Originally released back in the summer of 1995 towards the height of the franchise's popularity, Mortal Kombat was a campy film even by '90's standards. I saw the flick in theatres and thought it was alright, and I watched it on TV once a few years later. Through all the time between then and now I've never bothered to view it since, but a few weeks back I saw it had been added to Zune Marketplace. So, with my renewed addiction to the franchise thanks to Mortal Kombat (2011), I decided to give it a rent and re-check it out.
Released a few months after Mortal Kombat 3 hit arcades, Mortal Kombat is a film heavily based off of Mortal Kombat (1992) and Mortal Kombat II. An ancient and mysterious martial arts tournament is being held on a secluded island, hosted by the reclusive Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Throughout the centuries, Shang has manipulated events to win tournament after tournament, where a tenth and final victory will see our world merged with another Realm, that of Outworld, home to Shang Tsung's evil master Shao Khan (Frank Welker).
The Shaolin, under the guidance of the Thunder God, Raiden (Christopher Lambert), send a reluctant champion to compete, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), who is consumed by the desire to avenge his younger brother's death at Shang's hands. Also manipulated into attending, the martial arts actor Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) hopes to prove his skills to the media and Special Forces agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) is hot on the trail of her nemesis, the crime lord Kano (Trevor Goddard) who is working with Shang.
Goro, of course, is the current tournament champion and a very well done (for the time) animatronic puppet, and Scorpion (Chris Casamassa) and Sub-Zero (Francois Petit) serve as Shang Tsung's enforcers. Reptile (Keith Cooke) also appears, as one of Shang's spies, rounding out the first game's complete roster. Kitana (Talisa Soto) from Mortal Kombat II is also featured, and Jax (Gregory McKinney) makes a cameo appearance.
As with most of Paul W.S. Anderson's films, the character development is light and archetypical with little depth, but the action and fight sequences are solid and still enjoyable. The animatronic special effects are still pretty good and have aged well, while the CG effects were good for their time but of course have aged poorly.
When I was fourteen I remember how cool it was to see all these characters on
the big screen, but many of my criticisms from back then still remain. I
was never a fan of Scorpion's Spear being a living creature instead of a
traditional kunai and while I didn't mind Reptile being rendered as a
little reptilian creature, I did take exception to him becoming his more
traditional ninja form by "possessing" of corpse in the Wasteland of
Outworld. I was also disappointed by the basic supporting roles granted to Scorpion and Sub-Zero, though it does make sense plot wise, but their complete lack of conflict with each other seemed extremely out of place.
Watching Mortal Kombat today, what I personally find interesting is how much the film's art design has clearly influenced the art design of Mortal Kombat (2011). Shang Tsung's Garden, for example, is represented clearly in the film before it ever saw the light of day in a game, and the knife Kano pulls on Sonya during their fight is the exact same one he uses in the current game. Of course when various visual elements work it makes perfect sense that they cross between mediums, even over fifteen years later, and there's many more examples fans will quickly notice. Some plot points also carried over into the games, such as the romance between Liu Kang and Kitana and the attraction between Cage and Sonya.
A cheesy yet enjoyable film, Mortal Kombat is worth the rental cost. It took me back to a simpler time when my biggest worry was how to quickly get through my homework so I could make it to an arcade and practice my moves, and I'm never one to baulk at nostalgia. Of course, if you have no interest in the franchise or fond memories of it, then Mortal Kombat likely won't entertain you much at all and you'll probably want to pass for something else.