Believe it or not, there do exist video game-based movies that aren’t completely terrible. Heck some of them are actually OK. By no means is Mortal Kombat a great movie. I wouldn’t even call it good. It’s a dumb, yet entertaining and somewhat competent movie that’s somewhat faithful to the games. That’s not to say there aren’t any problems – there are plenty, but we’ll get to that.
I’m not going to compare it too much to the Mortal Kombat series since most of my knowledge comes from a few Wikipedia searches. Apart from the mediocre Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, my history with the franchise consists of playing Mortal Kombat Trilogy and the new Mortal Kombat a few times at friends’ houses. I like the series, but I’m certainly not a fan of it. As such, I’ll be evaluating it as a movie, not as a Mortal Kombat movie. That’s enough introduction; on with the review.
(This fight is just...weird)
The movie stars three characters from the game franchise, Liu Kang, Jonny Cage and Sonya Blade. Liu Kang, played by Robin Shou, is a former monk who enters the tournament to avenge his brother’s death. Jonny Cage, played by Linden Ashbey, is an action movie actor who enters the tournament to prove his critics wrong about his fighting abilities. Sonya Blade, played by Bridgette Wilson, is some sort of secret agent in pursuit of the man who murdered her partner. The three of them are guided by the thunder God Raiden and protector of our dimension, played by Christopher Lambert. Plenty of other characters from the games show up as either fighters or ally themselves with the three stars. Mortal Kombat is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who is best known for his Resident Evil movies. The less said about them, the better.
The tournament itself is a fighting tournament to the death. It’s hosted by the evil Shang Tsung, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who is using the tournament to suck the souls out of the losers and to take over our dimension for an evil God (Raiden’s brother according to the movie.) Fair enough, but there’s one small problem – THAT’S ALL THE STORY THIS MOVIE HAS. That’s the problem with making a movie based on a fighting game from the 90’s, there’s no story whatsoever. Yet you either have to stick to that or risk angering all the game’s fans, the people most likely to watch the movie in the first place.
Most of the movie’s stunts were done by the actors themselves, and for the most part they look pretty good. The fighting choreography is a bit slow and bland at times, but it’s enough to keep you interested if you haven’t watched Jackie Chan or Jet Lee in a while … usually. The fight between Scorpion and Jonny Cage was actually pretty good, having Scorpion gain the upper hand early on and Jonny having to use his environment to survive. Sonya’s fight with her partner’s murderer on the other hand had absolutely no dramatic tension or intensity at all.
(You might want to get that checked)
Later on in the movie, the heroes start fighting monsters that make use of early CGI, and the movie’s CGI is terrible. Sure, this was early CGI and it probably looked good back then, but today it's downright awful. Sub-Zero’s ice attacks look like disco light shows. There’s also the four-armed monster, Gorgo, who fights Jonny Cage in the movie. Rather than resorting to the awful CGI, they made a mechanical costume that’s actually really good. His four arms move independently, his mouth can actually show multiple expressions and he almost looks convincing in a fight. Too bad they couldn’t do that for people like Scorpion.
There are also fight scenes that don’t even make any sense. Near the end of the movie, the three stars head into another dimension already ruled by Shang Tsung. Since their not in the tournament anymore, you’d think they’d help each other out in a fight. Yet Liu Kang is attacked by Reptile while Jonny Cage ignores the fight completely. You’re trying to save your home planet yet you won’t help Kang take this freak out faster? Jonny Cage is a total moron in this movie. Every now and then, there will also be a physically impossible stunt like when Liu Kang jumped twenty feet in a single leap, keeping the same altitude while kicking Reptile in the face repeatedly. I also find it weird that Sonya is suddenly helpless as soon as Shang Tsung grabs her elbows and drags her into another dimension (where the climax takes place.)
The acting, well … Lambert is alright as Raiden even though his role is incredibly cliché. Wilson is decent as Sonya and Tagawa is a very sinister Shang Tsung. Other than that, the acting is brutal. Ashbey is supposed to be an actor in this movie but he can’t emote to save his life. No wonder he rarely appears anywhere but in straight to DVD movies and single episodes of TV shows. He’s alright with the fight scenes, but that’s about it. Shou is a little better, but his career has gone down the tube since this movie. In the last ten years, most of his movies have either been self-directed or were directed by Anderson. He’s set to star in a third Mortal Kombat movie, but I doubt that will help his practically non-existent career.
(Best character in the movie. Too bad his death was so lame)
The music is good at first; its fast-paced rock and techno music, at least some is based on the games. It makes the better fight scenes feel more intense and in some cases, it enhances the environment’s atmosphere. On the other hand, there’s too much techno music in the movie. After a while, it starts to wear on you unless you’re a die-hard techno fan. A little bit of variety would be nice, or at least a couple fight scenes without music.
There’s really not much else to say about this one. It has some good parts, some bad parts and it evens out to meh. If you have nothing better to do, I can think of worse movies to watch – like any movie Anderson has directed since the first Resident Evil for example. It could be worse though, like the painful Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.