Mortal Kombat (1995) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some scary images and violence
Running Time: 101 min.
Cast: Robin Shou, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert, Talisa Soto, Trevor Goddard
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay: Kevin Droney (based on the video game developed by Ed Boon and John Tobias)
Mortal Kombat is based on the wildly popular video game of the same name that took the "Street Fighter II" formula to a new (but not necessarily high) level, featuring photorealistic digitized fighters and, most famously, a level of graphic violence rarely seen in a video game of any type at the time. In most respects it was a standard 2D fighter, but it did introduce something called the "finishing move", whereby the successful fighter could deliver a final blow to his opponent that included such things as ripping out his skull and spine, his heart, punching his head off, or disintegrating his flesh until nothing is left but a skeleton. By today's standards, it seems mostly comical, but it was quite controversial back in the early-1990s, and some even cite it as the main game that pushed forward the ratings system that would appear on nearly all video games released onto home consoles to this day.
Unlike its video game predecessor, Mortal Kombat, the movie, can't be accused of any such controversy, clearly toned down to go for a PG-13 rating, thus making it accessible for its target audience: teenage boys. While it's certainly nothing that most people would consider something approaching a good movie, it did faithfully recreate most of the look and style of the video game itself, which made it more palatable than Street Fighter had been for its target audience. Coupled with a Top 10 charting hit soundtrack (which itself spawned a second album called "More Mortal Kombat"), the film would go on to rake in a hefty $70 million in domestic receipts.
In the film, there is a gathering of Earth's top fighters every generation to compete for the fate of the planet to keep the evil forces from Outworld from gaining dominion. It seems that if Outworld's fighters defeat Earth's in one more tournament, Earth will be theirs. The current generation's elite are rounded up, including monk fighter Liu Kang (Shou, Beverly Hills Ninja), Hollywood action hero Johnny Cage (Ashby, Wyatt Earp), and military operative Sonya Blade (Wilson, I Know What You Did Last Summer), to join forces with Earth's defending thunder god Rayden (Lambert, Highlander II) in fighting to the death against the outlandish, deadly creatures from the planet of darkness, headed by the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (Tagawa, The Phantom).
There are two different ways one can look at a film like Mortal Kombat: as a video game film adaptation and as a standalone action vehicle. I think fans of the video games, particularly younger viewers, will get the most mileage out of the film, as it does showcase many of the characters and their signature moves from the game, even if it falls short of showing the graphic finishing blows. It's a bit of a novelty in this regard, but given the limitations in the budget, actors, and ratings restrictions, it delivers the minimal goods that fans might expect. As a film for most other audiences, it's not really worth bothering with, as it features a plot ripped from Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, only with a great deal more juvenile-minded characterizations, silly confrontations, and an overall cheesiness in the dialogue that will probably only really entertain lovers of mindless popcorn-movie action.
Both the movie and the soundtrack have a bit of a cult following to this day, and many consider it the best film based on a video game yet to be made. I won't go that far, as I think there are some other movies that stand up better for non-game fans than this one (Tomb Raider perhaps the most popular). However, if you are a fanatic for all things "Mortal Kombat", it's only a few spinal extractions away from sheer cinematic bliss, as it captures all of the look, sound, and vulgar, visceral appeal of the video game you might ever expect. For everyone else, whether you laugh with it or at it, you'll have to admit, it's pretty hard not to laugh.
-- Followed by a sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, in 1997. A television series, "Mortal Kombat: Conquest" aired in 1998-1999 as a prequel to the films.
©2006 Vince Leo