Cinematic Flashback: Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997) Review
Mortal Kombat is not about death, but rather the perseveration of life. Liu Kang and a few chosen fighters from the Earth realm defeated Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung. According to the rules of Mortal Kombat, their victory preserved the safety of Earth for one more generation. Our Chosen ones were returned to Liu Kang’s home on Earth, only to enjoy a brief period of peace…. for someone from Outworld has a different point of view….as Jason’s Movie Blog takes a “cinematic flashback” look at 1997’s sequel film Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION
“Destroy All Expectations”
Director: John R. Leonetti
Writer: Brent V. Friedman and Bryce Zabel
Starring: Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, Brian Thompson, Sandra Hess, James Remar
Run Time: 95 Minutes
Release Date: November 21st, 1997
After defeating the wicked sorcerer Shang Tsung and wining the Mortal Kombat tournament for Earth, Lord Raiden (James Remar) and his chosen warriors, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Sonya Blade (Sandra Hess), Johnny Cage (Chris Conrad), and Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto) are welcomed home to an unexpected surprise. Shao Kahn (Brian Thompson), the Emperor of Outworld, has invaded Earth and brought forth legions of soldiers, who are commanded by his loyal generals Ermac (John Medlen), Sheeva (Marjeen Holden), Rain (Tyrone Wiggins), and Motaro (Deron McBee). Kahn’s plan is to merge the Earthrealm with Outworld into one realm by resurrecting Kitana’s mother, Queen Sindel (Musetta Vander); claiming Earth under his own imperial dominion. After the death of Johnny Cage, the warriors flee; escaping into hidden passageway where Lord Raiden tells them there are no more rules because Shao Kahn broke them and the only way, they can defeat him is to bring peace to Sindel’s spirt. With six days until the merger is complete, Raiden sends Sonya to find her old partner, Jax (Lynn Red Williams) and Liu and Kitana to seek out an enigmatic man named Nightwolf (Lightfoot), while the Thunder God seeks council from the Elder Ones on how the events that have passed came to be.
As I mentioned in my cinematic flashback review for 1995’s Mortal Kombat, I was super excited when the original film came out and my younger self was completely enthralled. Looking back from today, the film was definitely flawed, but the enjoyment and pure mindless entertainment fun of it all still remains intact as I still revered the film with a cult classic feeling of nostalgia. Like many, I was definitely looking forward to a sequel to the 1995 film and I do remember seeing Mortal Kombat: Annihilation in theaters when it came out in 1997 (I remember that the movie theater was jammed packed). Back then, I kind of liked the movie, but it was definitely a step down from the 1995 film. As time moved on, I felt like the movie (to me) just kept on getting worse and worse, with the movie showing its age and more and more of the feature’s flaws came to light. Maybe that was the emerging movie critic in me. So, with the upcoming release 2021’s Mortal Kombat reboot, I decided to take a look back at Mortal Kombat: Annihilation to see if this sequel movie is just as bad as I remember it to be. Sadly….it is.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is directed by John R. Leonetti, who would go on to direct such films like Annabelle and The Silence as well as a cinematographer for movies like The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter 2. As the time of this release, Leonetti made his directorial debut with Annihilation and its kind of clear that his inexperience of helming such an ambitious project. As for the positives, well…. there isn’t much. I do have to say that the premise for the movie is pretty intriguing; finding Annihilation’s main conflict setup story being loosely based off of Mortal Kombat 3. To be fair, I think that the setup story is good; finding the central heroes going on separate journeys for most of the film and coming together to defeat the “big bad” in the end. It definitely works, but only adequately. In addition, a few of the fighting sequences, like the movie before, are pretty decent and hold their own.
Unfortunately, a great bulk of Annihilation is entangled in disappointment and is faced with a lot of criticism throughout. Perhaps the biggest culprit blunder that the movie makes is the simple fact that the feature isn’t that good….in almost all regards. From a director’s standpoint, the film is terribly helmed and the inexperience from Leonetti is quite clear; finding Annihilation to be riddled with pitfalls from a director’s standpoint to executing story boards elements, and directorial decisions made. All of it renders the movie quite laughably terrible; making this sequel a very bad movie in general. Additionally, the film’s budget is called into question. Annihilation had almost double the production budget of its 1995 predecessor, but feels quite cheaply made and it is quite clear from almost all regards. The film’s settings, locations, set-pieces, costume attire, and editing all feels lackluster and subpar to the original film, which came out two years before. Even worse is the film’s visual effects, with a great slew of CGI effects being incredibly bad to the point of being awfully cringeworthy and takes away from the fantastical appeal that the filmmakers are trying to convey.
A personal criticism that I have with this movie is the fact that Annihilation tries to do too much with its story and characters. How so? The story does feel grand and big, but feels very wonky and confusing at times and lacks the impact that is require for a “save the world” type of endeavor. Plus, there is so much going on in the film that it gets quite jumbled together and most of the storylines (whether story arc or character development) come up short. In addition, the movie tries too hard to play up so much fan service from the Mortal Kombat universe, introducing a great host of new characters (i.e., Rain, Sindel, Sheeva, Motaro, Smoke, Millenna, Jade, Nightwolf etc.) that are barely noticeable and are only featured in the movie for pure fan moments. Thus, the story of Annihilation is jammed packed with so many characters that many are forgotten and begs the question as to why they are featured altogether. Such is the scene with Sub-Zero and Scorpion, which are featured in one-scene and never again. Why even put them in? The same goes for the introducing of Animality, the famous finishing move from the Mortal Kombat games, that seems totally out of place in Annihilation and feels lackluster when the movie tries to implement it into the main story (during the climax); creating one of the worst moments of the entire film. Plus, the script for the movie is terrible, bland, and completely forgettable; filled with plot holes, fragmented storylines, and overstuffed with necessary moments. There was a certain type of amusing cheesiness and campiness from the first film, but Annihilation takes the up a notch and delivers such over-the-top cheesy filled sequences that it renders the movie rather incoherent.
What’s even worse is that the cast of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is incredibly dull and wooden throughout the entire feature; producing a lot of cringeworthy moments that are purely laughable. Of the returning cast from the first film, only two reprise their roles…. those being Robin Shou and Talisa Soto as Liu Kang and Kitana respectfully. However, while their involvement on this project keeps up appearance for the sake of continuity between the two films, but Shou and Soto seem unmemorable in Annihilation; playing up the laughable dialogue that is given to them and lackluster character developments that the script hands them. Even other returning characters like Sonya Blade (Hess), Jax (Williams), and Raiden (Remar) are woefully dismal compared to their 1995 acting counterparts. Basically, almost all characters in Annihilation are thinly-sketched caricatures and are played by talents that can’t muster a decent performance and comes off as awful and cheesy.
Who fares the worst in the movie, however, is actor Brian Thompson as the powerful Shao Kahn, the Emperor of Outworld. Thompson just doesn’t seem that much of an intimating character that he was setup to be in the previous film as well as this one. In truth, he seems quite hokey for being such a formidable and ruthless leader. Thompson would’ve okay if he played like a general to Shao Khan, but not as the Shao Khan himself. A total miscast in my opinion. Even all the other players in the movie (good or bad) are completely underutilized in their character representation and are portrayed by such cringeworthy and bland performances by the acting talents behind them.
The legacy of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is one of dismal thing and one that bares the black mark of cinematic undertaking. The film was critically panned by both critics and moviegoers alike and made $51 million at the box office against its production budget of $35 million. As of 2021, the film sits has a 2% percent rating on Rotten Tomato and it is still being hailed as one of the worst sequel movies to date. Due to such a backlash of criticism and poor reception, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation ended a planned film trilogy, with a third live-action entry titled Mortal Kombat: Devastation being cancelled. Of course, there were other avenues that the franchise went through (a short-lived animation series and a one season live-action TV show) as well as the video game series expanding upon the lore and character of the Mortal Kombat universe. Unfortunately, the film franchise, after Mortal Kombat: Annihilation stopped dead in its tracks. Let’s hope that the 2021 reboot film salvages this potential and lucrative franchise for another round at the big screen.
As it stands, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is a woefully bad movie. It’s messy disjointed, too chaotic, poorly structured / executed, and honestly overstuffed. Yes, its quite an ambitious project to pull off, but the movie just simply ends up being more off than it can chew. Coupling the flat script, wooden dialogue, bland characters, and laughable CGI effects, the end result is clear that this particular sequel endeavor is poorly mismanaged right from the get-go. In the end, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is just abysmal endeavor that may have a few sparse redeem qualities, but is so haphazard and terrible that it just leaves an extremely flawed taste in your mouth as well as being one of the worst video game film adaptations ever. Save your time and your money if you haven’t seeing this movie yet as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is nowhere near as a “Flawless Victory”.
Cinematic Flashback Score: 0.9 Out of 5
Fun Fact: Both actors Christopher Lambert and Linden Ashby, who played Lord Raiden and Johnny Cage in the original 1995 Mortal Kombat film, were offered to reprise their roles in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, but declined their respective offer after reading the film’s script. The two were then replaced by actors James Remar and Chris Conrad.