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Posted on Dec 4th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under RF Cinema, Mortal Kombat, movies, video game movies, discussion

Fun fact: the theme song to this movie actually became fairly popular in the dance club scene in the 90s

For our second entry of RF Cinema, I wanted to go with one based on an actual video game, so why not go with one of the best? Released in August of 1995, less than a year after Mortal Kombat 3 was unleashed in arcades, the Mortal Kombat movie hit theaters at the height of the series' popularity. Millions of young gamers, myself included, couldn't get enough of the dark, bloody fighting that Ed Boon and John Tobias had cooked up. I distinctly remember making friends at my local Aladdin's Castle and pouring over cheat sheets we'd made to remember each character's moves, fatalities, and combos. We even started selling them to other arcade-goers, promising free updates as more and more of the move combinations were discovered.

The movie couldn't have come at a better time. My friends and I met up at the arcade and all carpooled to the theater to watch the cartoonish violence brought to life. It was dumb, it was ridiculous, and it was amazing.

After the brief intro sceen of the theme song and that dragon logo we all know and love, the movie opens with two men fighting in a temple-like environment. We aren't told that one of them is Shang Tsung, but anyone familiar with the games and trailers could make an educated guess and identify him, even if his appearance wasn't quite what we were expecting. It ends up being a dream sequence flashback in which we're introduced to Liu Kang, who's been called back to his home after Tsung killed his little brother. In quick succession we're also introduced to the other main heroes, Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage. Just as in the game, Sonya is hunting down Kano and Johnny is as egotistical as he should be.

Mortal Kombat doesn't spend a lot of time with plot development, which in my opinion is perfectly fine. One does not go into an MK movie, or any video game movie really, expecting a deep, involved story. We want to see the fighting. Before long all three heroes find themselves to Shang Tsung's boat, sailing away to compete in a mysterious tournament. And this is where we get our first taste of what is to come.

That's Kitana next to Sonya, the only non-MK1 character with a major role

The scene introducing Scorpion and Sub-Zero was mostly spoiled in the trailers that I remember, but to 15-year-old me and my friends, it was no less awesome. The characters are represented near perfectly and we see a glimpse of their powers before Raiden shows up and tells them there's to be no fighting until they get to the island. It's all of maybe 90 seconds, but effective nontheless.

I'm not sure why they chose to make it some kind of sentient beak instead of a spear, but as a kid, I dug it

Watching it again so many years later, I realized how long it takes this film to get moving. After the Scorpion/Sub-Zero reveal, we go back to the fighters arriving on the island and being very confused about where they are, not quite believing what Raiden's told them about the tournament and how important it is that Outworld not win.

And that's basically it. It follows the plot of the first game fairly well, or at least, what I can remember of it before it got super convoluted in the later games. Past the halfway point, it's mostly cool fight scenes and the occassional slow plot development scene. It's all pretty simple stuff. If Outworld wins another tournament they will conquor the realm of Earth. Liu Kang must overcome his anger and desire for revenge to become the chosen one, Johnny Cage needs to get over his ego, and Sonya confronts Kano.

But this is what Mortal Kombat does so well that so many other video game movies get wrong. It doesn't try to be a good movie, it tries to be a Mortal Kombat movie, and in doing so, it hits the nail on the head wonderfully. It knows what it is, and isn't afraid to take itself a little less seriously in the interest of giving fans what they want. Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Kano et al. all look how they're supposed to look, costumes and performances both. The whole cast of the first game is there, even Reptile and Goro. Although, Goro may have been impressive in the 90's, but watching him now, he just looks like a guy in a big greasy rubber suit, because that's exactly what he is. But it works specifically because it's as equally absurd as the game it's representing.

Low on intelligence, high on roaring. Sounds about right for Goro.

The acting is hammy (Shang Tsung's performance in particular is especially pretentious), the CG effects don't hold up, and lines like "test your might" and "flawless victory" are spoken for no reason other than that the fans wanted to hear them. GrayGhost81 was a little put off by the empty use of some of the game phrases. "My wife and I both really started to get annoyed at the way the phrase 'FLAWLESS VICTORY' was tossed around with no value attached to it....very few of the victories in this film were actually flawless." To be honest, I don't blame him. As a teenager I liked hearing it, but now that I have a little more sense, I have to roll my eyes, even while smiling with nostalgia.

But to be fair, the fights themselves are fun and frantic. Martial arts experts were cast in the fighting roles, and that decision paid off very well. One of my favorite moves is during the Liu Kang/Sub-Zero fight, when Sub-Zero runs against a wall and spring jumps backward off it to land behind Liu Kang, who was chasing him. That was hardly the first time a move like that was put in a kung fu movie, I'm sure, but as a kid, that was the first time I'd seen it done by an actual person, and it blew my mind. However, I must say that my biggest gripe with the movie is the way in which the Sub-Zero fight ends. Even as a kid I was pretty unsatisfied they didn't come up with a better way to handle that.

As he moves his neck you can hear the crunch of frozen movement. It's a nice touch.

FatherJack seemed to enjoy it as well. "If this had been an 80's martial arts film then I would [have] loved it as a kid." He echoed my feelings in that it's fun "because it's not to be taken seriously just good old fashioned entertainment." At the end of the day, that's really the takaway here. If you appreciate old kung fu movies or the early days of Mortal Kombat mania (Mortal Mondays, anyone?), this is a great movie to fast forward through and see all the fight scenes, which is easier than ever now with blurays and digital versions. Where most other video game movies go wrong is by trying to take a video game and make a movie that will interest the average movie-goer. Instead, Mortal Kombat simply wants to take the fantastical characters and plot from the game and turn them into live-action, no more, no less. 

As a side note, if you want to see a Mortal Kombat movie go awry, watch its 1997 sequel, Annihilation. The fights are still kind of neat, but it makes the mistake of stuffing way too many characters into it (basically the entire cast of MK3), with equally bad, if not worse, acting. It's quite the train wreck. Let us know in the comments below what you thought of either MK movie, or in the RF Cinema thread here.

Join us next month as we take a look at our first community request movie! GrayGhost81 has recommended 2001's How to Make a Monster. "Unlike Brainscan, which was awesome, I think HtMaM falls into 'so bad it's good' territory." This will be the first movie we look at that I haven't even heard of, let alone seen, so I'm excited to watch it for the first time. Judging from the trailer, it does indeed look laughably terrible, so this may be one I enjoy with a couple adult beverages.

As usual, I've included the IMDB page and trailer below. Since I'm not familiar with it I can't say how easy it is to find in physical format, but I was able to find it on Amazon here. I haven't been able to locate it on the major streaming services, but Netflix has it in DVD format. This may be one to seek out at your local used media store. If anyone knows where it can be found online other than Amazon, please tell the rest of the class in the comments below, and happy viewing!

How to Make a Monster on IMDB

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it's been like 5 years since I last watched MK, but I remember thinking it had actually held up much better than I thought it would. For contrast, I had watched Street Fighter around the same time and... well... MK was better.

Maybe we'll watch it again soon. It's def a guilty pleasure movie for my wife.
Fun fact, when I was married and we was introduced at the reception to the Mortal Kombat song where they say the names of the fighters.  they was removed and the wedding parties names was added.
@noiseredux: It definitely has held up well. Not the CG really, but there's not very much of it.

@douglie007: That's really awesome haha. Is she an MK fan or did she just like the song?

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