching an average of about six hours a week, including old tapes I was recording or buying. I even went to a live episode of Raw. But I stopped after the “Kane raped a dead woman” angle. It got crappy. Not that wrestling has ever been great, mind you. The “illusion” of combat is created with such ingenious tricks as using a steel chair on an opponent’s raised hands instead of his head or playing dead when the wrestler has only taken a stumble off a couch’s worth of a fall.

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Not that they’re not tough guys. This blood was shed by a hidden blade.

Since wrestling hasn’t been big since then, you’re probably more familiar with how the Rock has long since become more Hollywood than WWE. The Scorpion King was one of his first movies. It is a sword-and-sorcery movie with the Rock as the hero. But know going in that this is not going to be drama along the lines of the Lord Of the Rings or Game Of Thrones. No, what we have here is a 1980’s style fantasy. For what it’s worth, though, this is better than most fantasy movies of that era.

The Rock is Mathayus, one of the last of a nomadic people known as the Akkadians. He is an assassin who is contracted to kill Cassandra, personal sorceress to the warlord Memnon. Circumstances put Mathayus and Cassandra on the same side against Memnon. And with the help of a tribe lead by a rather dickish guy named Balthazar, they end Memnon’s conquests.

No People's Eyebrow?

No People’s Eyebrow?

What I just described is almost all the story there is in the Scorpion King. There is the disastrous but incomplete prophecy cliche that you see so often in fantasy and Mathayus and Cassandra get hooked up. Not many subplots beyond that.

The acting is acceptable. The Rock’s not a great actor but he is charismatic. Anyone familiar with early 2000’s cinema will recognize Michael Clarke Duncan and Kelly Hu in this movie, because they were in a lot of other films.

This movie was rather low-budgeted. It shows. Not that a movie set in ancient times that doesn’t have much magic requires too much money.

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You can’t tell that’s a wig. Really you can’t.

The musical score is heavy metal. And the Scorpion King, in general, was marketed as kind of a “pop” movie. This was definitely made for teenage and young adult males, the very people who got into WWE’s “attitude” era.

The Scorpion King is not a great or even good movie. But it vaults over a low bar. The other big movies starring a wrestler were Hulk Hogan movies. Compared to them, this film looks absolutely amazing. As simply a standalone movie, though, it’s just OK.

Overall: 5 out of 10