Let me just say this right off the bat: director Paul W.S. Anderson gets a lot of totally undeserved shit on some of the geek message boards I frequent. Whenever his name is announced attached to a movie, the cry of outrage goes up (usually at Ain’t It Cool News, who I tend to agree with on most points). He’s directed a dozen movies, and I’ve enjoyed the holy hell out of every one I’ve seen.
Anderson’s first American studio movie was Mortal Kombat in 1995. I saw it in theaters back in Durango, probably 2 or 3 times, on video a few more, and just now for the first time in a decade. At the time of its release, Christopher Lambert was the biggest name in the cast. Cameron Diaz was supposed to play the Sonya Blade character but broke her wrist a week before filming and the impressive Bridgett Wilson stepped in for her, and I can’t imagine the movie any other way. No slight against Diaz, but Wilson (despite the jean shorts and too-red lipstick) is just a more convincing bad-ass. And Robin Shou who plays the main hero Liu Kang really deserves much wider recognition than he’s gotten.
So, what is it about Mortal Kombat that I find so delightful?
For one, Mortal Kombat is so blissfully self-aware. It acknowledges its video game roots by structuring the movie into a series of 1-on-1 martial arts set pieces with a spiritual nod to Enter the Dragon. Unlike many of the other video game movies which tried to take the characters and build some kind of broken plot around them, Mortal Kombat knew that plot and exposition was pretty much secondary to why people were seeing this movie. The characters were barely sketched in. Kang wants to avenge his brother, Cage has a ego that needs stoking, Blade wants the guy who killed her partner. None of these characters is Hamlet, you get what I’m saying? But the signature moves and backgrounds from the game were used. Even sound cues directly from the game were woven in. And then they just had fun with it. And ultimately, what more could you want?
The color palate was vivid. The first time we see Liu Kang, the room is lit with vibrant green. Other scenes skew a deep red or orange or even blue – whatever suits the scene. In a world where every movie seems high-contrast tones of orange and teal in every goddamned scene it is nice to see them play with some of the other crayons in the box.
The movie had prominent white characters, but then again so did the video game. But the big hero was Liu Kang, and they cast it perfectly. I can’t imagine what this would have looked like if, in current Hollywood trend, they had whitewashed the damn thing.
The fight scenes weren’t super chopped up, and you got several medium distance shots of good length that it felt real. It wasn’t always smooth. It wasn’t always the most convincing (though the Goro puppet/stop motion/howeverthefucktheydidit was genuinely cool for a giant 4 armed mutant), but it was better than a lot I’ve seen.
And there is a reason the soundtrack went double platinum. It rocks from beginning to end. It was one of only two techno/industrial heavy albums I ever owned. The other was Hackers, another under-loved movie from the mid-nineties. I’m going to have the theme from Moral Kombat stuck in my head for a few days now. Up top I’ve included a link of Utah Saints doing the theme song that’s been cut to a fun video of footage from the film. Enjoy.
So the big question is, does Mortal Kombat hold up 16 years later? Absolutely. There are a lot of shit films made for millions more by over-hyped directors every summer. Some of them have egos the size of small countries, so self-consciously trying to elevate themselves above their genre ghetto roots, or trying to elevate the medium. Fuck that. You know what Mortal Kombat is? It’s 1:45 of video game bad-assery that KNOWS it’s video game bad-assery. That’s all.
Netflix has it available on their streaming service. Invite some friends over, crack some beers, pop some popcorn, and revel in the fun. But whatever you do, avoid the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. That pile or radioactive garbage is so bad it will curdle milk and make you go sterile.