Super-Flawed Victory: Mortal Kombat's 20th

If the movie “Mortal Kombat” were a character in a “Mortal Kombat” video game, its special maneuver would be to take off its pants, climb onto its opponent’s shoulders, and defecate on its opponent’s head. Figuratively, this is what the movie does to the audience. I think it would be satisfying, somehow, to see it happen literally (to someone else).
— Eric D. Snider

I love this quote. Love it. The sassy way it speaks truth. (Here's the rest for more giggles.)

When Mortal Kombat was released in August of 1995, film critics were quick to take a similar stance on its utter lack of entertainment value (though none with nearly as much panache as Mr. Snider). And yet here we are, marking its 20th anniversary, which is somehow important enough to warrant a Yahoo! article or two. Must have been a slow(er) day in the news.

Come on! you say. It wasn't THAT bad! you say. Didn't we go on to do better? Well, here's some facts I pulled off this Wikipedia page:

  1. Mortal Kombat is still among the top 10 highest-grossing video game films that saw theatrical release.
  2. At 33%, it has a higher Rotten Tomatoes score than all but three of the twenty-nine video game films released thus far.
  3. At 58/100, it has the highest Metacritic Metascore of any video game film ever made.
Shang Tsung says, "You will never usurp my legacy, bitch!" via custompcmax.com.

Shang Tsung says, "You will never usurp my legacy, bitch!" via custompcmax.com.

This is the utterly pathetic state of video game movies, when one of the most enduring is a film that was met with a resounding "Meh!" twenty years ago. Paul W.S. Anderson's passport application to Hollywood set a number of precedents for the genre: style, style, style with a smidge of substance, black holes of logic papered over with CGI that looks like crayon drawings, fast cuts during fight scenes to hide the fact that no one can even fake it without looking like string puppets, and enough slow motion to make the fucking movie run backwards.

The beginning even threatens to get all meta on us, as the dastardly, bastardly Shang Tsung (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa) thrashes a young, morally upstanding whelp in the middle of a Fierce Lightning Storm, before pointing right at the camera and proclaiming: "YOU are next!" This could have been The Ring before The Ring was a thing.

But no, he's talking to Upstanding Whelp's older bro, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), who's been having Bad Dreams of Chan Kang's murder (death in the family? Check! Quest for Vengeance? Check! Chan Kang? WTF) that eventually lead him to sign up for the Mortal Kombat tournament. As the god Raiden (Christopher Lambert) explains, MK represents the unending conflict between the realms of Earth and Outworld (because it's, you know, out there), and if Outworld wins Mortal Kombat ten times in a row (because ten is a nice round number and any idiot can count to it), Emperor Shao Kahn can invade and conquer Earth: "The fate of billions will depend upon you... HAHAHAHAHH!...Sorry." Lambert, clearly not giving a goddamn, snarks his way through the whole movie while throwing literal shade once in a while:

"I don't think so!" via tumblr

"I don't think so!" via tumblr

Not that snark is bad for the movie, mind you. No, it's practically Shakespearian compared to the trio he's roped into doing all the fighting. Liu Kang, the Bruce Lee stand-in, has a default face of righteous constipation:

Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), the movie star looking to dispel the (not totally unfounded) rumors he's a phony, is often shamelessly chauvinistic but has a battle cry like he was castrated:

And Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras), the loose-cannon cop out to avenge somebody-or-other's death, is the absolute best at having no expression at all:

via something called mimg.ugo.com

via something called mimg.ugo.com

No matter what she's doing.

Seriously- what can this possibly do for every drooling male in the movie? Via digitalspy.com

Seriously- what can this possibly do for every drooling male in the movie? Via digitalspy.com

Earth's best and only hope, people!

Squint hard enough and you might get a glimpse of the much better movie this ripped off. Enter the Dragon, while almost as silly, never stooped to such nourishing nuggets of idiocy as "You can look into my soul, but you don't own it," and "I smell something...bullshit!" In fact, Anderson and writer Kevin Droney couldn't be bothered with a plot, so what little we get merely strings together a bunch of fight scenes - and even then I was scratching my head and thinking, this fight is because...?.

The pelvic thrust really brought the temperature of the room down. via proc.com.ua

The pelvic thrust really brought the temperature of the room down. via proc.com.ua

One of these times was the epic showdown between Johnny Cage and Scorpion, which I personally consider the best in the whole film. The special effects are dated and the scene has no apparent bearing on the plot, but for once the film doesn't get in its own way. The cinematography is clean and efficient without relying too heavily on style (except some POV stuff), shots actually last long enough that we can tell what the hell is going on, and the fight choreography is fast, fluid and brutal. More than any other scene, this feels like something out of a legit martial arts movie. Plus, it has this bitchin' finisher:

Sadly, this proves to be the exception and not the rule. Most of Mortal Kombat's fights are flatly choreographed, awkwardly shot, and clumsily edited. Shots rarely last more than a second or two, making it tough to follow the action - if you even care. The constant slow-motion doesn't help things, drawing out a scene for cheap melodrama when we just want to see some decent ass-kicking. The fight between Sonya and her nemesis, the piggish Kano (Trevor Goddard), is easily the worst; Wilson-Sampras is clearly faking it, and yet clearly can't lose- though the few times Kano lands a hit are lovingly agonized over, with appropriate moans of pain. "Give me a break!" he pleads when she finally gets his head in a leg lock, and of course she takes him at his word. Foolish Kano, don't you realize the narrow-minded forces you're up against here?

I'm already tired of talking about this piece of shit, so let me get in a parting shot: four times is a battle proclaimed a "Flawless Victory!" when often this is the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, nothing about this movie is a flawless victory. Rather, watching it is the equivalent of enduring this for 100 minutes:

"Those were $500 sunglasses, asshole." Yaas. via kotaku

"Those were $500 sunglasses, asshole." Yaas. via kotaku

And yet this film, despite all the hate dumped on it like a brutality, grossed seven times its budget at the box office ($122 million against an $18 million budget), which convinced Hollywood the genre still had life in it. Now in 2015 we await what is presumably the (long overdue) final installment in the Resident Evil film series (all of them both worse-received and higher-grossing than Mortal Kombat), which has essentially been Anderson's career the last decade and a half and a refinement of the style he introduced here. Nearly every videogame adaptation has taken its cues from Mortal Kombat: a lot of empty flash with a bit of fan service thrown in. Now Nintendo, having apparently decided Super Mario Bros. was just a fluke, is looking to get into bed with Hollywood again. The genre is more in vogue than ever. And all because of this film.

Video game fans should cry themselves to sleep each night. Twenty years on and this is apparently the best a videogame film can do: be loud and stupid and generally the opposite of everything a good film should be. Like ol' Goro, they're basically stumbling around clutching at their nuts (or, in the case of Tomb Raider, their ovaries) and not even bothering to use their brains. This is hormonally-imbalanced teenage fantasy all the way, a ton of punching and kicking and brooding that beats you almost as senseless as it does the characters. If you don't feel dumber by the time the credits roll, you're the perfect audience- and apparently there's a big chunk of you, considering how successful the Resident Evil series has become.

So happy 20th, Mortal Kombat. You're a shining example of videogame cinema, ensuring that such films will stink up our cinemas and piss in our brains for years to come. Be proud.

Truer words were rarely spoken. via wrongsideoftheart.com

Truer words were rarely spoken. via wrongsideoftheart.com