Apparently, way back in 1995, the original screenplay was supposed to be more faithful to the game with graphic violence, strong language, and an R-rating. However, New Line Cinema decided to scale it back to a PG-13 to cater to a teenage audience. Welcome to 2021!
It’s a lovely 17th Century Japanese afternoon as we witness the bloody slaughter of the Shirai Ryu ninja clan and their leader, Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) by the ruthless Bi-han (Joe Taslim). Luckily, the supernatural wizard, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) whisks Hanso’s only surviving baby girl away and we never see her again. Ever. Anyway, cut to the present and the realm of Outworld who has beaten Earthrealm (that’s us) in nine of ten deathmatches called “Mortal Kombat”, intending on conquering us. However, an ancient prophecy is revealed that “the bloodline of Hanzo Hasashi” will unite Earthrealm’s champions to prevent Outworld’s victory. Who are these champions? Well. . .
They are: underground former MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan), Special Forces Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs (Mehcan Brooks) who saves Cole’s life from super ice-villain, Sub-Zero (formerly known as Bi-han), but loses both arms in the process. Ouch! There’s also bad-ass Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) who delivers exposition, is keen on knives, and has captured the despicable, foul-mouthed Australian mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), who provides the movie’s (questionable) comic relief.
After Cole, Sonya, and Kano fight an invisible lizard (don’t ask), they set out to find Outworld in the desert and find instead Raiden’s temple and his trainers, Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) who has fire-power, and his cousin, Kung Lao (Max Huang) who slings his lethal hat like Captain America’s shield. These two try and train Cole, Sonya, and Kano to find their “arcana” (superpowers) so they can defeat the evil Shang Tsung (Chin Han), the ruler of Outworld, and all his diabolical minions. They even give Jax new metallic arms to fight with! Well, faster than you can, “plot complication”, Team Raiden gets their collective butts handed to them as Shang Tsung and friends make an impromptu visit.
This, of course, sets up the anti-climactic “hey, I suddenly got my superpowers!” third act, where the heroes finally get to fight & defeat their individual opponents with ease, with the centerpiece being the knock-down, drag-out fight between Cole and Sub-Zero with the deus ex machina appearance of Scorpion (aka Hanzo Hasashi). Hoo-boy! One thing is for sure, first-time screenwriter Greg Russo and Dave Callaham (WW84, The Expendables) decided to amp up the blood, violence, and F-bomb in this remake. And I mean, a lot!! There is SO much blood-gushing, head-smashing, bowel-spewing, body parts flying, that Tarantino would giggle with delight. I honestly think this is why the remake was made, and nothing else, ’cause the lame story, acting, and laughable dialogue wasn’t cutting it.
Surprisingly, this is Simon McQuoid’s first big-screen directorial gig and he handles the camera like a pro. He did his homework and knew how to back-off and shoot fight scenes, letting you see all the action without choppy edits or “fancy” camera moves. He also works the camera with a genuine flair, needed for this fantasy genre, it’s too bad the script was such a letdown. I will admit all the SPFX are quite good, but geez! That dumbed-down dialogue along with a boring, forced, wasted plot that jumps around from scene to scene without any context was damn sloppy. Even many of the actors are less than perfect, with Tan being an excellent fighter, but not much in the acting dept. Stay for the fighting, but overlook that ridiculous story.
**Now showing in selected theaters and streaming exclusively on HBO Max through May 23
Mortal Kombat (1995)
One of the very few video games that made a successful crossover into movies, and by successful I mean, for a paltry $18 million budget and cheap SPFX, it grossed $122 million and spawned three sequels and a kids Saturday morning animated series. Not too shabby, huh?
Starring a handful of relative no-name actors, save for Christopher Lambert of Highlander fame, this bizarre martial arts movie is all about recreating the video game’s fights, violence, and borrows heavily from Enter The Dragon’s storyline. We start with the introduction of our key players: Liu Kang (Robin Shou) is a former Shaolin monk who is out for vengeance when his teenage brother is killed by the ruthless sorcerer, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Then there’s no-nonsense military officer, Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) who wants to kill Shang’s creepy Aussie goon, Kano (Trevor Goddard).
And finally, you have egotistical Hollywood actor Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) who just wants to prove he’s not faking martial arts in his films. All three hop aboard a weird ship en route to OutWorld, an alternate universe where a martial arts tournament will take place to determine the fate of our world. While evil Shang is showing off his two lethal henchmen, Scorpion (Chris Casamassa) & Sub-Zero (Francois Petit), the good-guys have an ally, and his name is Lord Raiden (Lambert, all gravelly-voiced and with long flowing gray hair) to oversee the tournament rules, so to speak.
Soon Johnny, Liu, and Sonya learn, in a handy bit of exposition, that they’re special and that imprisoned Princess Katana (Talisa Soto) is the key to victory. After they kill off their nasty opponents, Johnny faces off with unbeatable Prince Goro (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), a 10-ft tall, four-armed, behemoth that is easily defeated by Johnny. My, that was anti-climactic! Anywho, pissed that these nobodies have defeated his best, Shang kidnaps Sonya, which leads to the climactic showdown between him and Liu Kang and that Mortal Kombat theme song that you simply cannot get out of your head. Did you know that song went platinum in less than two weeks? Two weeks!
Screenwriter Kevin Droney (TV series like Hunter, Jake & The Fatman) knew what he was doing when he wrote this cheesy, simple, and terribly dumbed-down adaptation of a video game. After all, he also wrote 1999’s Wing Commander, another video game-to-movie. However, this one made major bank and Wing Commander crashed ‘n’ burned at the box office. Yeah, the SPFX are (for 1995) not very good, the sets are cheap, and the dialogue is stupid at best. However, I will give kudos to the puppet/animatronics of Goro, which were pretty amazing for the time. It’s all very silly and full of complete nonsense, but you came for the fighting, right? Right!
Luckily, director Paul W. S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Alien vs Predator) learned how to shoot some nice fight scenes, once he was told HOW TO by Robin Shou! True story! And, give them credit, the actors were all trained in martial arts and, only occasionally, used body doubles. As a result, many accidents occurred, like Brigette Wilson dislocating her shoulder and Linden Ashby bruising his kidney. Ouch! Check out the director on the set of Johnny’s movie, that was supposed to be Steven Spielberg in a cameo, but he couldn’t make it, so they got someone that looked like him! Apparently, Spielberg’s a huge fan of the game!