Revisited: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Two things I loved growing up in the 90’s was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Mortal Kombat. Even then I knew both of them were pretty bad but being bad doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining and so I’d spend countless hours watching Power Rangers every morning before school and playing Mortal Kombat on the Mega Drive when we managed to rent it from the video store.

Being the ignorant child I was at the time I had no knowledge of the Mortal Kombat film until it was brought home, probably by my older brother, from the very same video store we rented the game from so many times. I vividly remember watching the movie my old 14inch TV with the sun blasting through the window, hooked at the visual spectacle that was my first experience of a live action video game adaption.

Now, in my 30’s I still love Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and I still love Mortal Kombat so in preparation for the new version of Mortal Kombat due later this month I thought I’d revisit the 1995 original for the first time in at least a decade.

The most iconic thing about this movie is probably that 90’s techno soundtrack and even today when I put started the film it got me pumped up and ready for some bloody action but I forgot, there isn’t any. I’m clearly remembering this film all wrong because I seem to recall it being way more violent than it is. It was originally released as a 15 here in the UK so maybe that skewed my memory a little but I was sure there was blood and guts in this thing when I saw it first time around.

That aside though, Mortal Kombat has not aged well. The special effects, in particular the digital effects look really bad. I know we were still in the early days of CGI in 1995 but given the fact Jurassic Park came out two years prior and Star Trek was still firing out weekly TV with superior effects, there really is no excuse.

Some of the practical effects don’t look quite as bad though and although Goro looks pretty terrible by today’s standards, the stop motion puppet that have here is still an impressive technical achievement.

As for the fight scenes, some of them are pretty good. For the most part the fight scenes are style over substance and most of them don’t go anywhere near long enough but the final battle between Shang Tsung and Liu Kang has a cracking exchange that still looks amazing even by today’s standards.

The story of the film is wafer thin at best, the more recent games in the Mortal Kombat series put this film to shame in all honesty but I think they kept it simple so they didn’t alienate anyone who hasn’t played one of the games (as if any of at the time actually knew the plot to the first couple of games was anyway). However I do wish they’d spent more time establishing the rules of the tournament as it is never really clear who can challenge who and at what point. At one my Shang Tsung does state the rules are clear… Yeah, they’re really not.

Speaking of Shang Tsung though, my favourite parts of the film has to be the performances of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Christopher Lambert as Shang Tsung and Raiden respectively. They know what kind of film they’re in and they both look to be having an absolute blast by just really hamming up the acting, I’m just not sure I follow the logic of casting a Frenchman as the God of Thunder though.

However even now, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is still Shang Tsung for an entire generation and he always will be no matter who plays the character moving forward. Much like Sean Connery will always be James Bond to many, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa will always be Shang Tsung.

For the most part, the rest of the cast are serviceable. I found myself liking Linden Ashby’s turn as Johnny Cage a lot more now than I did when I was younger but Bridgette Wilson performance as Sonya Blade is awful. She overacts in every scene she’s in, looking to be taking it way too seriously and she just looks really angry all of the time.

Even when I first saw this film many ago on VHS I knew Scorpion and Sub-Zero were a wasted opportunity and now with my fondness for both having increased over the years (Sub-Zero is still my favourite) it pains me to see two of the franchise’s most iconic characters go to waste like this but being a Paul W. S. Anderson movie, that doesn’t really surprise me. He’s made a career out of wasting iconic video game characters on the big screen at this point but in all fairness this may be his least terrible film.

I think Mortal Kombat is way better than any of Anderson’s Resident Evil films and unlike Monster Hunter I didn’t actually want to claw my eyes out as I was watching it so it gets a solid thumbs up for that.

It may be the power of nostalgia talking or I could just have a really bad taste in films but either way, if you have some time to kill or want to get your blood pumping for the new film due later this month then stick in the original, kick back, order a pizza and enjoy yourself because Mortal Kombat is pure 90’s cheese at its finest.

by Edward Laing