Mortal Kombat was one of the first movies based on a videogame license to hit the cinemas, and was somewhat widely anticipated as a blend between two (at the time) opposing mediums. Commercially, the film was a success, spawning a sequel (which I will get to). But critics had a lukewarm response to the film, citing the lack of gore as a gaping hole in the adaptation. Were they right?
The plot is basically a retelling of the first game, as well as something akin to the Bruce Lee classic Enter The Dragon. Several of Earth's finest martial artists are invited to a tournament hosted by otherworldly sorcerer Shang Tsung, Mortal Kombat. The tournament will determine whether or not Shang Tsung will usurp Earth's rule for his own.
As a love letter to the games, Mortal Kombat more than succeeds in terms of plot, characters and design. Most of the best characters from the early series, or at least the first game, are here in fine form, their wafer-thin backstories realised from the largely plotless games. Characters act and look like their game counterparts, and the mystical world is fully realised. They even manage to get a pretty good looking (although stiffy moving) Goro. Strangely, this fan service also manages to fit in quite well into a 90 minute movie, containing enough homages but not drowning the movie in them.
As for how these assets translate into a movie...some of it is silly, some of it's generic, but you couldn't call it the worst design you've seen. The two main ninjas, plus Reptile, end up feeling really out of place, seemingly in the movie just to have more fight scenes, particularly Reptile who has a really contrived introduction. The same can be said for all of the no-names, but then they were all background scenery in the games anyway.
The acting ranges from decent to dire. The best roles are the sage and villain, or Christopher Lambert as Raiden and Cary Hiroiyuki-Tagawa (sp?) as Shang Tsung, one pulling off enough snarky comedy within his role of being a serious teacher to be memorable and the other just having this malice to him. The worst actor is easily Miss Veronica Vaughan as Sonya Blade, who simply has no acting range, followed by Kano, who has an Australian accent to rival those from Dead Island.
Ultimately, a lot of what happens in the film is stilted, there are pacing issues with regards to how there are so many fights, but it all comes together well enough that you can't felt but enjoy the movie's elements, even if it's nowhere near perfect.
But of course, you rarely watch a martial arts film for the story and characters, so how does the fighting fare? There are certainly a lot of scenes throughout the movie; slow fights, fast fights, ones in flashbacks, quick ones, duels, group fights and so on. You won't be starved for variety, whatever that may be worth for something like this. The fighting itself?
The film might pay homage to the games in all of the parts of it that never mattered, but its one drawcard--mountains of gore--is completely lacking in this film. It'c completely bloodless, which makes some scenes feel incredibly weak and empty. It also makes some of the references to "Fataility!" really out of place and uncomfortable. That's a fatality, Shang Tsung? Well, sure. I guess if Liu Kang's cartwheel kick which didn't actually dimember anything counts, simply sucking one's soul out does too.
So on one hand, the film is an excellent tie-in, and on the other it fails miserably. I think people wouldn't be disappointed with the film if they were to watch it now, though I can understand why it got a bad rap back then. Probaby one of the better adaptations regardless, and worth a look.
Oh, and a final word about the music; it's excellent. Aside from that unforgettable theme song, you also have several remixes of songs from bands like Fear Factory and KMFDM, which create a neato modern techno feel that still slides in quite well with the whole oriental thing.
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