The first image of Mortal Kombat is the New Line logo assembling itself and a voice screaming “MORTAL KOMBAT!” Cue the thumping trance theme to the movie, which caps off the title card with another “MORTAL KOMBAT!” shouted off-screen for good measure. I was struck by the thought that more movies should announce themselves in such a way, fully capturing the audience’s attention and reminding them thirty seconds in, “Yes, this was the movie I paid to see” (something like “SCHINDLER’S LIST!”). However, the title also needs to refer to an activity that is central to the movie’s plot so that characters will continually say every twenty minues, “Let Mortal Kombat commence!”
The plot they developed for this adaptation of the best-selling game, which I remember playing a great deal all the way back in high school, is a straight rip-off of Enter The Dragon with the evil Shang Tsung (played by the indomitable Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) arranging an inter-dimensional tournament on his island, which is all a front for him to feed on the souls of beaten warriors. Who are our heroes? There is Sonya “I work alone” Blade (Bridgette Wilson), a Britney Spears lookalike CIA agent with an extreme pout and attitude to burn, but who looks really uncomfortable holding a gun or engaging in any of the fight scenes. There is also Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), a Jay Mohr type who talks like a sitcom character with self-aware dialogue like “This is the part where you’re supposed to fall over” and keeps complaining about his luggage and breaking his three hundred dollar pair of sunglasses and generally conforming to the Hollywood asshole actor stereotype he’s playing. Finally there is Liu Kang (Robin Shou), a doppelganger for Bruce Lee with his exposed pecs and black pyjama pants, but is defined by his feathered, blow-dried 1990s hairdo. Basically the 2D polygons that were featured in the game had more dimension than these characters.
The pacing of Mortal Kombat is pretty sluggish. All of the dialogue is exposition heavy like a soap-opera (“Princess Katana?” “Yes, the Prince’s adopted daughter” or “You killed her partner, didn’t you?”) that sets up who is who and what is happening within the first ten minutes. And YET there are countless scenes of characters talking to each other that go nowhere since there is no intrigue or complexity that can be developed with the plot. I was impatient like a thirteen year old boy who this film was aimed at - GET TO THE FIGHTING ALREADY! Once they do, it’s the slow and dull Hollywood version of martial arts before The Matrix made everyone hire Woo-ping Yuen to choreograph their fight scenes. What makes the fighting come alive is that the filmmakers continually score it with dated mid-1990s Eurotrash trance music, which basically resembles every one hit wonder dance hit from the time, such as 2 Unlimited’s ‘No Limit’ or Sash’s ‘Adelante.’ Apart from this, Mortal Kombat’s best moments are when the director pushed a close-up into a character whenever they uttered one of the trademark catchphrases from the video game to the delight of fanboys everywhere: “Fatality!”, “Finish him!” and “Flawless Victory” are all said in the movie. Funniest of all is the mask clad, yellow vested Scorpion whose looped-in dialogue sounds directly lifted from an arcade game and is basically a series of commands towards his opponent’s movements (“GET OVER HERE!”). The vivid brutality of the video game, what with all the spines being ripped out and such, is toned down for a general audience so the worst thing you is an exploding skull that wouldn’t look out of place in The Goonies. There is also Goro, the monstrous Kombatant, who looks like a big piece of poo but with four arms sticking out the sides and whose special secret combo death movie is to basically club a guy over the head with his fist. Yet his secret weakness, which is exposed by Johnny Cage in one key fight, is that Goro does not like having his cock punched.
Best of all is Christopher Lambert as Lord Rayden who with his long-white hair accentuates his whiteyness as a Japanese God. I’m sure the producers cast him in order to invest their movie with a little bit of Highlander magic. Rayden is basically the Obi Wan character who keeps popping up and advising the three heroes that they are fighting for the fate of their world, using ominous lightning to emphasise his points, and, when needed, can change himself into Proton-Pack Light Stream Light Show in order to confuse and dazzle opponents. Actually Lambert’s best schtick is offering a lame line like “I don’t think so” and giving a trademark cackle, which he does about fifty times over the course of the movie.
Leaving nothing behind in the memory like an exit wound to the brain, Mortal Kombat is a landmark film for one reason and one reason only in that it introduced Paul W.S. Anderson to Hollywood, a British director who would go on to make further video game adaptations (Resident Evil) and films that felt like video games (Death Race).