This franchise has been remarkably durable. After this movie, there’ve been animated movies, animated TV shows, books, a live tour (?), and a recent online TV reboot, “Rebirth”, among other things. My favourite is the live-action TV series, “Mortal Kombat: Konquest”, made in 1998. “Konquest” is fascinating not so much for its story but for the way it ended. They knew they were getting cancelled in time to write an ending, so in the final episode the bad guys won, all the good guys died and the Earth was enslaved forever!
“Rebirth”, which started off as an unofficial pitch video for creator Kevin Tancharoen to get an upcoming Mortal Kombat movie, started pretty well as a reimagining of the “universe” of the show, with appearances from Michael Jai White, Jeri Ryan, Casper Van Dien, Mark Dacascos and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, reprising the role of Chang Tsung from the first movie. But by the end of the two “seasons”, we’d gotten nowhere near actually having the Mortal Kombat tournament, and the repeating of storylines had gotten beyond tedious. Maybe just watch the first season unless you’re a real glutton for punishment.
But that’s all in the future! This is about the sequel to the 1995 original, which we loved. It starts the instant the first film finished, with the Emperor of Outworld, Shao Khan, breaking the rules of the Elder Gods to invade Earthrealm, despite Liu Kang having won Mortal Kombat and saved the earth. Returning for this movie are Robin Shou (Liu Kang) and Talisa Soto (Princess Kitana), with the rest of the actors being replaced, most notably Raiden going from Christopher Lambert to James Remar. In future “stardom” news, Darth Maul himself Ray Park got his start on this movie, and “Ong-Bak” star Tony Jaa did some stunt-work for Robin Shou.
The special effects are more obviously cartoony in this movie, with an aggressively fake bluescreen in a lot of scenes; while some effort is made, the reduced budget is fairly obvious. The merging of the realms that comes from Shao Khan’s black magic looks fun, though, so you’ll get the Eiffel Tower start to emerge from the ground in the middle of a big battle scene.
So yes. Black magic involving Princess Kitana and her long-thought-dead mother, Queen Sindel (Musetta Vander, ISCFC favourite) – and no, the black magic isn’t that they’re only 4 years apart in age – which keeps a portal open which allows the merging of the realms and the inevitable destruction of Earthrealm. Raiden goes to visit the Elder Gods but they’re worse than useless; and the rest of the cast splits up on their own little missions, mainly so they can have lots of computer game-style one-on-one fights with a weird and wonderful variety of villains, presumably characters from one of the games. Liu Kang gets the power to turn into a very cheap-looking CGI dragon, Raiden is turned into a mortal, Sonya Blade (Sandra Hess, fresh off “Beastmaster 3” and on her way to “Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD”) goes to find her partner Jax, who’s now got bionic arms, and all roads lead to the final big battle for it all, yet another MORTAL KOMBAT
It’s not as good as the first one, is the first thing to notice. There’s cheesy one-liners aplenty, but there’s a strong sense that everyone’s taking it more seriously this time. Director Paul WS Anderson, who made the first one so much fun, didn’t return for the second one either, and replacement John Leonetti isn’t at the same level. Also, it’s crammed with characters – so many that there’s no possible way you could give a damn about anyone, or even fully understand who the person kicking ass on screen is all of the time. The use of the Elder Gods is like they were told to put them in but had zero idea what to do with them, and they’re effectively worse than useless.
After a couple of hundred martial arts films in a year, you begin to notice the same moves being used over and over, and “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” has them all. Never approach a downed opponent near their legs, or you’re getting kicked in the guts. Never approach them near the head, or you’re getting a bicycle kick to the face. If you go for a really big dramatic stomp on a downed opponent, they’re moving out of the way, same for if you swing a heavy object at them. That knife-edge clothesline move was super-popular in the 90s as well, as was that thing where you flew through the air doing multiple kicks on the same fella.
It’s full of fighting, full of odd plot turns and if you see both of the Mortal Kombat movies together, you won’t be disappointed. But this is definitely the weaker of the two, and you need to be feeling generous to get some enjoyment from it.
Rating: thumbs in the middle