The first Mortal Kombat video game is essentially Enter the Dragon with some magic and ninjas added. So it stands to reason that the movie should be pretty much the same idea — a martial arts tournament to the death with implications for our entire world. And the movie delivers the goods.
Director Paul W. S. Anderson (Soldier, the Resident Evil films, the Death Race remakes) was totally the right actor for this film — they feel like the 90’s in concentrated form. You’ve got your hard techno beats, your neon colors, green screen early CGI and plenty of quips during the Kombat.
The realms of Earth and Outworld come together for the Mortal Kombat and create a battle to the death, with the provision that if Outworld wins Mortal Kombat ten consecutive times, its Emperor Shao Khan may invade the Earth realm.
Standing in his way are Shaolin monk Liu Kang, Hollywood action star Johnny Cage and a military officer named Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson, I Know What You Did Last Summer). Cameron Diaz was originally up for the Sonya role but got hurt during filming. Helping them is Raiden (Christopher Lambert, Highlander), the god of thunder and Earth realm’s defender.
Along the way, we meet Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto, License to Kill), Kano, Sub Zero (François Petit, who would go on to be the head trainer for the WWE in the mid 90’s), Reptile (who is played by Robin Cooke, who is also in Picasso Trigger and China O’Brien), Goro and Jax. They’re all here to be part of Shang Tsung’s tournament.
Despite Johnnny Cage defeating Goro, Shang Tsung kidnaps Sonya (who until this point had been a take charge woman and suddenly becomes a helpless girl in distress. Ah, the 90’s!) and draws them all to Outworld. There, Liu Kang faces his greatest fears and defeats the sorcerer, releasing all of the souls he had stolen, including his brother’s.
Everyone goes to the Shaolin temple to celebrate, but the skies turn dark and Shao Khan appears. With the voice of Frank Welker, he screams that he is here for everyone’s souls. All of the good guys show their fighting stances, cue the Mortal Kombat theme and we’ve set up the sequel.
Where this film gets it right is that it sticks to the source material. Better than that, it introduces concepts that would become part of the mythology of future games, such as Emperor Shao Khan, Outworld, Kitana, Jax and more.
It’s funny to me that so many critics savaged this movie. It’s fun as hell and true to its inspiration. It’s a video game version of a Hong Kong martial arts movie — a mixture of bastard pop culture that no one wants to claim as anything but a guilty pleasure. This doesn’t look like a cheap movie, as even though it’s over 20 years old, it’s packed with effects that hold up and fight scenes that continue to be impressive.
I don’t even want to tell you how many hours I put into the last Mortal Kombat game. Or brag that I know the difference between babalities, fatalities and friendships. The thing is, even if you haven’t played a single game of Mortal Kombat, you can still enjoy the movie. And if you love the game, unlike so many video game adaptions, you won’t feel let down. That’s actually high praise after some of the films I’ve endured this week.