So imagine my shock that I found this movie pretty okay. Certainly imperfect for various reasons, but it’s easily Anderson’s strongest adaptation and arguably his best film. Unlike my experience with Monster Hunter, Mortal Kombat tells a very appropriate story for its universe. Granted, Mortal Kombat as a video game franchise can be summed up as people killing each other in brutal combat. Still, I appreciate how this film doesn’t try to do anything that would consider out there for this universe just for the sake of it.
It stays more or less true to the games released before the film came out regarding character background and lore. And any additions added on are reasonable and don’t contradict canon material to the point it comes off as distracting. The character writing isn’t going to win points in thematic depth, but people like Liu Kung, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and others feel and act like fans expect them to.
In preparation for the upcoming Mortal Kombat film this year, I’ve decided to go over the first two live-action films and assessed how they hold up now. Video game adaptations until Detective Pkihcu and the Sonic movie are usually agreed upon to be pretty terrible. And for a good reason. And if Resident Evil and Monster Hunter have proven anything, it’s that combining that with director Paul W.S Anderson is a recipe for disaster.
Performances, on the whole, are pretty serviceable. The major highlight is without a doubt, is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung in what is arguably the most famous rendition of the character. Tagawa revels as the devilish soul-sucking sorcerer and steals every scene he’s in. Trevor Goddard Kano also stands out for just how much fun he has played such a morally repugnant character. The real disappointment for me is Talisa Soto as Kitana. Compared to most of the major players who seemed to understand what type of film there were in and just roll with it, Soto plays it straight to the point. I feel it’s a determinant. It doesn’t help that the character really only functions in the film to be Liu Kung’s motivational speaker and not much else.
But this film isn’t just faithful to the video games solely because of the characters. Think of the production design. All of the well-crafted sets where the root of the action just screams Mortal Komabt in spirit. Shang Tsung Island reminded me nicely of the game’s Krypt locales with just how sprawling and decrepit it all looks. Or how about that theme song that has become a staple of the franchise. For all Anderson’s mistakes in his other films, there really seemed to be a real effort to honor the franchise’s spirit regarding the visuals and action.
And speaking of action, do I miss this sort of action direction from Anderson. Unlike the frenzied edited to death messes in the later Resident Evil films and Monster Hunter, this film’s action is pretty fun to watch. Everything is readable, and quick cuts are used much more sparingly, which lets everything flow much nicely. It is just nice to actually appreciate the actor’s ability to do action without having my eyes in pain for once.
Out of all the films I’ve seen, this is easily Paul W.S Anderson’s best showcase as a director. There some really cool use of color and lighting that plentiful throughout the film. Be it before or during the battles, there this real sense of atmosphere and tone that gives the action some degree of excitement. It’s such a shame to see his current work because I can recognize the potential he’s had with a showcase like this.
That’s not to say this movie is a piece of cinematic art. As is tradition with Anderson films, the way he structures films tends to pretty messy. You get a setup, the inciting action, but then stuff that to just happen after that. What leads up the film’s final half-hour just kinda happens out of nowhere, and then before you know it, the movie’s over. Really after the characters get on the island, it’s just one big action setpiece where people fight each other.
While I am happy with how accurately the film portrays the characters, there isn’t much going on in-depth or emotional resonance. Character arcs just sort of happened and end when the film decides it needs to have them and the execution of any major character beats feels very half-baked. Nonthing to the point where I would call it terrible, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
Also, a lot of the effects work is very outdated. The biggest offender being Reptile. Aside from the CG just being ugly to the point where it’s unintentionally comedic, his design is just so far removed from where he looks in the games. Though the film gives him a bone and lets him don his original design for a bit. On the flip side, the practical work is done for Goro, the Shodakan Prince, is very impressive, which goes how detailed the model is and how the animatronic operates in motion.
One last note that I should make is that while I’m not super bothered by the film having a PG-13 rating, it can be viewed as counterintuitive knowing just how violent the games were, even before the movie came out. Hopefully, the new film basks in its R-rated glory while still being a decent flick in its own right.
Mortal Kombat still stands as one of the better video game-based movies and easily Paul W.S Anderson’s best film. It is very much one big pile of cheese, but it’s also fun cheese that is handled with a surprising level of competence on display. While those not familiar with the series might not find much worth here, it’s a pretty easy suggestion for fans as it gives them almost everything they could want.