ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Mortal Kombat’ (1995), Part Two
Chris Sims: Welcome back for the second round of our in-depth review of 1995’s Mortal Kombat! When we last left off, things had finally gotten interesting when Scorpion and Johnny Cage had a fight so intense that one of them exploded twice. It’ll be great if this is a trend that continues, but to be honest, I’m not exactly optimistic.
Matt Wilson: Maybe we should just go on YouTube and watch Mortal Kombat – Every Fatality Supercut instead.Chris: I can’t imagine that would have a less compelling plot. As we rejoin the story, it’s time for another fight, so… yeah. I’m starting to regret saying that Street Fighter should’ve had more of a focus on the action. This time, though, it’s a fight with some interesting consequences! Liu Kang is out on Fightin’ Beach when Kitana walks up, complete with sexy, porn-esque flute music!
Matt: Once again, a key female character is not shown wearing her signature color, in Kitana’s case, blue. For all we know, she could be a disguised Mileena!
Chris: It is pretty weird that they didn’t even try to re-create anyone other than Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s costumes, especially when they’re all pretty easy to come by. I mean, Johnny Cage just had a fight with Scorpion while wearing the ’90sest slacks ever, they could’ve at least thrown some shades on him.
Matt: I guess you can tell this isn’t Mileena by the fact she isn’t swallowing Liu Kang whole with her monster jaws. Anyway, she offers Liu Kang some Zen-style advice: “Use the element which brings life.” Then the fight just kind of ends when Shang Tsung gets all dad on her.
Chris: For a second, I though that this fight was overloaded with slow motion, but then I realized that they were really just doing the moves that slowly. It’s achingly slow paced, to the point where it looks like it’s their first-ever dress rehearsal.
Matt: One of the main complaints about this movie was that the fights just weren’t that great, and a lot of them do fit that bill. Kind of a big oversight when your movie eventually becomes nothing but a series of fights. The next one, Liu Kang vs. Sub Zero, isn’t all that bad, though. At least, at first it isn’t.
Chris: It might not be that bad if we weren’t moving right into it from the “uh, I guess that’s over?” feeling of Liu Kang vs. Kitana just kind of stopping for no reason, but it’s definitely not good enough to hold my interest. LK and > 0 just kind of kick at each other for a little bit, then Sub-Zero creates a snowstorm at his belly button.
Chris: For what’s basically his Ultimate Attack, there’s a lot of standing around holding his tummy. It’s kind of adorable?
Matt: Then Kitana comes in and reminds Liu Kang about what SHE JUST TOLD him, about the element of life. Liu Kang realizes she means water and doesn’t take it upon himself to tell her that water isn’t an element. At least not periodic-table-wise. This is the ’90s, people.
Chris: Come on, dude. They have four-armed monsters and magic soul-eating character actors. They can roll with the Four Classical Elements if they want.
Matt: If Shang Tsung is going to rule Earth, dude better learn some science is all I’m saying. Anyway, Liu Kang uses a bucket of water Raiden conveniently placed in the room to somehow pierce Sub-Zero’s wall of ice power and make a big icicle to impale him. So I think this actually fails chemistry and physics.
Chris: Which actually makes it perfectly appropriate for the world of Mortal Kombat. Between this and Scorpion being exploded, we’ve finally gotten two scenes that are almost like Fatalities, except that they’re built around the person who’s getting Fatality’d, and not the one actually winning the fight. It’s kind of an interesting take on things, and one that I imagine was built around having the three characters who don’t really have any awesome magical superpowers being the ones who had to win their fights.
Matt: The most fantastical of characters, Goro, is itching to get in there and kill all humans. He comes out and fights a guy named Art who we’ve seen exactly once and has had no lines, except maybe a sheepish hello. Despite this, Team Earth cheers him on like they are the oldest of pals.
Chris: Two things I want to point out here: 1) This is preceded by a montage of dudes doing pratfalls onto gravel that lasts twenty-seven seconds. It is literally just shots of guys falling down and making frowny faces.
Matt: It’s a good enough short hand for “Goro beat a whole bunch of guys,” I suppose.
Chris: 2) I’m just now noticing that Goro has a super-long torso to allow for his extra arms, but instead of giving him two sets of pecs (the muscles that, you know, move your arms around), they instead give him extra abs.
Matt: Blame Ed Boon and John Tobias for that one.
Chris: Goro ends up throwing down with our second unnamed black dude of the tournament (although Wikipedia informs me that he’s Art, a friend of Johnny’s), and after Shang Tsung tells him twice to Finish Him, Goro… just chops him in the head and doesn’t actually do his signature fatality.
Matt: PG-13, you strike again! Shang Tsung absorbs Art’s soul into his eye this time, even though that is not how that worked at all before, and Team Earth FLIPS OUT. They lose it over Art’s death. It seems like a lot of stuff got cut out RE: Art. Apparently, there was even a scene where Team Earth goes out and buries him. He’s Johnny Cage’s Charlie, I guess, but instead of becoming Blanka, he just gets clobbered real hard.
Chris: I’m just gonna go ahead and say this right now: Mortal Kombat The Motion Pikture does not exactly do a great job of using the franchise’s black characters. Aside from the two dudes that Shang Tsung has already eaten, Jax gets left back on Earth after telling Sonya “don’t get on that boat!” and then just kind of shrugging when his partner runs off to hop on a ghost ship.
Matt: That said, Jax is the main character of Mortal Kombat Legacy and he’s played by Michael Jai White in it, so I guess that character came out okay.
Chris: Team Earth has no time to debate the rakial politiks of Mortal Kombat, though, as they’re worried about getting beaten to death by a four-armed monster. Johnny goes and complains to his dad — sorry, Raiden, and Christopher Lambert gives them the weirdest pep talk ever, which ends with him casually sniffing Bridgette Wilson’s hair.
Matt: His pep talk essentially consists of creepy moves like that and telling each of the three their biggest weaknesses, with no real advice for how to deal with them beyond, “Hey, prepare.” Thanks, dad!
Chris: Liu Kang and his increasingly ’80s Metal hair go to meditate on a beach, and we get a flashback to his dream sequence because, hell, it’s been almost an hour since we’ve seen it, we might’ve forgotten Shang Tsung’s a bad guy.
Matt: Or that Liu Kang’s next! Meanwhile, Johnny and Sonya argue/flirt with all the chemistry of a couple cinder blocks.
Chris: One thing you can say about Street Fighter: They didn’t even bother to try to put a romance in there, unless you count Bison cold running his seduction game on Chun-Li. Scenes like this show exactly why, although it’s easy to believe that Wilson and Linden Ashby decided to play it for comedy. Her overwrought “Don’t you dare do this, Johnny Cage!” is pretty hilarious.
Matt: There was supposedly more of the Liu Kang/Kitana stuff in the original script, but it got cut out. Probably for the best.
Chris: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I’m missing it. The point to all this is that Johnny is going to go fight Goro now, and while Raidad makes a big show of being concerned, he reveals himself to be pretty stoked about it once Johnny stomps off to go make sure his combat slacks are freshly pleated. And hey, he’s finally wearing sunglasses! For the first time! In this dark-ass room!
Matt: I get a kick out of how Lambert plays Raiden — again, he’s just so weird and mercurial — but he really takes all the momentum out of every scene he’s in. He’s written as the guy who interrupts conversations or fights that are just getting good. Every time!
Chris: Not this time, though: Johnny squares off with Goro, then, in an act of supreme courage that shows us why he will be the one to save humanity, drops down, punches Goro in the balls and runs away. Raiden finds this hilarious.
Matt: That’s actually a Classic Johnny Cage Mortal Kombat Fatality.
Chris: Is it really? I just assumed he’d been watching King of the Hill, though the lack of “THAT’S MY PURSE!” should’ve tipped me off.
Matt: Oh yeah, the splits and all. Upon Shang Tsung’s urging, Goro chases Johnny out to a cliff side, where they continue fighting. Johnny gets the upper hand thanks to his broken-sunglasses-strength and kicks Goro off the side. Goro’s like Samson, I guess, but instead of cutting his hair, it’s punching him in the nuts. Why did no one think of this? (Also: Do you think he has four?)
Chris: It’s an amazingly anticlimactic fight. It takes less time than an actual game of Mortal Kombat with me playing against Goro, and that’s saying something. He just quips twice, boots him off a cliff, and we’re done here.
Matt: Johnny doesn’t have a lot of time to celebrate, because Sonya, like Goro, has also suddenly become considerably weaker for no reason, to the point that Shang Tsung can put her in a really basic armlock and render her totally helpless. He kidnaps her and takes her to Outworld for another fight because he made a BS deal with Johnny that was essentially, “You can fight Goro, but then I get to fight whomever I want.”
Chris: Hey, don’t forget that he’s also pulling her hair!
Matt: Oh, right, it’s the one-two combo. Raiden tells Johnny and Liu Kang that Sonya can’t beat Shang Tsung because she’s clearly just not tough anymore. But then Liu Kang remembers some rule that I think everyone just made up about Sonya having to accept Shang Tsung’s challenge for them to actually fight. This has been foreshadowed or built up to exactly nowhere.
Chris: I honestly thought that Raiden calling Shang Tsung a coward for choosing to fight Sonya was the most insulting thing that was going to happen in this movie, but Raiden’s blunt “No.” when asked if Sonya even had a chance of beating him topped it in the most hilariously awful way possible. Dudes! Come on! She snapped a cyborg’s neck with her calves yesterday! Give her a little credit, yeesh.
Matt: Really, how did she lose all her toughness this fast? Raiden tells Johnny and Liu Kang he can’t go with them to Outworld, so they scoot on through the portal while Reptile bounces around, being a still-awful special effect.
Chris: We get a little buddy cop banter as Liu and Johnny walk through a set that could be a hellish fantasy kingdom or a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Either way, it’s a world without lighting, where a poorly CGI’d Castle Grayskull looms over all. I’d be willing to tap out right now if the theme song didn’t kick back in at just the right moment.
Matt: The giant tower is supposed to be all intimidating and scary, but the tower back on Shang Tsung Island looked exactly like this.
Chris: Liu Kang throws Reptile The Bad Special Effect into a statue which animates and becomes Reptile the Mortal Kombat Character, and they have a boring fight that is completely devoid of Johnny Cage, who I assume is just sort of chilling outside waiting to see how it all shakes out. Best of luck, Liu!
Matt: There’s a moment when Reptile is stuck in the weird tentacle statue that is basically a scene from the Peter Gabriel “Kiss the Frog” video. It’s that terrifying.
Chris: To its credit, this fight scene does give us a passable version of Liu Kang’s bicycle kick, so at least they’re delivering on that.
Matt: Here’s something pretty sad: Reptile was actually added to the movie after focus groups said they wanted more, and better, fighting. This is the bone Paul W.S. Anderson threw fight fans. That said, it is easily the most acrobatic fight in the movie thus far. Robin Shou’s fights as Liu Kang are nothing to go crazy over, but they’re way ahead of anything anyone else is doing.
Chris: Post-fight, he walks around with Kitana and she talks about how she Believes In Him but there are Three Challenges and all that, but nobody remarks on the fact that Johnny Cage is completely gone from the film at this point. Like, he was standing there when the fight with Reptile happened, and now folks are just strolling around without even mentioning him.
Matt: He’s back there, he’s just not saying anything. He’s pretty satisfied that he beat Goro, I guess.
Chris: Meanwhlie, Sonya has been full-on sexy bondaged and her hair has been teased to within an inch of its life. Ye cats, dude.
Matt: This is really bad. One of the things that you have to give fighting games as a genre is that they put men and women on equal footing, in terms of skills. Lots of them objectify women — looking in your direction, Fatal Fury‘s Mai Shiranui — but they’re just as tough as men. They aren’t damsels in distress. So this movie going that route is extra disappointing.
Chris: And it’s so lazy! She’s dressed in a weird leather cheerleader skirt and telling Shang Tsung “my friends will come for me!” She was clocking metalheads with a shotgun an hour ago!
Matt: It isn’t even true to this movie’s own version of Sonya. It was about 10 minutes ago that she was telling Johnny Cage to f**k off!
Chris: It’s basically awful, and only gets worse when Johnny, Liu Kang and Kitana show up dressed like the Undertaker’s druids so they can rescue their damsel by letting Liu Kang fight Shang Tsung instead of Sonya.
Matt: And Kitana adds another rule to the mix: “Mortal Kombat cannot be won by treachery.” They’re just making this s**t up!
Chris: I almost feel bad for Shang Tsung at this point. You know they were like “Okay, if you win this tournament you can invade Earth” and then he did and they were like “oh sorry, we meant if you win it… ten times?”
Matt: He’s a victim of bureaucracy, man. So the theme music plays while Liu Kang and Shang Tsung duke it out. Liu Kang catches him with a punch to the lower lip and Shang Tsung goes Hogan. That is, if “going Hogan” meant summoning the reanimated souls of dead warriors to fight on your behalf.
Chris: Suddenly bringing in four new dudes to fight one guy kind of seems like “treachery” to me, but clearly, the rules of Mortal Kombat are eluding me. Let me know if they start to have a Traditional Survivor Series match or something.
Matt: Liu Kang beats the souls pretty handily, so Shang Tsung tries another tack: Transforming into Liu Kang’s brother and making Liu blink uncontrollably. Robin Shou must have taken an acting class that equated “disbelief” with “blinking a lot.”
Chris: The best thing about this is that Liu Kang is watching Shang Tsung when he transforms into Chan, and then straight up says “you’re not really Chan” and Shang Tsung still tries to stick with his lie. It’s kind of astonishing.
Matt: Some spikes rise up out of the floor below — I guess we finally got that pit stage — and THEN Shang Tsung gives up on the ruse just as he starts to attack Liu Kang. I’d think the mindf**k would be a lot more effective if your dead brother was actually FIGHTING you, but Shang Tsung doesn’t seem to think so.
Chris: Or if there was any actual trickery involved? Like, Liu Kang knows it’s not Chan from the start, and just sort of stands there going “C’mon, Shang Tsung, we gotta fight here.” Just deck him, dude! Seriously, Sonya would’ve had this fight won in like 30 seconds.
Matt: There is a weird argument I don’t even understand about whether Shang still owns the souls he’s taken from various fighters over the years. It kind of just amounts to “You have no power over them!” “Yes I do!” None of it matters, though. Liu Kang knocks Shang Tsung into the pit and he dies. Liu says “Flawless Victory” even though Shang Tsung clearly hit him several times. It’s dumb.
Chris: It’s super f**king dumb. Chan floats out of Shang Tsung’s skull and holds hands with his bro, and then he wanders back into the light. Then everybody goes home, and we get some happy children! Children we have never seen before! But they’re here now, and they’re pretty happy! Hooray! USA #1!
Matt: Raiden stands by as kids with flags run by. He says whatever he feels like. Honestly, Christopher Lambert just ad-libs these lines, right? He basically says, “Oh, hey, I actually didn’t know anything that was f**king going to happen. Glad you’re back, guys!”
Chris: Oh man. Then the greatest thing happens: Shao Khan shows up (which should be impossible since he lost this Mortal Kombat tournament) and says he’s going to eat their souls, and Raiden goes “I DON’T THINK SO!” and everyone poses and the theme song comes back in. I am literally crying from laughing at this.
Matt: That’s a completely added-in ending. It originally ended with Raiden saying “Hey, good job.” But then they had to add in this promo for the EXCITING SEQUEL.
Chris: It’s basically perfect, though. Seriously, the dumbest, most hilarious thing ever.
Matt: There could not be a more suited ending to this movie.
Matt: I’ll say it: Christopher Lambert cracked me up every time I saw him. Raiden is not a well-written character, but he’s so clearly just f**king around through this whole thing that you have to just kind of sit back and enjoy his oddball presence.
Chris: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s the same way as Shang Tsung. He and Lambert seem to be enjoying themselves way more than anyone else who was acting in and/or watching this movie.
Matt: I also kind of have a weird respect for the music choices in this thing, or in the soundtrack. Anything that includes that crazy theme song, KMFDM and George Clinton has to be revered just for being eclectic.
Chris: I think we can both agree that the theme song is a true high point, not just of this movie, but of art in general.
Matt: Also: The movie, despite not having the characters’ costumes or R-rated violence or even any blood, does make an effort to follow the story of and have the feel of the games. This is, through and through, a Mortal Kombat movie.
Chris: And along those lines, it’s at its best when it’s just insanely over the top. The fight with Scorpion where he catches on fire and explodes twice and then Johnny drops an autographed picture is fantastic, and even the lesser Sub-Zero fight is a decent touch. If the rest of the movie had been like that, or at least brought more of that craziness to the fights, I think we’d like it a lot more. Tony Jaa’s Mortal Kombat would’ve been amazing, but at the very least, it could’ve used a little Jackie Chan.
Chris: Everything after the fight with Goro up to the actual last four seconds of the movie is hot garbage.
Matt: As we said, the turn that Sonya’s character takes isn’t just bad storytelling, it’s borderline offensive.
Chris: I agree with everything you just said except the word “borderline.” It’s godawful. She wasn’t a great character to begin with, but she gets thrown under the bus in the last act with a pretty ruthless efficiency.
Matt: I was trying to be judicious. While we’re on storytelling, I noticed near the end that this movie had no stakes at all. Every character accomplishes what they want to do pretty easily. Johnny wants to beat Goro, so he does. Sonya wants to beat Kano, so she does. Even Liu Kang’s fight against Shang Tsung doesn’t seem too hard. Everything seems so dang easy that it’s hard to get invested in it.
Chris: This movie also sets up an ensemble cast of three characters, and then forgets two of them exist for the entire climax. Johnny and Sonya do absolutely nothing during the entire trip to Castle Greyskull, and Liu Kang didn’t really do anything before that. He just shows up out of nowhere and goes “hey, I’m the main character of this movie now.”
Matt: Even the Last Castle is just a bigger version of the castle they were just at, in a slightly darker place. How is Outworld that much worse than they island where they were? I think a lot of this could be fixed if the movie had a little more of a sense of humor. Street Fighter had a similar feeling of being inconsequential, but it was campy, so it didn’t matter. This at least had an air of wanting the audience to take it seriously.
Chris: Street Fighter kind of starts dumb and then gets more ridiculous and silly and enjoyable as it goes on. Mortal Kombat starts off pretty good, but drops the ball so hard there’s an impact crater. Also, the lighting sucks. And the effects suck. And the fights suck.
Matt: The effects, besides Goro, are so, so, so bad.
Chris: It’s pretty terrible.
Matt: One last thing about the story: It’s like when a four-year-old tells you a joke. They get to a place where the remember something they were supposed to say earlier, then add it in too late. That’s how this movie treats the character of Art and every rule of the Mortal Kombat tournament.
Matt: This movie’s a mess, but like Raul Julia in Street Fighter, Christopher Lambert had a good time on it somehow.
Chris: We can all agree that Mortal Kombat as a game is dumber than a bucket of doorknobs, but still, this movie didn’t even make the most with what it had.
Matt: The third act — if you can break this movie whose middle is nothing but a string of fight scenes into acts — is abysmal. This movie the other extreme from what Street Fighter was. That movie lost the concept of the tournament entirely; this one maybe focused on it too much.
Chris: Well, I have high hopes that our next film won’t make that mistake! How can you possibly go wrong with a movie based on a game with the least possible plot?
Matt: And that is known for…well you guys know what Dead or Alive is known for.
Chris: Physics. It’s known for physics.
Matt: And volleyball.
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