Robin 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.
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.
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.
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