Films based on martial arts computer games have three things in common – cheesiness; starring a teamed-up white guy and an Asian; and (to date, anyway), being surprisingly good. “Street Fighter”, “Double Dragon” and both “Mortal Kombat” movies all pitch themselves at that OTT, self-referential market and while none of them got stellar reviews, they’re all loads of fun.
“Mortal Kombat” also has the added benefit of the TMAMP – the Typical Martial Arts Movie Plot (star’s brother is killed by a villain in a different country, star has to move back in order to get revenge on villain in a tournament, taking in a bit of ancient wisdom along the way). There are “Realms” and the Emperor of Outworld has sent Chang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, ISCFC favourite) to Earthworld (our planet, I guess) to get him to open a portal to allow an invasion. For reasons which presumably made sense to the people who closed the portals, Chang Tsung and his Outworld cronies need to win ten fighting tournaments to open it up, and at the beginning of the movie they’ve won nine. EXCITEMENT!
Lord Rayden, a sort of deity, is protecting Earth, and he’s assembled the world’s best fighters to take on the Outworld crew. We’ve got Liu Kang (the guy whose brother died), Johnny Cage (the world’s greatest martial arts movie star, seeking to regain his honour after some gossip mags say he’s not for real, although why movie fans insist on martial arts stars being real fighters in this world is never mentioned), and Sonya Blade, a cop. On Chang’s side are Kano (with a metal plate sort of welded on to his face, who Sonya is tracking down), a whole army of goons and Goro. Goro is a good 9 feet tall with two sets of arms, and is presumably one of the less nice things in Outworld, but his origin is never brought up. In one of the many similarities between this and “Enter The Dragon”, they’re taken to a mysterious island where the tournament takes place on a battered old boat.
Although I’m a gamer of 30 years standing, I never played any of the Mortal Kombats (apart from a few very occasional goes at a party) so presumably there’s references that went over my head, although I did notice them crowbar in the three most famous catchphrases from the game – “Flawless victory”, “Finish Him” and “Fatality”. So while I recognise the characters, I don’t have any love or deep knowledge of the franchise and have to treat it like any other martial arts movie.
First thing to notice, this wasn’t cheap. The sets, weirdly gothic and slightly alien, are large and elaborate and aside from some rotten CGI on the part of “Scorpion”, the effects are decent too. The fights are all done well, easily the equal of any of the “proper” martial arts movies of the time, with the fun addition of not having to obey the laws of physics due to nearly everyone having magic powers of some sort. The plot, while being a smidgeon odd, is perfectly understandable and there’s a decent sense of humour running through things as everyone with the exception of Chang Tsung camps it up. Bridgette Wilson, as Sonya Blade, insisted on doing all her own stunts including the fights, which shows a sense of dedication this movie perhaps didn’t deserve.
I haven’t even mentioned Christopher Lambert yet! He’s Lord Rayden, basically playing him as a smirking superpowered version of MacLeod from “Highlander”, and he never takes himself or the movie seriously for one second. His “you have learned all I can teach you” line, when you realise what caused him to say it, is the funniest joke in the entire movie. Lambert was almost joined by Cameron Diaz as Sonya (broke her wrist before filming began) and Brandon Lee (died before filming began). That would have been fascinating.
This made a ton of money when it first came out, and that got us this movie, a sequel and a TV series (but more on those later). While I guess you’re unlikely to pop on a 20 year old computer game adaptation accidentally, if you see it on TV I’d definitely recommend watching it. It’s fun, fast, and full of good performances.
Rating: thumbs up