Actually written by Chris the Intern, I'm an idiot who posted it on the wrong account.
|Fan poster: Source|
Chris' opinions do not reflect or represent the views of terrible blog dot net.
God dammit Chris.
God dammit Chris.
The first two Mortal Kombat games are, and always have been, very overrated (at best). Everyone has the same basic moves, so gameplay is more about finding who has the most useful special move and just spamming that (so pretty much just Sub-Zero, I guess). The controls are absolutely awful (particularly when compared to other fighting game franchises), the fatalities are incredibly difficult to pull off, the difficulty is far too high, and the graphics are horrible. Seriously, I don’t know why people defend these games outside of nostalgia – and even that’s not an excuse.
Now that I’ve lost approximately 50% of the people who clicked on this blog in the first place, some muted praise: Mortal Kombat was a fucking phenomenon. Half of America loved that game, and the other half had bills to pay. The franchise is still going strong, and certainly more popular than anything I’ll ever produce, so take my unpopular opinion for what it is. I have never, ever had fun playing Mortal Kombat, but I’ve definitely had fun watching the movie based on the games.
Let’s back up and admit something: there has never been a good video game-based motion picture. Super Mario Bros., Doom, Tomb Raider; there are far too many examples of movies trying to recreate an interactive experience and failing miserably (the same used to be true for movie-based video games, but then Goldeneye 007 came out and I will brook no criticism of that game). Then again, that’s like saying Con Air isn’t a good movie. I’m sure academics won’t be studying the framing techniques of Con Air, but it’s still unquestionably one of the most entertaining classic action films ever made. Similarly, Mortal Kombat is a movie that’s meant to be fun, and succeeds at being fun. We here at terribleblog dot net take more joy in enjoyably dumb movies than anyone else we know, but there’s a certain art to it that requires in-depth explanation.
Unfortunately, I was raised to a do a full job, and that means reviewing the 40 minute tie-in prequel, Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins. I’m not sure what the point of this was; the games already had a surprisingly well-explained (read: simple) backstory, and most kids were familiar with it to begin with. Even if you weren’t familiar, I can’t understand shelling out your hard-earned Clintonbucks for a short VHS to tell you about the intricate backstory of some dumb movie where people punch other people’s heads off.
A narrator explains to us, amidst truly laughable 1995-era CGI, that there’s a different dimension called Outworld, and they like to challenge the denizens of Earth to a fighting tournament and always kick our asses. In fact, they’ve won nine tournaments in a row, and Earth would be just pleased as punch if Outworld was prevented from winning the tenth. Basically, Outworld is like the New England Patriots, and the denizens of Earth are like those Buffalo Bills fans who throw each other through tables. US Special Forces member Lieutenant Sonya Blade, famous Hollywood actor Johnny Cage, and Some Other Guy Liu Kang are on some boat to this martial arts tournament (wow, never seen that before). The whole short is a compilation of embarrassing CGI, surprisingly bad traditional animation, and poor-at-best motion capture. The voice acting is decent enough, but the writing is abysmal (it’s not like they had much to work with, to be fair). A sample line from the inimitable Jonathan Cage: “Hey, I’m a wanted man! Everyone wants me! *pukes over the side of the boat*”. That’s about as good as we get.
|I'm pretty sure that's not regulation apparel for the United States Special Forces.|
Sub-Zero and Scorpion are both on the boat, told to kill the three mains for whatever reason. Oh and Scorpion’s supposed to betray Sub-Zero as well (which I never got; they’re almost certainly brothers, and borderline identical, but I’ll be damned if I visit the Mortal Kombat wiki for any reason whatsoever). A fight scene ensues, and the poor animation is on full display. Really, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anything with worse animation besides Foodfight! and The Christmas Tree. To make matters worse, this has the same problem as the 90’s animated adaptation of Spider-Man: everyone’s just constantly talking, with no space between sentences or speakers. Anyway, Raiden teleports from Little China and appears on the boat to support the three good guys for no adequately explained reason.
Raiden proceeds to explain why Shang Tsung, the organizer of the tournament, is such a butthole, but it’s impossible to follow because it cuts back to that hysterical CGI. Seriously, this needs to be seen to be believed. The same thing proceeds for the background of Sub-Zero and Scorpion (easier to follow this time: they’re too oldass ninja who hate each other). Weirdly enough, Raiden says he can’t participate in Mortal Kombat because he’s not mortal, which doesn’t explain his presence in the games. Either way, he explains the background of Goro (thought two arms in this CGI were bad? Try four arms in this CGI) and nothing really much happens. This whole short is really a waste of time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s something that Mortal Kombat fans try to pretend doesn’t exist. The clique gets attacked by a horde of Barakas as I start to wonder if this shit is canonical, and for some reason they decided to incorporate the blur-o-vision from Warriors of Virtue. This time, however, the blur-o-vision is a thousand times worse (if you can believe that) (this even happens on the Blu-Ray), but the good news is the horrendous animation is now somewhat hidden.
|"I only see one loser here, pal." "Yeah, and she's not talking about us!"|
The short mercifully ends with a recap of who each character is, and I recognize something absent that the series is most well-known for: blood and guts. Even the violence was shockingly softcore, making the only real thing this short has in common with the source material is the storyline and characters. To wit: they looked at a fighting game and decided the most marketable and interesting aspects were the storyline and characters. That’s always the least marketable and interesting thing in any fighting game (besides, I guess, Super Smash Bros.), and they put it front and center like that’s what fans give a shit about. Let’s be real, you’re never going to watch it, even if I were to embed this link:
in the review itself, and you should pride yourself on your excellent judgment. Let’s move on to something more tolerable.
Doesn’t matter what you thought/didn’t think of the games, doesn’t matter about that stupid short you just avoided, doesn’t matter what your girlfriend argued about with you today – this is unquestionably the most kickass movie theme you’ve ever heard in your miserable life. If this wasn’t on your warmup playlist, you didn’t win a single wrestling match in high school. If you don’t want to kick someone’s ass as soon as you hear this, I can’t date you. Go flirt with Johnny Bankaccount, squaw.
The movie opens with Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, known for his brave performance as Crazy Hawaiian Grandpa in Johnny Tsunami) beating up on some kid, because Earth decided to go with the JRPG strategy of sending an inexperienced teenager to go fight God for that round of Mortal Kombat, I guess. This all happens while Buckethead’s “Doomride” unmistakably plays in the background. Buckethead’s one of my favorite guitarists, but I really wish he’d stick to soundtracks like this since he hasn’t got the acumen for anything commercial. Somehow those 30-minute albums with nothing but rejected metal riffs don’t sell like they used to.
Turns out killing kids is a bit of a faux pas, because he’s incurred the wrath and vengeful desires of one Liu Kang (Robin Shou, a pleasantly surprising good actor + fight choreographer), who lives in one of those beautiful minimalist studio apartments where everything’s green for some reason. Meanwhile (or maybe earlier, or maybe later, the film doesn’t care, why should you?) Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson, who actually replaced Cameron Diaz (thank goodness)) decides to storm a heavy metal club with tactical shotguns to pursue some guy with half his face covered in actual metal. Whenever people say they don’t enjoy this movie, I like to imagine them saying “ugh, THAT would never happen” as they watch Sonya slam her gun into heavy metal dancers while firing at some hard-to-see guy with an uzi submachine gun. It’s like those people who have to explain to you that the 300 Spartans didn’t actually face off against some obese giant with scythes for hands.
Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby, the American with the most British name ever) is a Hollywood actor who’s also apparently a world class martial artist, but the press doesn’t believe him because…I guess he’s too good looking. They never seemed to question Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee or Jean Claude Van Damme. Believe it or not, Van Damme turned down the role to work on the film adaptation of Street Fighter. Nice choice, dick. Apparently Brandon Lee was considered too but he had some trouble on the set of The Crow or something. Anyway, his old mentor visits him and tells him that if he enters some little-known martial arts tournament where the media isn’t allowed, somehow that’ll lead to vindication of his skills. To be fair, Van Damme would probably have bought that.
Liu’s understandably miffed about his brother dying, so he goes to visit his temple in China. He offers the monks there to fight in the upcoming tournament, and then the very heart and soul of the movie shows up. Raiden (Christopher Lambert) (yes, THE Christopher Lambert) shows up looking like the Thunder god from Big Trouble in Little China, only he’s doing a very clear impression of Kirk Douglas the entire time. Lambert isn’t exactly Robert Mitchum, but it’s pretty clear he took one look at the script and went “oh so that’s what we’re doing” and decided to just goof it up with this hilarious voice. We have an actual God of Thunder in this movie and people have the unmitigated audacity to bitch about performances. What are we even doing right now?
Liu and Johnny get on the boat to the tournament while Sonya pursues the half-metal face guy (Kano)...onto the boat as well. What a coincidence. From here, they basically recreate many of the events of that stupid short I watched earlier (albeit in a much more palatable exchange), so that short is pretty much pointless. Sub-Zero and Scorpion are introduced, and I still don’t get why they’re so popular. Raiden delivers a bunch of exposition, but it’s a little hard to hear over your laughter at that fucking voice. Seriously, this is a performance you’ve gotta see to believe. You'll get a second take out of Lambert over his dead body. There’s a bit where he says “The fate of billions will depend upon you. Heh heh heh…” *face drops* “Sorry.” I’m not 100% certain this wasn’t an outtake that they just left in because it tested well.
The trio arrives at the island, which features some pretty hideous effects but looks nice nonetheless. Princess Kitana is introduced, and apparently she’s 10,000 years old and…not working for Shang Tsung. Apparently she’s pretty important, but they don’t do a very good job of explaining why, or even why she’s there to begin with. The movie also introduces Reptile, which makes me wonder if there was a frothing demand from the fans that they include yet another ninja. His job is to show off exactly how weak computer animation was back in the mid 90s.
|Whoops, not sure why I included a picture of the Devil from Spawn in here.|
They even rip off the feast scene from Enter the Dragon, but by this point it doesn’t really bug me: if you’re going to rip off a movie, better to rip off Enter the Dragon than something like…I don’t know, Field of Dreams. Unfortunately, as the four-armed eight foot tall demon prince is introduced, the only thing we get is more exposition. They go searching for Shang Tsung, Kitana, the Wicked Witch’s broom, and finally – mercifully – there’s a fight scene with a bunch of nameless, faceless thugs to break up all this sneaking around. I didn’t shell out five bucks to watch Metal Gear Solid, Paul W.S. Anderson. Apparently Robin Shou choreographed the whole thing, and he did a bang-up job. It certainly helps that the techno theme makes another appearance. You can’t tell me this song doesn’t make you want to punch another person square in the face. Don’t blame me, Preston; the fate of Earth rests in my thunder jabs.
The tournament begins proper the next morning as Liu beats up some guy who looks like Asante Samuel, Sonya kills Kano, and Johnny has a really great battle with Scorpion. Sonya/Kano is easily the best fight, partially because of the choreography, partially because of the soundtrack, but mostly because Bridgette Wilson makes some unintentionally hilarious faces throughout the entire thing. You know, if the movie was just all of this, it’d actually be even better. I don’t care about Kitana telling Liu to use the element that gives life during a half-assed fight, I want people getting kicked in the face. Liu gets another fight, this time with Sub-Zero, who he kills with water. That kinda feels like killing Magneto with a gun.
That eight foot tall demon prince with four arms kills one of Johnny’s friends, so Sonya is a bit intimidated. Raiden (I guess he’s just their guardian angel) reminds them that they have to face their fears in order to find their true selves (I’m pretty sure those are his exact words), and that they’re being held back by their insecurities. Raiden might be inebriated, though, because all three are undefeated by now. Hell, their insecurities only seem to be helping them at this point. Johnny Big Balls decides he’ll take Goro one-on-one. They’re also trying to hammer home some sort of pseudo romance between Johnny and Sonya that I buy about as much as Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg in The Happening. Now I’m imagining Wahlberg karate chopping that tree instead of trying to reason with it. The world is a little bit more comforting today.
By this point, it’s important to point out there’s virtually no blood and very little gore. I’m fairly certain the vast majority of fans of the first two games only exist because of the gore present therein, so this may be a dealbreaker for serious (hard to use that word with this franchise) fans. Ignoring the indisputable fact that the gameplay was bad enough that the only enticing thing was the extreme violence, I don’t think removing the gore/blood from the movie was a bad decision necessarily. The movie did the same thing the short did: opted to focus more on the story/characters (a bit of a bizarre decision, but luckily they actually included some impressive fights), and the blood/gore wouldn’t really mesh well with the fantasy setting. It simply would be too distracting from the scenery/colorful cast of characters (note: this movie is virtually devoid of color, and I don't just mean because Jax stays behind on Earth).
Johnny gets revenge on Goro (hardly seems fair knocking him off a cliff, but that’s what you get), and Shang Tsung decides to jump start to the end by capturing Sonya and taking her to Outworld. Apparently Sonya was the highest tier character in the original game, but here she’s reduced to a shrieking damsel in distress simply because Shang Tsung put her arm behind her back. It’s a real shame, because up to now she was one of the better characters. Now she’s just a misassembled LEGO character.
Johnny and Liu decide to pursue and come across that hysterical CGI Reptile. Honestly, his CGI is barely better than what I saw in The Journey Begins. Reptile turns into the ninja everyone knows (?) and loves (???) from the video game, and engages in a lengthy fight with Liu. Johnny decides not to help for whatever reason. Kitana shows up out of absolutely nowhere, as she endeavors to provide more and more exposition in a Zooey Deschanel-esque monotone. I sincerely pity the parents in the audience who were trying to follow along with this shit.
It’s decided that Liu shall face off against Shang Tsung, and I gotta admit that at first I was a bit disappointed. Shang Tsung actually challenged Johnny, who didn’t even get a chance to decline before Liu butted in and demanded to fight. Johnny’s been the most interesting character to watch and, pithy rejoinders notwithstanding, been the most likable character on screen. All my doubts were assuaged, however, when that unbeatable techno started playing again. Is there any fight that can’t be improved with that song? The fight goes on and on, fighting Shang Tsung, four other guys, his idiot brother, and finally Shang Tsung again. The movie knows how to do a climax: having all the characters participating in a mass melee wouldn’t be helpful because it’d be too difficult to focus. Liu obviously wins - it’s a mid-90s movie, there’s gonna be a happy ending – but there’s also going to be a cliffhanger for a horrendous sequel! Shao Khan, the oft-referenced emperor, makes an appearance to tease Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, from the makers of Foodfight!, the worst animated movie I’ve ever seen.
|Follow the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Retrospective for more information|
This film isn’t a miracle, like Big Trouble in Little China, Mad Max: Fury Road or Con Air, but it’s definitely solid at what it sets out to do: appeal to teenagers/pre-teens not with violence, but with combat – that’s something I can (mostly) respect. Having to work with a story that requires almost as much explanation as Pokémon isn’t easy, but they kept the film reasonably paced for the most part and, more importantly, kept it entertaining. In a world where people constantly talk about nostalgia for the 90s (read: nostalgia for 90s video games, television shows and movies), this is something that deserves far more attention as a nostalgic guilty pleasure. It’s certainly a lot better than Home Alone, Batman Forever, and Matilda. As much praise as I've heaped on the movie, I barely even touched on the fantastic soundtrack, which I wholeheartedly recommend everyone listen to. When the dust clears, it's virtually undeniable that Mortal Kombat is the finest video game-based theatrical film ever made. A bar so low you could trip over it.