Cinematic Flashback: Mortal Kombat (1995) Review
We got a guy with things comin’ out of his hands, we got another guy who freezes stuff, and then there’s a man, who as far as I can tell, is made out of electricity. I mean, how did he disappear like that? What is goin’ on here?” as Jason’s Movie Blog takes a “cinematic flashback” look at the cult classic video game film adaptation in 1995’s Mortal Kombat.
“Choose Your Destiny”
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writer: Kevin Droney
Starring: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, Bridgette Wilson, and Linden Ashby
Run Time: 101 Minutes
Release Date: August 18th, 1995
Shao Kahn, the Emperor of Outworld, has his sights set on conquering the realm of Earth. But in order to do so, he has to win 10 straight the ancient Mortal Kombat tournaments. The Emperor’s sorcerer, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), has led Outworld’s forces to nine straight victories. The only thing standing between Earth and the Emperor’s evil forces are three humans: Liu Kang (Robin Shou), a former Shaolin monk who is only at the tournament to kill Shang Tsung for the murder of his brother, Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), a special task law enforcement officer who is lured to the tournament under the pretense of catching her old partner’s killer, and Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), an egotistical movie star who the press has dubbed as a fake and is only at the tournament as a way to prove himself. It will be up to Lord Raiden (Christopher Lamber), the all-powerful god of thunder and protector of the Earthrealm, to teach his three warriors to look deep inside themselves to find the ability to beat Shang Tsung and save the realm of Earth from devastation.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
There’s no doubt that the Mortal Kombat video game franchise is one of the top contenders for being one of greatest fighting games. Spanning decades with its releases of bloody violence fights, fantasy / horror characters, and popular catchphrases such as “FINISH HIM” or “FATALITY”. Given its popular run in the arcades during the early to mid-90s, it came as no surprise that Hollywood wanted to try and translate the popular franchise and did so with 1995’s Mortal Kombat. Growing up in the 90s, I was super excited to see this movie, but I remember I didn’t catch it when it was initial released in theaters. I did see it at my friends house the following year when it was released on VHS and I really liked it. Some parts were a bit wonky, but still was quite an enjoyable and I remember that it captured the spirt of the video games. I mean….I still remember totally “geeked out” when I first saw Sub-Zero and Scorpion as well as the sudden appearance of Reptile (his human form). Overall, the nostalgia and cinematic recollection of Mortal Kombat still stays with me…. even to this day….as I regard it as a flawed yet still entertain film. With the upcoming reboot film of 2021’s Mortal Kombat, I decided to take a look back at the original 1995 film and to see if the movie still holds up or am I just blinded by 90s nostalgia.
Mortal Kombat was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who would eventually direct such noteworthy movies like Event Horizon and Alien vs. Predator as well as the other popular video game film adaptation series Resident Evil. Being his sophomore directorial film, Anderson does a pretty good; approaching the video game source material with a sense of mid-90s action nuances and fan service to fans of the popular video arcade game for something quite interesting that really does work. Naturally, the filmmakers get the movie right with a large focus on the fighting and action sequences; finding Anderson’s adept skills in trying to bring these scenes to life as well as keeping a bit true to the fictional characters behind them. The result is something incredible, with Anderson still retaining a lot of the molds of these unique characters and play to the large-than-life personas like the one-eyed merc Kano, the omnipotent thunder god Raiden, the flashy movie star Johnny Cage, the tough-as-nails Sonya Blade, the self-righteous / revenge driven Liu Kang, the monstrous four-armed Gorgo, the villainous sorcerer Shang-Tsung, the mystified Kitana, and so on and so forth. These video games character, while a bit rough around the edges, still manages to bring a certain type of fun to the proceedings throughout the movie and certainly pay the respect homage to their video game characters.
As mentioned, the action sequences are pretty good and are the highlight of the feature. Anderson keeps the fight fun and exciting; blending the martial arts style of the fights, the fantasy style nuances, and the action tones of the 90s. The result ultimately works and keeps viewers engaging in all the fight sequences from onset to conclusion. Additionally, Mortal Kombat’s story, while having some trouble along the way, is pretty straightforward, with Anderson clearly defining the movie’s main quest storyline as well as the journeys that Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, and Sonya Blade go on. It’s a bit conventional, but it works and I still like it. Overall, I was and still quite impressed with what Anderson was able to convey and create with Mortal Kombat. It’s not exactly a “Flawless victory”, but a victory nonetheless.
Surprisingly, the production quality for a movie that’s is based on a popular video game series and being made during the mid-90s was actually quite good for its time. Both the exotic location and layout set-pieces were vast and intricately detailed, which complimented each other (and the story itself) by producing a film landscape that had an otherworldly feel throughout. This, of course, adds to the film’s flavor and is made apparent from the real-world locations at the beginning of the film (i.e Wat Phra Si Sanphet), the ancient / mystical realms on Shang Tsung’s island, and the ruined / run-down of Outworld; finding each place very distinct and unique. The CGI effects and visual were almost good…. for its time. Naturally, place in today’s world of cinematic moviemaking, Mortal Kombat’s CGI effects are dated. That being said, there were pretty good for mid-90s and definitely had its flair in a flew particular scenes, including a lot of the visual appeal within the various character fights (i.e., Sub Zero’s ice powers, Scorpion’s chains, and so forth). In addition, the film’s music also rocked; boasting a plethora of music from a solid score, which was composed by George S. Clinton, as well as a stellar film soundtrack that featured some good song techno / electronic dance song selections. To this day, I still love listen to “Control” (Junor Reactor Instrumental) by Traci Lords and “Halcyon + On + On” by Orbital from the soundtrack. And, of course, I couldn’t forget the film’s theme song, which is quite infectious and hearing “MORTAL KOMBAT” …. love it.
Of course, the movie does have its drawbacks and criticisms. Perhaps the one that gets the most flack is that the film having a PG-13 rating instead of an R. This is something that most fans were upset about at the time of its initially release, with the movie dialing down the violence and to be less gory than what the games projected and gamers played through. As mentioned, a lot of the film’s featured fights sequences are fun and unique, but nothing hardcore or bloody, which sort of takes away from the appealing mantra of the video games. Thus, the movie lacks that R-rating, which given the time of its release with parents / schools concerned of violence material geared towards young tweens, seem like a decision that wasn’t really on the card, with Anderson making Mortal Kombat have a bit more lesser impact within its violence. There’s still fighting style to be had and a lot of fun, but not as much as what could’ve been.
Additionally, the movie has a certain type of cheesy campiness throughout that, while is apart of the film’s fun entertainment, does have a bit of criticism. That cheesy / over-the-top feeling can be felt in a lot of scenes and gets a bit goofy at times. The script for the movie isn’t the most polish and kind of skimps around certain narrative threads. Some of the motivations and character development is quite laughable, which isn’t helped by some ridiculous dialogue lines (both from pen and by acting talents). Although, while the franchise has evolved and has created quite a bit of lore and mythology, the story in 1995’s Mortal Kombat is pretty basic and a bit rough around the edges. All of this contributes to some of the criticism that goes against the movie. However, given other video games film adaptations around the time of the release of Mortal Kombat, including 1994’s Street Fighter and 1993’s Super Mario Bros. the movie’s story and overall execution is higher and more thought-out.
The cast in Mortal Kombat is a bit of mixed bag. Most of the principal players in the movie are from good stock and have fun playing their video game counterparts. However, the script’s sometimes laughable dialogue and stock-like character builds hold them back as well as most (if not all) giving some “over-the-top performances throughout. I guess its part of the film’s make-up as the movie doesn’t get super dramatic, yet some of the characters, regardless of their fantastic elements surrounding them, are a bit large-than-life caricature. Thus, the talents of Shou (Liu Kang), Ashby (Johnny Cage), Wilson (Sonya Blade), Goddard (Kano), and a few others feel like they are trying a bit too hard in portraying their characters and give off some campiness in their performances. However, none are deplorable and fit the overall tone of the film as I really don’t picture anyone less other than them to play besides them. Faring better are the talents of Lambert and Tagawa who play Lord Raiden and Shang Tsung; lending their seasoned theatrical weight to the proceedings as the powerful Thunder God and the villainous demon sorcerer. Although, they too fall prey to several cheesy moments scattered throughout the movie. Perhaps the best (at least in my opinion) is actress Talisa Soto as Princess Kitana; holding the grace and poise of an otherworldly princess and never over-acts her character role. Again, the characters and performances of these individuals are mostly due to the product of the film’s time of release (i.e the mid-90s action era), so I don’t put too much of a heavy scrutiny on this aspect.
The legacy of 1995’s Mortal Kombat has lived on throughout the years. While the movie did face some criticism from a few, most actually enjoyed the film and has created a cult-following to this day. Mortal Kombat went on to gain roughly $122 million at the box office and remained at the #1 movie for three consecutive weeks at the US box office. The success of the 1995 film also helped the video game franchise grow into what it is today as well as spawn a sequel (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) two years later in 1997 and two short-lived television series: an animated series titled Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm and a live-action show titled Mortal Kombat: Conquest. In addition, the legacy of Mortal Kombat proved that the movies that are based on video games was possible and could be profitable if done right; paving the way for a slew of video game film adaptations in the decades to follow, with some good yet most mediocre.
Regardless of that point, 1995’s Mortal Kombat stands tall and proud within that particular endeavor from Hollywood. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, the movie itself is still fun and enjoyable within that cheesy / mindless entertainment variety; garnishing plenty of viewers and followers over the years who partake in the feature’s tones, martial arts action, and fantasy-esque styles. It’s not exactly the best movie out there, but Mortal Kombat is a cult classic through and through and holds itself within some amusing traits and redeemable qualities that hold up to this day. Whatever you may think of this movie (good, bad, or in-different), the film stands as one of the better feature films that is based on a video game franchise to come out of Hollywood. All I have to say…. FINISH HIM….and MORTAL KOMBAT!!!!
Cinematic Flashback Score: 3.8 Out of 5
Fun Fact: The popular and coined phrase from the video games “Flawless Victory” (a match where the victor sustains no attacks from their opponent) was used regarding four matches in the film. However, only two of the matches meet the criteria: Sub-Zero’s first match against a henchmen and Johnny Cage’s match against Gorgo.