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Here at Four Horsemen Films, we're dedicated to some of the very best and worst cinematic masterpieces you know, love, and despise. Think of us as Bad Movies for Bad People, or as a liaison to the inner sanctum of cinema. Or, just think of us as quick and entertaining reads. That's what Four Horsemen Films is all about.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Directed By: Paul W.S. Anderson

Written By: Kevin Droney (Screenplay), Ed Boon & John Tobias (Characters)

Starring: Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Robin Shou, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, Christopher Lambert

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
More often than not, filmmakers are always in a position where they have this inane desire not to be creative; to do the most predictable and least complicated idea on their slate. Hell, most of the time, they don’t even provide the ideas, rather, they understand that they can simply adapt something terribly underdeveloped into box office bank. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen movies based on board games, children’s toys, and comic books, just to name a few. However, the one medium that always seemed most suited to having a big screen adaptation was video games. After all, most gamers will tell you that they play not just for the game, but for the experience of a masterfully crafted story that delves into a new, albeit unrealistic, element of society. So why, then, do we find that most video games transferred to the big screen never have the same ferocity they did when you were holding a controller? Mortal Kombat might just have the answers.

Here we have the idea to create a movie based upon one of the most graphic and controversial video games of its time, a game that, without the hype, is button-mashing mayhem loosely tied together by a story about ninjas. The game itself was a standard one-on-one fighter that had brutal fatalities and cool power moves, but also concealed a thin overall plot with mere paragraphs about each of the original 7 playable characters as well as the 2 big bosses. In short: it seemed to be a thin premise with which to make money on in theatres. What’s worse: Two years prior to the release, Super Mario Bros. was deemed a colossal flop at the box office for steering too far from its video game inspiration, and one year after that, Street Fighter (pretty much the same premise as MK) failed miserably. Doomed to fail? It probably should have been, but somewhere along the line, Mortal Kombat learned how to make itself a pretty lucrative franchise.

When you begin watching the film, you’re expecting to see aspects of the game incorporated pretty quickly. After all, you want some accuracy for your fictional basis, right? Sure enough, we get it, within about three seconds. That beautiful Mortal Kombat theme kicks in and we open on a flaming dragon emblem, followed by dark skies and an immediate fight. The fight, taking place between Shang Tsung, MK’s first resident bad guy, and Liu Kang’s brother is as one-sided as can be. Tsung quickly disposes of him, only for us to learn that it was a Liu Kang nightmare. Damn, I already know that Kang wants revenge and has motive to fight. Good way to get that out there.

30 seconds later, we’re transported to Hong Kong, where Sonya Blade and her partner Jax are mercenaries looking to take out a criminal named Kano, who just so happens to work for Shang Tsung. If you’ve played the games, you already understand one important factor of this film: its completely accurate. The game characters rarely had much story early on, so they only had one or two instinctual urges. Those urges are quickly being fulfilled as the movie progresses. From Hong Kong, we hit Los Angeles, where Johnny Cage is an action star trying to abandon a “fake” image. We know our main characters, each of which has reason enough to want to explore the tournament they have all been invited to compete in. Makes me wonder why Mortal Kombat isn’t an Olympic sport. I mean really, a gold medal for ripping your competitor’s spine out? Well worth the price of admission.

Eventually, all of our fighting protagonists (save for Jax, who is a complete pussy in this film) end up on a boat, traveling to an island for the competition. They are joined by Raiden, and challenged rapidly by Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Shang Tsung. Both Tsung and Raiden act more as guardians throughout the battles rather than actual fighters, leaving their lower fighters to do the competing. Raiden explains, quite simply, that his good heroes must win the tournament. Sure, there’s a massive history lesson about the tournament, but it isn’t as important as the goal: win the tournament. At this point, only about 25-30 minutes into the film, we have completely explained what Mortal Kombat (game and movie) is all about. Now, all we have left to do is fight.

And, believe it or not, there is a lot of very well choreographed and unique fighting. Each battle is distinctly unique, and manages to incorporate traditional MK locales (like The Pit in the finale) and grapplers with the storyline. Sure, there are any number of fictional warriors that drop off faster than a red shirt, but there’s also a letter-perfect amount of characters that have, you know, purpose. All of the original MK characters are included, even the massive, four-armed Goro, who is a make-up and special effects marvel for 1995. Hell, even Reptile makes an appearance in his green-masked form to battle Liu Kang. In total, there are 10 MK 1 fighters in the movie and (if you include a special cameo by the Emperor at the end of the film) 3 from MK 2, so it keeps true to the origins of Kombat pretty closely.

This is not to say that this movie doesn’t deal with any number of flaws. I mean, first of all, we’re led to believe that all of these humans are completely copasetic with the idea of traveling to an undisclosed location on the map and compete in a tournament that could mean the end of your eternal flame. Did they sign a release waiver? How is this tournament not sponsored by Pepsi, MetLife, or Goodyear? What, no live TV coverage on ESPN?

As if our characters inability to show even the slightest sense of reason or logic isn’t bad enough, there is a great deal of mentions of parallel universes and alternate planes of reality. I am referring, of course, to the inclusion of an area known as “Outworld,” where the Emperor (Shao Kahn for all you nerds out there) resides and where chaos roams the streets. It is designed to be a polar opposite of the real world, yet has all the makings of any town on the verge of total chaos. After all, dilapidated buildings accompanied by streetwalkers and fire just don’t have that same “hell on earth” feel they once did. So how do you get to Outworld? Well, that’s easy. You simply step inside a giant wormhole until you are engulfed by something that appears to be silly putty until you are beamed (at the speed of light mind you) to a portal of another realm. Kiss my ass, reality, I can step into a giant blob, shoot through a gigantic intestine and into East Compton. What now?

However, if there is any problem in this movie that can’t be overlooked, its Goro’s death. Here we have a supposed 8-foot tall (more like 7, by the way), four-armed Shokan with the ability to rip apart any two-armed mortal. Despite this knowledge (and his age, hundreds of years by the time of this tournament), Goro moronically falls into trap after trap that Johnny Cage lays for him, including a nutcracker suite and a perilous plunge off of a cliff. How, after hundreds of dominant outings could you be this idiotic? Were you raised under power lines?

Once Goro is eliminated, Shang Tsung is left with few alternatives and time is running out. Considering you already know that this film had a sequel, our ending at least leaves us with something a little less inconclusive than the games would have. Oh yeah, and the world’s most obvious sequel setup sequence. I really can’t wait to tell you how bad Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was, because it made this decent (but not overwhelming) action flick look like an Academy Award Winner.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: If anyone, its Gregory McKinney, who plays Jax for about a cup of coffee in this movie. Yes, Jax Briggs returns in the sequel to this particular movie (review coming soon!), but he’s definitely not played by this butcher, who is incapable of not just human emotion, but ability to do anything but scream to Sonya. You’re are a large, black man who will eventually have steel arms. DO SOMETHING YOU CLOTZ!

Best Name in the Cast: Linden Ashby, better known as the show-stealing Johnny Cage. If you’ve ever had your doubts about the MK fighters not having any personality, then you clearly missed how Ashby portrays the perfect chauvinist capable of mass destruction with his fists, and, in real life, he’s actually trained in Tae Kwon Do and Karate.

Quote of the Film:
“A handful of people on a leaky boat are gonna save the world?” -Sonya Blade, summarizing our premise.

Final Thoughts:
This movie does a very smart job of executing what a Mortal Kombat film should be. Paul W.S. Anderson went on to write and direct for the Resident Evil franchise, thus making him huge bank for decent scripts, and while the writing and dialogue is shoddy in parts, they know better than to just leave you hanging in the general scope. Actually, MK feels more like a nod to Enter the Dragon than it does a freestanding film, given the obvious similarities in twists, fights, and settings. I would highly recommend watching them back to back if you want some good, generic kung-fu style action without all the deep, moral, and most importantly logical thinking, because in the end, this movie was based upon a video game. If its deep, moral, and logical, I’d rather shove the controller up someone’s ass than mash the buttons.

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