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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Mortal Kombat is a film that holds a special place in my heart. It was one of the last movies I saw in the Majestic theater in my hometown. It came out in a time when I still pretty much willing to suspend any kind of disbelief I had, making it seem ultra-realistic, engrossing me in its gritty “realism.” I was in seventh grade, and Mortal Kombat just seemed so damn cool and dark and violent. It was probably the most violent, scary film I had seen at that point. I’ve spoken before of how I was unable to watch Rated-R movies as a lad (curse my attentive parents!) and because of this, seeing a violent but PG-13 Mortal Kombat on the big screen was perhaps the most formative movie experience of my youth.
Before we get to the movie, I’d like to talk a little bit about my history with Mortal Kombat as a multimedia franchise. I first played the game on Mortal Monday way back in 1993. My brother technically owned the Sega Genesis, so I had to play it with his approval, but I remember spending hours and hours with MK. Along with Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat shaped the way I played video games as a child. In stark contrast to Street Fighter’s bright palette and somewhat goofy characters, Mortal Kombat had a violent sense of cosmic dread (as well as goofy characters) to it.
Back to the movie! New Line Cinema released Mortal Kombat into theaters just as the wave of videogame-inspired movies (such as Street Fighter and Double Dragon among others) began to die down. Starring Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, and Queen of 1995 Bridgette Wilson, Mortal Kombat stands as the best of these adaptations. Even 16 years (Holy crap it’s been 16 years since this movie came out!) later, it is still the best film adaption of a videogame (it’s arguably slightly better than 2002’s Resident Evil adaption, from the same director … and ok, the genre’s not great).
The plot is totally ridiculous, and yet it works. The world as we know it is threatened by the overlords of Outworld, an other-dimensional planet bent on total subjugation and domination of the entire galaxy and all its multitudinous dimensions. With the fate of the world up for grabs, it is up to Liu Kang (Shou), Johnny Cage (Ashby), Sonya Blade (Wilson), and Raiden (Motherfucking Highlander himself Christopher Lambert, in a totally-not-racist role as an Asian demigod) to save mankind and stop the invasion of evil Outworld overlord Shang Tsung, played by a fantastically menacing Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa).
It should be noted that by 2011 standards, Mortal Kombat nowhere near resembles a good film. But taken with a goofy grain of salt, it’s immensely entertaining, fun, and very often surprisingly funny(while the dialogue isn’t great, the one-liners are). It still has a gritty “realism” to it, if only because the fantastic locations and sets look eerily old and lived-in. Some of the fights are also pretty chaotic and fun to watch, specifically anything involving Shou’s Liu Kang. Shou cut his teeth appearing in countless Hong Kong productions as a stuntman before making it big in America in the mid-90s. His stuntman background serves well, offering an authentic Wu Shu quality to the movie. There’s something simple and elegant about the martial arts in this film that have always won me over. It must also be noted that Trevor Godard is simply fantastic as Cano as well. He’s so good, in fact, that rumor is that Mortal Kombat creators Ed Boon and John Tobias re-wrote Cano’s backstory based on Godard’s performance!
Mortal Kombat is available streaming on Netflix. You can also buy it on BluRay for like $5 at Best Buy if you’re so inclined. If you haven’t given it a watch in quite some time (I hadn’t seen it since maybe 2002 or so), I can’t recommend checking it out again enough. The film is just so damn fun and eery. I’m glad the franchise is still around and I’m glad the recently rebooted videogame series turned out fantastic. I hope the rumored reboot movie turns out to be good as well. This formative franchise deserves to be continued.
Next up in 1995, Chris Farley’s Tommy Boy.