Film Friday: Mortal Kombat (1995) - Not Flawless, But Definitely A Victory
Let’s start by just being honest: Mortal Kombat stands as one of the more respected and beloved video game adaptations not on its own merits as much as its immense success by comparison. After 1993’s Super Mario Bros. and 1994’s back-to-back duds of Street Fighter and Double Dragon, Mortal Kombat just needed to be serviceable entertainment to rise above the adaptations before it and win over its legions of fans. The movie didn’t need to be good, just good enough. And it is!
Mortal Kombat hit theaters in what used to be the summer dumping ground, August. In the mid 90’s, it was a month of low attendance and lower expectations at the movies until M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense literally changed the summer movie game in 1999. So, given the video game adaptations before it and its release positioning, expectations for Mortal Kombat were low, and they were almost universally exceeded.
Mortal Kombat proved that a video game adaptation to the silver screen could work commercially, and it gave fans of both media hope for the subgenre which could only be expected to grow and improve.
Mortal Kombat was the right movie at the right time. It’s one of New Line Cinema’s many niche successes, in that it’s basically an audience-designed motion picture that pays fan service while remaining a semi-competent movie for any possible uninitiated viewers. Director Paul W. S. Anderson, who would later shepherd the Resident Evil series to forty-or-so sequels, was young, fresh, and hungry; and as much as this flick is dated now, it is a fairly well-executed PG-13 martial arts action picture.
I’ve already admitted that film’s success was inherently tied to its being so far above its predecessors in a burgeoning and strongly craved subgenre of game adaptations, but the fact remains that the film basically works as matinee entertainment. The filmmaking craft on display is respectable, from the serviceable acting and the adequate effects to the better-than-television sets and skeletal plot structure. Of course, even if all these elements are merely acceptable, the film benefits additionally from well-shot choreography and an inspired soundtrack. Plus, again, the film had all the fan service it could muster, from catch-phrases to signature moves. For all the elements that barely worked, it seemed another worked really well.
And again, unlike some other video game adaptations, Mortal Kombat seemed to basically port several of its popular characters to a new medium but keep their in-game characterization and narratives. At the very least, the film maintains the tournament format, if even in name only (Seriously, the rules of the tournament seem to make no sense and get revealed only when the plot demands it). Yes, licenses—mostly notably reducing Scorpion and Sub-Zero to henchmen—were done to the film’s detriment; but again, by comparison, this film was a league above others of the same type that preceded it.
The bottom line is clear: Mortal Kombat is not a great flick, but it’s serviceable with a few strong elements that should please fans and not be too untenable for casual viewers. I don’t know it warrants a ringing endorsement, but it gets an endorsement, nonetheless, especially by comparison to the other films in its subgenre. Given that the film is a strange blend of martial arts, science fiction, and fantasy, it’s amazing anything in it is executed as well as it is. And for that reason alone, it is respectable.
SHOULD DADS BOTHER?
Some should. If you’ve enjoyed any of the many Mortal Kombat iterations but haven’t dared watch yet another disappointing video game adaptation, this may surprise you. Of all the actual adaptations of video games I’ve seen in my life, it’s certainly one of the best (which I realize is a low bar). And it’s serviceable sci-fi martial arts from the 90’s if that carries any weight for you.
SHOULD THEY BRING THE KIDS?
Not the kids…but maybe the teens. Though the game was a “Hard R” experience, the film is standard fare for the PG-13 rating. Relatively bloodless violence, some language, and instances of nightmarish imagery may frighten little ones, but for most junior highers and above, this is fair game. In fact, the effects are so dated that most teenage audience members will see right through them and, maybe even offer a laugh. I thought it was pretty stellar when saw it in theaters, but that was a much different time—a time before the Christopher Nolan, the MCU, and the Fast and Furious films really upped the ante on the PG-13 rating.
CJ is right, this might be one of the best (if not the best) video game adaptation for the silver screen. It's very faithful to the source material, even if it does not expand the backstory of two of the most popular characters Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Pretty much every character that is in the first game has some sort of fight sequence in the movie. This was in great contrast to Street Fighter where most characters were reduced to re-imagined roles that did not have a major plot point to the movie or were totally absent altogether (Fei Long). The soundtrack is something to note as well, as it went platinum in less than a year and ended up being the second best selling soundtrack of 1995 (The Lion King Soundtrack could not be touched, which went 10x Platinum the same year.) It remains as the best selling video game movie soundtrack of all time with no one else coming close to reaching Mortal Kombat's success. Overall, Mortal Kombat is a fine video game to film adaptation and it's an anomaly in a sea of terrible video game movies, including a sequel that CJ will be reviewing soon, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. *shudder*