We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Bridgette Wilson, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Paul W.S. Anderson, while a name that doesn’t exactly carry the weight of a James Cameron or Christopher Nolan, has managed to carve out a name for himself and stick around Hollywood for an impressive 20 year career. Without a single critical hit, the man still keeps pumping out movies as the new trailer for his RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER indicates. While I haven’t dug anything he’s made in a long time, the man has managed to produce some enjoyable flicks like SOLDIER and EVENT HORIZON. But before he turned RESIDENT EVIL into the little franchise that could, he directed one of the first video game adaptations. But has it rusted under the Test of Time?
Under the examination: MORTAL KOMBAT.
Billy would be proud.
THE STORY: Basically, if you’ve seen ENTER THE DRAGON or BLOODSPORT or KICKBOXER, you know the plot, but just in case…. Three people who can kick some serious ass – Liu Kan (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby who took over for the late Brandon Lee) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) – end up summoned to a mysterious island where some kind of crazy combat, or a mortal combat, will occur. They were recruited by the mysterious Lord Rayden (Christopher Lambert), who can do magical type things. Their opposition? Led by the equally mysterious Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), his crew includes Kano, Scorpion and Sub-Zero (and other characters from the video game). And then they do battle, just like the game. However, unlike those previously mentioned movies, this time to win isn’t just for pride, but the outcome could decide the fate of the entire world! That’s pressure.
We all are proud of that outfit.
WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: Let’s not make this overly complicated. MORTAL KOMBAT is exactly what it should be. After all, it is based on a fighting video game, so what more can we expect? Considering it’s the fourth video game adaptation (after SUPER MARIO BROS, DOUBLE DRAGON, and STREET FIGHTER), Paul W.S. Anderson does a decent job, avoiding letting things get too ridiculous or campy. Instead, he smartly keeps things simple and gives fans what they want: fighting. Yes, he avoids trying to let the plot take over or work in an unnecessary love story (though Kang does fight to avenge his brother’s death).
Ok, so the acting is certified Grade B all the way through, but that’s part of the film’s charm, starting with Christopher Lambert in full whisper mode (which I guess makes him sound more mysterious). Most of the cast is forgettable, which they should be considering few name actors actually appear. Bridgette Wilson (who went on to marry Pete Sampras) is thoroughly hot as Sonya, but in the day of MMA female badasses, she looks a bit on the soft side. I wanted to mock Prince Goro below as he looks goofy as the four-armed monster, but I have to admit when he does battle it is pretty cool. And speaking of battles, that’s where the movie excels with some good, solid fight sequences. Lastly, I have a soft spot for Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who I first saw in RISING SON back in the day. He’s good here as the villain and I wish he had been able to land bigger roles.
Red lighting means something bad will happen.
WHAT BLOWS NOW: With a budget of around $20 million and considering the thing was released in 1995, the effects are terrible by today's standards, but it kinda ups the charm of the thing. It indeed feels like a 1995 action movie and I’m pretty sure the effects didn’t look great even back then. The Scorpion v Johnny Cage is probably the best of the worst. From Scorpion shooting his thing out of his hand to when he shows us his shiny skull, it's very dated (including the battle in hell…or wherever they are). Oh, and some of the worst green screen ever, outside of THE ROOM, occurs at the end before the credits roll. It’s really terrible. Beyond the special effects, the music is realllly dated, but then again, once that Mortal Kombat song starts up (which is by guitarist Buckethead), it’s hard not to get a little pumped up.
THE VERDICT: No one surely thinks MORTAL KOMBAT ever was a true classic, but when strictly taken as a B-movie it works. Most of us love video games, and this was the first dark and kinda f*cked up movie that actually seemed like a true adaptation of a game. Is it great? Uh…no. But on a campy level, MORTAL KOMBAT remains one of the more enjoyable films in the Paul W.S. Anderson canon.
We know who wears the pants in that relationship.