RELEASED: August 18th 1995
DISTRIBUTED BY: New Line Cinema
DIRECTED BY: Paul W. S. Anderson
WRITTEN BY: Kevin Droney
PRODUCED BY: Lawrence Kasanoff
MUSIC BY: George S. Clinton
STARRING: Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Talisa Soto, Trevor Goddard, Chris Casamassa, François Petit, Keith Cooke, Kevin Michael Richardson, Ed Boon & Christopher Lambert
REVIEW: After watching the newly released Mortal Kombat, I decided to go back and watch the original 90s iteration. And straight off the bat, I can say that it often seems to be lacking in terms of writing, direction, editing and sometimes acting.
And yet, from the moment the film starts and the words ‘MORTAL KOMBAT’ are screamed at you as the incredibly intense techno theme song starts blaring, you can tell you’re in for a rather special ride.
Mortal Kombat follows movie star Johnny Cage, special forces operative Sonya Blade and martial artist Liu Kang as they are drawn to the island of Shang Tsung to compete in a tournament that will decide the fate of Earth. Mentored by the thunder god Rayden, these heroes must overcome supernatural fighters such as Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, Goro and Shang Tsung himself in order to keep the planet from falling into the hands of an evil emperor from another dimension.
While this film isn’t exactly well done, and is definitely now rather dated, there is a lot to love about it. Director Paul Anderson really leans into the campiness of the franchise to produce a beautifully shlocky film that’s easy for fans of Mortal Kombat to fall in love with. On top of that, while it stumbles at times, it’s also a pretty faithful adaptation.
In this regard, the story is actually one of the film’s strongest points. It’s simple, doesn’t try to over explain things, and doesn’t waste any time getting to what it’s all about – the fighting.
From here, things start to waver. While there are some solid fight sequences here, especially those that feature Robin Shou’s Liu Kang, there are often times where you can tell the actors are definitely not the ‘greatest fighters alive’, as their characters are intended to be. Still, there’s so many fights going on, and so many wild things happening on screen, that the wavering quality is an easy thing to move past.
The actors all embody their characters well enough that, in spite of the rather trite script and the fact that every thing seems like they just went with the first take regardless of its quality, there are some real standouts. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is incredibly charismatic as the soul-stealing villain Chang Tsung, while Robin Shou embodies the aura of nineties action hero well. Linden Ashby and Bridgette Wilson’s back-and-forth is amusing if very of the time, and whatever the hell Christopher Lambert is doing is just downright hilarious.
There’s also an interesting variety of set pieces and scenery present in this film, that often keeps the fights and the story visually interesting. Unfortunately, that is also accompanied by some laughably bad effects, which are especially evident whenever you look at Reptile – an awful CGI monstrosity who looks like he’s escaped from a bad cartoon.
Still, behind all these problems, it’s clear to see what the filmmakers are going for. They understand what Mortal Kombat is about, and they’ve tried to translate that to screen as accurately as possible (a few minor creative liberties are taken, but nothing as egregious as in the new film). Despite all its flaws, it’s easy to see why this film is so revered and often touted as the greatest video-game adaptation of all time.
And for that, I give Mortal Kombat…
Just kidding, it’s probably more of a 2* or 3* if we’re being honest. But it is an incredibly good time nonetheless.
Anyway, thanks for reading! Which do you think is the best Mortal Kombat film? Let me know in the comments below!
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