Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Unnecessary Sequels: Mortal Kombat

Back once more with another installment of the shitty film sequel chronicles! Today we're going to look at a film that is near and dear to my heart, along with it's unnecessary sequel, which was the first experience I ever had as a movie-goer where I was crushingly disappointed not just after the film was over, but during the entire thing. For a bit a of background, I may have mentioned previously that growing up, my grandmother was of a firm mind that seeing movies in theater was a "waste of time", and thus I had to miss out on experiencing a lot of awesome movies on the big screen that other kids my age got to. As such, I didn't get to really start seeing movies in the theater (except for a couple from my very early childhood that I barely remember, such as E.T.), until I was actually 13 years old, when we finally moved to a bigger town right before she passed away. I can't clearly remember what the first movie I did see was, there were many during that summer of 1995, such as my first exposure to Jackie Chan in "Rumble in the Bronx", which to me at that time was mind-blowing (as I had never seen Jackie and his antics before). I'm going to propose, however, that the first one I probably saw was "Might Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie", as both it and "Batman Forever" were out around the same time in June '95, and it was a toss-up between those two among my two friends and I. My friend Harold (the one who loves M.C. Kids), was the tie breaking vote to go see Power Rangers, to my chagrin, so we did. I wound up enjoying it to some extent, and we eventually also went to see Batman (which I liked at the time, now...not quite).

But no, the movie I'm about to talk about came out in August, and while I had certainly wanted to see Batman (being a big fan of the animated series), this movie, was the first movie I actually got to see in theaters that I remember being hyped to see, and to me at least, it totally lived up to the hype. It was my first "wow" experience going to the movies, and it holds a special place in my movie-loving heart to this day.

Film: Mortal Kombat
Year: 1995
Director: Paul Anderson
Unnecessary Sequel: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)

 The movie in question, as you can see, was "Mortal Kombat", based on the at the time fire-hot arcade game.  Funnily enough, when Mortal Kombat originally came out in 1992, and for some time after that, I was a Street Fighter obsessee, and naturally among kids (just like with Nintendo vs. Sega) there was a Street Fighter II vs. Mortal Kombat divide, with different factions arguing which game was better. To me, SFII was unquestionably better, and I also initially didn't like the (what I considered at the time, at age 10 or 11) excessive blood and violence of the game. I think it was actually after Mortal Kombat II came out in 1993, that I actually came around to liking it more. MKII had a bit of a deeper sense of story than the first game did, and it also had the (attractive to this monster nut) unique setting of "Outworld", and all of that started to turn me around on the subject. I was officially a fan by the time MKIII came out in early 1995, so as I said I was genuinely hyped to see the film. And as I said, it didn't disappoint.

Great cast.

Ironically, the film was directed by Paul Anderson, who really should be commended for doing a great job with it, though he would go on to be derided by yours truly in future years for a long string of substanceless crap such as the "Resident Evil" films, "Death Race", etc. I'd like to think that part of the reason this movie turns out so well, is because the creators of the game were deeply involved in it's production, and so perhaps they reigned in whatever nonsensical bullshit he might have wanted to do with it. Then again, maybe he just had one great (to me) movie in him, and then gave in to an overwhelming urge to progressively become one of the worst directors in Hollywood? But I digress.

To me, everything about "Mortal Kombat" the movie was pretty much perfect, from  great casting, to great cinematography, to (for the time) fantastic special effects, amazing sets and ambiance, a killer soundtrack, great fighting action, you name it. In fact, the set-builders did such a good job with their "Outworld" set they created out in a California desert, that it actually scared commercial pilots flying over it by night. The casting really couldn't have been much better. Christopher Lambert almost steals the show as Raiden, god of thunder and lightning. Linden Ashby was perfect in the role of cocky martial arts film star Johnny Cage (especially considering he had no prior training, he looked great in his fight scenes). Bridgette Wilson had a strong and evocative turn as conflicted special-forces operative Sonya Blade. Cary Tagawa was both chilling and awesome as villain sorcerer Shang Tsung. And of course the star of the show, Robin Shou was practically born for the role of shaolin warrior Liu Kang.

Mortal enemies, ninja assassin Sub-Zero and undead spectre Scorpion.

As for the film itself, from beginning to end, it just really pops. If you're a Mortal Kombat fan, it has everything you could want. If you're just a fan of martial arts/action films, it still has plenty to keep you entertained. And honestly, even if you're not usually a fan of that kind of movie, it's still a quality flick worth seeing, in my humble opinion. What they managed to do in this film for a (by today's standards) paltry $18 million budget, is really surprising. A lot of care and attention to detail was put into everything. And while certainly, not everything is 100% accurate to the games, and many things added or embellished, none of it detracts from the film or makes it feel "off" at all. In fact some of the additions to detail, such as many facets of Shang Tsung's private island (obviously inspired by the great Bruce Lee epic "Enter the Dragon"), and the created-for-the-film character of martial-artist Art Lean.

Prince Goro, half-dragon, four-armed ruler of the Shokan race, and reigning Mortal Kombat Champion.

As seen above, they pulled off the boss character from MK1, Goro, with a combination of a live actor in a suit, and animatronics. And as you can see, it came out pretty good, easily as good as that of, say, the TMNT movies or the "Dinosaurs" tv show. It really holds up well, even today, and while CGI might arguably have helped make him look "better", I find that often times practical effects make things more organic and realistic than computer effects. Goro was voiced by legendary voice actor Frank Welker, who also did various other voices in the film, such as that of the creature/warrior Reptile, and a cameo appearance at the end of (SPOILERS) "Outworld" ruler Shao Khan.

All in all, the film, again in my opinion, is just very well done. Great fight scenes include: Liu Kang vs. Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage vs. Scorpion, and Liu Kang vs. Shang Tsung + souls of vanquished warriors near the end of the film (ALSO SPOILERS). Someone I knew had the soundtrack to the movie, and I listened to it quite a bit, even for a couple of years after the movie had come out. Mortal Kombat was a phenonenon in the 90s, and this movie was/is a perfect preservation of that. I honestly could continue to go on about it at length, but that wouldn't leave time for the bad news. And the bad news is, that unfortunately, this films' sequel, which I was ALSO super-hyped for, wound up being a complete shitter.

"Destroy All Expectations" certainly did.

Trust me when I tell you there was a LOT of hype surrounding this movie. Not only had the first film been a huge blockbuster success, but Mortal Kombat III and even to a lesser extent Mortal Kombat IV had gone on in the following years to grow the popularity of the franchise. There was major hype surrounding the fact that it was revealed ahead of time that arch-enemies Scorpion and Sub-Zero would actually fight in this film (in the first they had merely been pawns of Shang Tsung). That alone was enough reason to get fans salivating over the possibilities. But as fate would have it, it was not meant to be. This is one of the very few films I've ever seen, let alone in theaters, that I shit you not, within the first few moments of the film, I already knew it was going to be a crap-fest. Literally, in the abrupt opening scenes of the film, what is supposed to be a giant portal from Outworld appears in the sky, as Shao Khan has cheated the gods' tournament system (the winner of ten straight would rule the Earth realm, but Liu Kang won the 10th tournament saving Earth), and his armies are invading. Just in that opening scene, that portal and the effects of the Outworld warriors teleporting to the all just looked so damn cheesy that I physically groaned. Then Johnny Cage, played by another actor because Linden Ashby either wasn't available or didn't want to be in the picture just to get offed in a short, crappy scene, gets uncerimoniously killed. No big, dramatic, touching warriors' death, fitting of a beloved character. Nope. Just a quick neck-break or something of that type.

In fact, the only returning actors from the first movie were Robin Shou, and Talisa Soto who played Princess Kitana, Shao Khan's adopted daughter and rightful heir to Outworld (or Edenia, as it's actually called). The rest of the new cast was, for the most part, fairly forgettable. Actress Sandra Hess was cast as Sonya, with Lynn Williams playing her over-the-top-acted partner Jax. James Remar, honestly a really good actor in most roles, was re-cast as Lord Raiden, and although he tried, it just wasn't the same without Lambert, who made that role. The villains this time around, were Bryan Thompson (Sir Brock from Dragonheart) as Shao Khan, and Musetta Vander as his "bride" Queen Sindel, Kitana's once-deceased mother. They themselves weren't exactly horrible, but the acting and everything else in general in this film, were really just sub-par and very "meh".

This picture honestly sums up all I really need to say.

The amazing thing, is that they took over two years to make this film, on a budget nearly twice as much as the first. They had all the time in the world to get it right, and while they had a new director (John Leonetti), that hardly should have mattered. All they had to do was follow the blueprint they already established with the first, and with a bigger budget, they absolutely should have made at least a competent film. But they didn't even accomplish that. The final product honestly resembles something made for tv or direct to video, not a $30 million dollar (which was big for the time) theatrical sequel to a blockbuster hit. Where the first film was, beginning to end, an enjoyable ride through an otherworldly story of mortal men and women fighting to defend Earth, the sequel is, beginning to end, a monotonous and sometimes painful exercise in just about everything you shouldn't do when making a film like this. The effects were somehow far cheaper on a bigger budget, the fight scenes shorter and shittier, even though Robin Shou himself handled the stunt choreography. The much-vaunted fight between Sub-Zero and Scorpion lasted (seemingly) less than a minute total, and wound up actually being a rather throw-away scene in a film chock-full of rather throw-away, pointless, nonsensical scenes.

They threw in several Mortal Kombat II and III characters, such as mutant assassin Baraka, Kitana's clone "sister" Milena, ninja warriors Rain, Smoke and Ermac (even a "not really" cameo by shadow ninja Noob Saibot), and as seen above, Shokan warrior (and former wife of Prince Goro) Sheeva, and leader of their rival centaur tribe, Motaro. But none of those inclusions, or others, wound up even mattering, because they were almost to a single one pulled off horribly. Kitana's mysterious ally Jade was also in the film, a green ninja woman, but her part was retarded. The cybernetic ninja character Cyrax makes an appearance, but is quickly destroyed. The Native American warrior Nightwolf (played by good character actor Litefoot), also makes a very brief cameo, in which they actually have him break the fourth wall and talk about Liu Kang learning to use his "Animality" (a type of finishing move from MKIII). The end of the film is a clusterfuck of bad, with the final nail being the writers deciding to tell the audience that Raiden and Shao Khan are actually brothers, and that the fallen Elder God Shinnock is their father. That's about as bad (and just as horribly incorrect) as the "Wolverine" film trying to tell us that Logan and Sabertooth are brothers (which they are not, nor have they ANY blood relation).

So the final verdict, is that this is one case where the sequel wasn't fundamentally "unnecessary", in fact if done right it would have been greatly warranted. The first film is a great stand-alone picture, but given the source material there was certainly room to do a sequel covering Shao Khan's invasion of Earth. BUT, while not unnecessary, it is a (sadly) perfect case of a sequel that obviously still SHOULDN'T have been made, because it wound up being, in this man's opinion, one of the worst films ever made. And yes, I'm fully aware that that is really saying something.

So if you've never seen it, do yourself a solid and watch the original Mortal Kombat film some night. But unless you enjoy watching painfully bad films, I'd highly advise completely ignoring the sequel. Cheers!


  1. I've never fully seen the first Mortal Kombat, but what I have, I was impressed by.

    I can't say the same for the sequel. I caught it on cable one time and couldn't believe what a trainwreck it was. You're right, it totally looks and feels like a made-for-TV crapfest.

  2. Definitely make some time to fully watch the original, it's worth it!


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