Mortal Kombat, by Albert W. Vogt III

You can hardly have existed in the 1990s without hearing the title of today’s movie being shouted. Mortal Kombat (1995), the film version of one of the most controversial video games to ever be released, starts out with that phrase, followed by its earwig techno music. As a teenager, these were the sounds that haunted parents. When I think back to those times, there is a visceral moment in my mind of seeing its be-dragoned form in arcades before making its way into home consoles. I never particularly enjoyed it, though my mom would certainly have been among the legion of parents who decried its violence and gore. Nonetheless, (other) kids will be kids, and the moment you tell them they cannot do something like play this new fighting game, they are going to want it all the more. Hollywood decided to capitalize on this success, though it seems they did not want to fully commit to the project. The result is a cinematic product that is corny, at times downright silly, does not really follow what I will laughingly call the source material, but is somehow a classic all the same.

The plot to Mortal Kombat is paper thin, so I will make short (by my standards) work of this part. Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is going around the world gathering the world’s best martial artists in order to enter the title tournament. As it is revealed at some point, there is some emperor in another realm that Shang Tsung serves, and they need to win ten of these tournaments in a row to invade our own and conquer it. Whatever. Opposing him is Lord Raiden (Christopher Lambert), the god of lightning, who is the protector of what is not jokingly referred to as the Earthrealm. The three fighters the film focuses on are Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras), and Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby). You would not be alone if you said “Who?” while reading those actors’ names. The main one is Liu Kang, whose brother Chan (Steven Ho) had been killed by Shang Tsung in the opening scene, triggering a desire for revenge. For you know what and giggles, I will tell you that Sonya Blade is some kind of agent (they never actually say who she works for) after Shang Tsung’s right hand man Kano (Trevor Goddard) and Johnny Cage is a Hollywood action star. These three are the ones Lord Raiden pins his hopes upon for winning the tournament and stopping the impending invasion. For a guy tasked with defending our world and with the ability to shoot lightning out of his fingers, you would think he might come in handy in such a tournament. But, no. He just sits to the side and spouts expository dialog whenever needed, such as when he tells Liu Kang that he is the chosen one. There is always a chosen one. There are some other characters who either do nothing, or are bad guys that are there for the good guys to beat up. Anyway, they all get to fight island (my own term), a bunch of punch and kicking ensues, Liu Kang defeats Shang Tsung, and the Earth is saved. Or maybe not. The film closes with Emperor Shao Kahn (voiced by Frank Welker) bursting through a temple and threatening our main characters. Sigh.

When I saw Mortal Kombat as a teenager, even then I thought it was dumb. I like to think I was a smart movie watcher at such a young age, but then again I thought Starship Troopers (1997) was good. As a more mature, practicing Catholic watching Mortal Kombat, while it is still more ridiculous, I find the character of Shang Tsung a bit disturbing. When he defeats an opponent, he sucks their soul out of them. They are then imprisoned within him, and he can change into their form or conjure them to do his will. This is a scary proposition. Our souls are that which communicates most directly with God, and as such we are not are own. To have it forcibly taken from you, even if you are dead, is a terrible notion. Whether we want to admit it or not, we belong to our Loving Creator. Hence a character that can snatch that from us and make it to do his bidding is scary. Thankfully, this character is defeated. It gets to this point in the hokiest way possible, but at least you have good triumphing over evil.

I am not sure what the makers of the original video game thought of the movie Mortal Kombat. I could look it up, I suppose, but I do not care enough to do so. There are a bunch of inexplicable moments in it that make it something best moved on from, like making a bad move in a game of chess. It is only a game, or a movie, but there is really no reason in giving it any more attention . . . unless you are a professional chess player, or a movie reviewer. I will give it credit for the model work done for one of Shang Tsung’s henchman, Goro (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson). It still looks fake, but it is pretty good all things considered. Interestingly, the film is rated PG-13. For a movie containing four-armed monsters like Goro, and based on a video game that actually triggered Congressional hearings with its buckets of blood, its rating is surprising. I still would not recommend it for any reason, but it could have been much worse.

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