Guilty Pleasures: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Just to be clear, I’m not going to waste your time by trying to convince you that Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat is a great movie.  It really isn’t.  The acting is awkward at best, the writing is downright awful and to say that there are holes in the plot would erroneously suggest there’s a semi-coherent plot in the first place.  With that said, however, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable cheese-fest and well worth a gander.

The charm of Mortal Kombat comes from the fact that it really doesn’t care.  It’s well aware of its limitations, but pushes past them anyway with an unshakeable confidence.  There’s an assured self-awareness here that is eminently watchable.

Do I really need to talk about the plot?  Seeing as this film is based on the fighting game series, if you go into Mortal Kombat expecting a good story then you’re there for the wrong reasons. Basically, all you need to know is that there’s a mystical martial arts tournament being held on a sorcerer’s secret island, the outcome of which could have dire consequences for Earth.  It’s silly but enjoyably so.

Rather than be embarrassed by its source material like most video game adaptations, Mortal Kombat embraces it wholeheartedly.  It’s an accurate live-action representation of the games and directly panders to that existing audience.

Well …  For the most part, anyway.

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The Asian god of thunder … By way of France and America.

It’s obvious that the majority of the actors were cast because they resembled the characters in the games and not for their acting skills. Robin Shou, Linden Ashby and Bridgette Wilson are recognisable as Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade respectively, and they adequately convey their combat skills.  However, they’re all overshadowed by the hilarious miscasting of Lord Raiden.

In the video games, Lord Raiden is supposed to be the god of thunder and the defender of the Earth Realm (I told you the plot was silly).  So who better to play an Asian deity than …

Christopher Lambert?!

The French-American actor, complete with ill-fitting wig, was a baffling choice but it certainly adds to the film’s nonsensical vibe.  I suspect that Lambert’s casting was due to his gravelly voice and intense stare which, incidentally, is an unfortunate side effect of his severe myopia.  Talk about making the most of what you’ve got.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa positively chews the scenery as the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung.  It’s a wonderfully hammy turn that is made even more memorable by Tagawa’s persistent scowl and venomous line delivery.

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This is pretty much Shang Tsung’s default setting.

Say what you like about the script but at least it’s faithful to the source material.  I won’t deny that it’s a clumsily assembled mess of bad one-liners and cringe-inducing dialogue, but it somehow manages to cram in numerous fighters from the games.  Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Kano are the most notable inclusions and they’re all accurately portrayed.  Well, apart from the fact that Kano was supposed to be Australian, but the blatantly cockney Trevor Goddard’s performance is deliciously sinister and works well.

As expected the fight scenes are a highlight.  There are a couple of awkward moments (I’m looking at you Kano and Sonya) but the fighting is generally fast, fun and over-the-top.  Liu Kang versus Reptile and Johnny Cage versus Scorpion are particular highlights.  Both are exciting and make excellent use of their unique settings.

Speaking of which, the locales in Mortal Kombat are interesting and occasionally beautiful.  The island’s beaches are very pleasing to the eye and serve as impressive backdrops for some of the fight scenes.  When the story moves inland and eventually to Outworld, the dilapidated temples and ruined landscapes are visually striking.

From Raiden’s lightning to Scorpion’s shoddy palm-snake-thing (it’s a technical term), the special effects are knowingly crap.  Whether the wonky SFX was by design or by limitations, it’s all endearingly cheesy.  That’s without mentioning the lumbering, multi-limbed disaster that is Goro.

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Seriously, what the hell is this?

The kitchen-sink mentality of the games has been implemented here.  Does it make sense to have a shape-shifting reptilian ninja included? Nope.  How about another ninja with an apparent knack for literally freezing people? Of course not, but they’re included anyway because they’re daft and mindlessly entertaining.

I’ve published posts on here before about my opinions on game-based movies and why I think they haven’t worked as well as they could.  Personally, I regard Mortal Kombat as one of, if not the best film in this category.  Maybe that’s a sad reflection on video game adaptations as a whole, but at least this film doesn’t hide from its foundations.

If nothing else, Mortal Kombat proves that loyalty to source material and a willingness to commit to replicating it, no matter how silly, can work wonders.

Yes it’s naff, cheesy and cringe-worthy, but there’s no denying that it’s bloody good fun.

Oh, and there’s plenty of techno.  Because why the hell not?

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