Mortal Kombat Movie Reviews
Updated September 26, 2021
At the current rate of progress a new Mortal Kombat film should open in early 2037 to coincide with the release of Mortal Kombat 19. It's a shame when you consider the enduring popularity of the franchise and the richness of its mythology. Even a lukewarm big-screen effort would undoubtedly generate big bucks for any studio willing to take it on. Hell, I'd settle for a straight-to-DVD release at this point!
In the meantime fans will just have to settle for the three Mortal Kombat videos recently released on Blu Ray (at bargain prices no less). The original film looks fantastic in high definition, but I'm afraid the sharper visuals only tend to highlight the glaring flaws of the second film. The third Blu Ray, Mortal Kombat Legacy, is a compilation of short videos that originally appeared on the Internet as the "Mortal Kombat Rebirth" series. Below I examine each in further detail.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
All the major characters have been incorporated, yet it never feels like there are "too many cooks in the kitchen". Wisely not taking itself too seriously, the tone of the movie is tongue-in-cheek all the way, with funny one-liners sprinkled throughout. Visually stunning, the movie looks like a million bucks thanks to dazzling special effects and otherworldly sets. The film even effectively incorporates the popular techno soundtrack.
Granted, no movie is perfect, and the computer-generated "reptile" looks downright cartoony. Fortunately he doesn't get much screen time, and when it comes time to fight he possesses a human body. The hulking, four-armed Goro may look top-heavy, but he's still an ominous presence. You'll probably enjoy the entire film without even noticing it lacks the gratuitous gore of the arcade game. And the fact that you won't even miss it is a credit to the director. Mortal Kombat is a good-natured, highly-underrated popcorn flick that even non-fans will enjoy.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
Annihilation tries to shoehorn in way too many characters from the first three games, leading to a carousel of faces that make an obligatory appearance before quickly exiting stage left. Several key cast members have been replaced, and there's no chemistry between the main characters. Some great villains are wasted even before they can see any action. The four-armed Shiva unceremoniously dies by walking under a falling cage. (Spoiler alert - whoops, too late! My bad.)
The production values are bargain-basement. The blue-screen special effects are horrible. The pathetic "claymation" monster climax is sure to have Ray Harryhausen spinning in his grave. Even the costumes look fake, with the guy playing Baraka wearing a cheap rubber mask from Party City.
Fighters seem incapable of moving from one spot to the next without performing a cartwheel, flip, or triple lutz. Apparently the proper form is to begin by performing a swan dive, tuck your legs into your body, and proceed to spin 50 feet through the air before landing flat on your feet. The fight sequences look awfully fake. There's too much wire-work, with combatants that routinely ignore gravity and abruptly change direction in mid-air. Whenever someone gets punched there always seems to be a wall of loose bricks behind them. And in high definition it's embarrassingly obvious that Ray Park is standing in for Raiden during the fights.
But the worst aspect of the film by far is the horrendous dialog, which is usually mindless and often incomprehensible. The entire script is a joke but here are a few choice quotes I found to be exceptionally vapid and/or just plain stupid:
Kitana: "Mother! You're alive!"
Sindel: "Too bad YOU... will die!"
Shao Khan's Father (in monotone voice): "Do not underestimate the power of the human spirit!"
Shao Khan: "Rain, this will NEVER happen again"
Rain: "It will NEVER happen again"
[Shao Khan kills Rain]
Shao Khan: "It is true this will NEVER happen again"
Nighthawk: "Pretty cool huh? It's my animality!"
Nighthawk: "Feel your animality!"
Lui Kang: "This seems almost too good too be true."
Jade: "The same could be said about you."
Lui Kang: "This was just another one of Nightwolf's crazy tests? We could have KILLED each other!"
Jane: "But we'll live!"
Raiden: "*NEVER* give up hope. At least not so early in the fight."
Raiden: "What's the deal with your arms?"
Jax: "You've known me one minute, and you dissin' me already?"
Raiden: "I mean no disrespect. You have real skills."
Raiden: "Faith in yourself is all you need, and I say that to all of you."
Raiden: "Only your love can reunite her body and soul, Kitana. You love can break the hold Khan has over your mother, and close his portals to earth."
Sindel: "Oh Kitana..."
Kitana: "I've prayed... for the day... when our love can bring us together again..."
Sindel: "LOVE? I had NEVER loved you. You were such a PATHETIC child; what reason was there to love?"
Lui: "Jade, how could you do this to us?!"
Jade: "...it was soooooooooooo easy!"
Sonya: "Wait a second - that tattoo - I've seen it before on a robot and a woman. They both tried to kill me."
Sonya: "You're father's an elder god? Funny how you failed to mention that before!"
Sindel: "But you said Raiden was no longer to be feared."
Khan: "I AM TO BE FEARED!!"
Lui: "So... what do we do?"
Raiden: "You will do you best. It is all that can be expected."
Lui: "I want to fight Khan, but I don't know if I'm ready."
Kitana: "You must believe in yourself Lui. We believe in you."
Sonya: "There is so little time left."
Kitana: "Whatever time we have, we must use well."
Sindel: "Is that any way to treat your mother?"
Kitana: "My mother is dead."
Sindel: "As soon will be her daughter!"
Reading these cringeworthy lines only tells half the story; it's the delivery from the cue-card reading actors that really hammers home the absurdity of it all. Much of the blame has to go on the director, who somehow managed to keep a straight face while filming this trainwreck. Apparently he was adamant about keeping the film on schedule because each scene was clearly shot in a single take.
Mortal Kombat Annihilation is pretty good except for the acting, directing, dialogue, script, casting, special effects, costumes, and catering. Annihilation can only be enjoyed if you somehow convince yourself that you're watching a parody of the franchise. Also, drinking helps.
Mortal Kombat Legacy (2012)
Kevin's vision of the franchise, in his words, incorporates "gritty realism with a hint of mysticism". Each short film explores the origins of a popular Mortal Kombat character. The stories take place in the present day and real-world explanations are supplied for some of their mystical powers. The scenes have the realistic look of a crime drama, and make heavy use of a green-tinted lens (reminiscent of the movie Seven).
This approach worked for Batman, but it's not a good fit for Mortal Kombat. First, the tone of is not at all consistent with the games. These videos are dead serious, completely devoid of humor, and frankly quite depressing. Scenes of Raiden stuck in a mental hospital are grim, but watching Kano get his eye punched out is just plain ugly. The video games were dark, but they never took themselves too seriously and even interjected humor (babalities, animalities, friendships, etc). Worst of all, the effort made in these videos to explain away special powers (like Scorpion's spear) has the effect of demystifying the characters and making them seem a heck of a lot less interesting.
That said, I will give the director credit for producing some nice, professional-quality footage. The actors include some big names like Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan. The performances are decent (if not a little stiff), and the fight sequences are impressive. The production values are high, and some of the sets look very cool. Tancharoen has talent, but in this case I think those talents are misplaced.
The Legacy Blu Ray basically packages up all the Internet shorts and the running time is pretty meager. Certain videos are continuations of others, but in general they don't fit together very well and some appear out of sequence. Credits roll after each, which are a pain to skip. A few animated sequences are mixed into the live action, and I suspect these were inserted to fill in for unshot scenes. Legacy is basically just the remnants of an unfinished project, and in my opinion, an unsuccessful project.
Mortal Kombat Legacy II (2014)
This second installment is more of a cohesive movie than a series of loose episodes. It features a handful of characters including Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Kenshi, Raiden, Stryker, Johnny Cage, Kitana, and Mileena. One pleasant surprise is a cameo appearance by Shang Tsung, played by the same actor who portrayed him in the original 1995 film. Those who have seen the first Legacy will also be surprised to see that Johnny Cage has been resurrected from the grave with no explanation whatsoever.
Legacy 2 has a few decent fight scenes but most of its running time consists of long-winded conversations between characters making pained expressions. Say what you want about the first Mortal Kombat movie, but at least that had style, humor and pacing. Those are elements Legacy sorely lacks. The murky plot involves some kind of tournament on an island, but just when the movie seems to be building up to something, it gives you the "to be continued" treatment.
Legacy 2 is just another major letdown and further proof that director Kevin Tancharoen should have absolutely zero involvement in the next Mortal Kombat movie - if there ever is one.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge (2020)
The film begins on a serious note as a man's village is brutally slaughtered by Sub Zero's clan. And I mean brutal! This is the man who is to become Scorpion. He actually dies but manages to escape the Netherworld, and that's one of the highlights of the film. This sequence not only sets up a story of revenge, but provides a feasible backstory for Scorpion and several other characters as well.
Once that part is over, things lighten up considerably. It actually feels a heck of a lot like the original 1995 Mortal Kombat film, both with regards to tone and story. Once again, Lui Kang, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage are the three core characters traveling together on a boat to a fighting tournament on an island. Lui Kang is the straight man, Sonya is the soldier with a chip on her shoulder, and Johnny is the pampered actor providing comic relief. I was almost expecting to see Linden Ashby's name in the credits, but Joel McHale does the voice of Johnny and does a great job. The jokes are funny and the timing is right on.
The gore is appropriately over-the-top as you would expect from a Mortal Kombat flick. X-ray views show tearing flesh, crunched bones, and splattering brains. All of this would be hard to stomach with a live action film, but in an animated cartoon it looks pretty cool. In the special effects featurette it shows how they crushed fruits and vegetables to create those gross, cringeworthy sounds.
I enjoyed Scorpion's Revenge but the story is a little weak. After getting off to a strong start but it gradually goes off the rails. I guess I was anticipating the big tournament and disappointed it didn't happen. It's Kano's fault. He sent a bunch of assassins to the island to disrupt everything, causing all hell to break loose. The movie wrapped up at a meager 80 minutes long.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge manages to stay true to the movies and video games. It provides new insight while maintaining the mysterious aura of the series. It incorporates a good many characters without forcing the issue. The general tone is light-hearted and fun, even in the midst of the most extreme gore. That's quite a trick. This is a worthwhile flick for fans and hopefully the beginning of a series.
Mortal Kombat (2021)
The director was previously known for making commercials and maybe he should stick to that. The characters here are totally one-dimensional. Martial arts star Cole Young is supposed to be the main character but doesn't seem to serve much of a purpose. Jax and Sonya play stereotypical soldiers and Raiden only appears to spout boring platitudes. Only the Kano is vaguely interesting, with his hilariously irreverent dialog.
The plot revolves around the preparation for an inter-dimensional tournament. In theory the next movie would cover the tournament itself, with a third focusing on the aftermath. This one finds our heroes training in a cave-like temple when Shang Tsung and his minions break through a protective barrier to get the party started early.
At this point the fighters start pairing up for a series of one-on-one battles. There are some interesting characters introduced like the wise-cracking half-machine Kabal and the winged demon Nitara. Goro looks just like he did in the original Mortal Kombat, only now he's rendered in CGI which makes him less scary.
Perhaps to bring out the realism, Mortal Kombat was filmed with a muted lens, resulting in a lot of drab colors and gloomy environments. Outside of Kano's one-liners the dialog is outrageously bad. But the biggest crime is how forgettable the fighting scenes are. By the time the film reached its climactic battle between Sub-Zero and Scorpion, I had pretty much lost interest.
Mortal Kombat 2021 isn't a complete dud. The production values are excellent with convincing special effects and a booming audio track. Still, what a joyless affair this is. The actors try hard but don't have much to work with. Much like the trailer, this movie left me feeling empty. I can't believe that after 20 years this is the best they could come up with.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms (2021)
Its main stars are Lui Kang, Johnny Cage, Scorpion, Jax, Sub Zero, and Raiden. You also get treated to the likes of Baraka, Kitana, Kung Lao, and Shang Tsung. The film even manages to incorporate obscure characters like Jade, Reiko, Kintaro, Shinnok, Stryker, D'Vorah, and Smoke. The robots Cyrax and Sector look quite ominous.
The first twenty minutes is nothing but action-packed mayhem. The fights are extremely well executed, with slow-motion, x-ray visuals hammering home each bone-crunching hit. This movie isn't rated R for nothing, and some of the violence is hard to watch. That said, it's strangely satisfying to see heads explode under Raiden's intense electricity, or watch Kung Lao's spinning hat effortlessly slice through bodies.
Unlike the recent live-action movie, this one features an actual tournament. Picking up where Scorpion's Revenge left off, Raiden has worked out a deal with Shao Khan to arrange one final contest to end the convergence of the realms once and for all. In order to participate Raiden agrees to relinquish his godly powers.
Joel McHale voices Johnny Cage, and he really steals the show with his cocky attitude and hilarious lines. Among the other voice actors are Jennifer Carpenter, best known for her role in Dexter. The writing is clever and fun, resulting in animated characters that are far more engaging than the live actors of Mortal Kombat 2021.
Battle of the Realms packs a wallop but eventually goes off the deep end, entering Godzilla vs. Giant Robot territory. Whoever thought battling behemoths were a good idea apparently didn't see Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997), or perhaps they just blocked it out. It seems like directors nowadays have no sense of restraint.
This film's amazing artwork makes the most of the 4K format, with gorgeous layered scenery and frighteningly well-designed creatures. The animation is easy to follow on the screen and you'll be treated to many trademark moves like Johnny's shadow kick, Scorpion's teleport, and Lui Kang's bicycle kick.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is an exciting flick with unflinching action and great tongue-in-cheek dialog. Mortal Kombat fans will be pleased with how it stays true to the franchise while putting their favorite characters in interesting new situations. If Mortal Kombat 2021 left a bad taste in your mouth, this is the perfect antidote.