VIDEO GAME WEEK: Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997)

Ed Boon, one of the creators of the Mortal Kombat video game, calls this the “worst moment” in the history of the franchise. Coming from someone who loved the original film and has played every one of the games, I agree.

Christopher Lambert was seen as one of the highlights of the last film. He’s gone, replaced by James Remar (The Warriors). I always dislike whitewashing in movies, but Lambert was so game in his scenes and such an integral part of getting the last film made (Lambert’s great attitude calmed director Paul W. S. Anderson as he worked on his first big movie. While the highest salary in the film, he paid his own way to go to Thailand and do all of his own scenes for basically free there, just to ensure the movie looked better. Plus, he paid for the wrap party.) that this feels like a major loss.

In fact, only Liu Kang (Robin Shou) and Kitana (Talisa Soto) are played by the same actors from the previous film. Robin Cooke, who played Reptile, plays Sub Zero here, with that fighter gaining a much larger role.

Did you like Johnny Cage last time? Lots of people did. Bad news — he’s killed seconds into this new film to get over new bad guy Shao Khan. He’s opened a portal from Outrealm to Earth (hey wait — didn’t we just fight a tournament to stop that from happening?) and has brought back his queen (and Kitana’s mother) Sindel back from the dead.

Sonya Blade (now played by Sandra Hess, who played the cave girl in Encino Man) brings in her partner Jax and they immediately battle Cyrax and Mileena. Then there’s Nightwolf (played by Litefoot, the Native American who also portrayed Little Bear in The Indian in the Cupboard), a shaman who will guide Liu Kang and Kitana toward defeating Shao Khan. Another fight against Smoke and Scorpion, with the help of Sub Zero, happens and Kitana gets kidnapped.

Raiden meets with the Edger Gods, who don’t really give any answers. I have several questions for them. Like, why are we fighting Shao Khan when we won a tournament to stop things like this from happening? And why is there a fight every ten seconds instead of character development like the first film? Or why didn’t you bring back the actors we liked in these roles? And why doesn’t the “Toasty!” guy show up?

Nightwolf makes Liu Kang pass several trials to gain the power of Animality, which allows him to shapeshift into a new form. He must pass the self-esteem and focus trial. The trial of temptation, where Jade tries to get in his karate pants. And there’s a third test, but we never get to it!  One assumes that he passes it, as we’ll see in the finale.

Raiden gives up his immortality to fight for Earth, which means that he needs to cut off his hair. Jade is a double agent and while the good guys rescue Kitana, they still face tough odds. Raiden reveals that Shao Khan is his brother and their father, Shinook, is favoring his evil sibling. After a big battle, Raiden is killed at the hands of that very same brother.

Another lengthy fight sequence happens, with Motaro, Ermac, Sindel and even Noob Saibot all showing up.

Liu Kang then shows what an Animality is by turning into a poorly rendered dragon in a scene that makes this movie seem more dated than the 1995 original. Luckily, the Elder Gods discover the shenanigans afoot and declare another round of Mortal Kombat.

Aren’t you glad we have Liu Kang on our side? He defeats Shao Kahn and allows Raiden to return as the Earth realm wins again.

Director John R. Leonetti would go on to be the cinematographer for The Scorpion King, I Know Who Killed MeThe Conjuring and The Insidious series before directing Annabelle and Wish Upon. He’s done great work in those films, but this film feels so much cheaper than the original. It’s weird, because that film succeeded because it transcended it’s junk food origins while the sequel just piles way too much on.

Original directed Paul W.S. Anderson decided to do Event Horizon instead of this film. He hated the results and that’s why he’s stayed close to the Resident Evil franchise throughout its sequels.

It’s hard to hate a movie where alien monsters battle ninjas, so if you accept this one as goofy chop socky fun, it’s fine. But when compared to the original — and with the rich mythology of the Mortal Kombat video games at its fingertips — this one really suffers. There have been rumors of a franchise reboot for years, including two online series. Here’s hoping the next one recaptures the first film’s magic.

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