Thursday, November 1, 2012

No Such Thing as a Good Videogame Movie: Mortal Kombat

Resident movie enjoyer and videogame movie hater Edward W. Unds dissects Mortal Kombat: the movie, and explains why everything you've ever loved is terrible and impure. So get your karate spirit fingers ready, because your soul certainly won't be.

It’s time to come clean. We need a little bit of truth, and that starts with you. You saw that this was about Mortal Kombat the movie, and the first thing you did was say “MORTAL KOMBAT!” like they do in that techno song. You couldn’t help yourself, could you? Maybe “duh’d” out a few bars, we’re on the honor system here. Now, if you did this, if you started singing that song, I want you to dig down, muster up what few scraps of willpower you’ve got left, and punch yourself directly in the fucking throat. This movie is shit.

After a fiery title card heavily featuring the best thing that happened to 90’s electro-pop since La Bouche we’re thrown right into the world of Mortal Kombat, which is kind of a generous word, because there’s barely a crawlspace full of content here, let alone a whole world. The first scenes do a good job of introducing the cardboard cutouts that serve as characters and the slow motion high-school recess style martial arts we’ll be sitting through for an hour and a half. We’ve got Sonya Blade, played by Bridgette Wilson, who does all of her own stunts and boy does it show, and Johnny Cage played by Linden Ashby, who learned martial arts just for this film and boy does it not show. Johnny Cage is there for comic relief, but when he poorly apes lines from Die Hard, the only relief you’ll be able to imagine is actually watching Die Hard. Robin Shou brings wooden acting and a ludicrous amount lifted hair to the hero Liu Kang. Round that out with Christopher Lambert, who I would only think had fallen far if I hadn’t seen Why Me. Lambert tries to play the god of thunder at his sassiest, which apparently means he’s decided to say “I don’t think so” as much as he possibly can. In a movie where characters average about six lines a piece, that means he’s effectively dedicated half of his performance on a sentence that just begs for an extended “girlfreeeend” at the end of it. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Shang Tsung, the film's primary villain, which isn’t a surprise because this motherfucker has been the villain in everything from Kickboxer 2 to Baywatch: Hawaiian Wedding. In this film, he’s there to speak almost constantly in lines from the game, especially if they’re out of context and repeated as much as possible. IMDB tells me that Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise were considered for the role of Johnny Cage, which is a lot like saying you’re considering a porterhouse steak or lobster while you’re heating your Hungry Man TV dinner. After a bunch of barely character establishing flash cuts (and wow, get used to this) our heroes are boated off to Mystery Island to begin the tournament proper.
If the fog machines and tattered sails didn't tip you off, mysterious.


This movie goes out of its way to avoid scenes that don’t include awkward kicks, and explanations of basic events are not on the menu. Whenever it does slow down for three minutes to air out some Saturday morning cartoon dialog, the choice of subject matter is baffling. I get five minutes of exposition about how Shang Tsung’s opening speech was truly motivational, or how hard he sucks souls, but they spend no time explaining how the Mortal Kombat tournament actually works. I mean, what is it? Like a round robin? Are there seeds? They spend two rounds in what looks like regulated fights before they jump cut to Johnny Cage getting ambushed by Scorpion in the woods. Does it work like that? What is this, fucking Clue? Because if I can bypass all of this shitty bicycle kicking and just shank fuckers in the break room, I could win this tournament in like a day. You don’t even need to give me Shaolin training from birth, just a knife… or even like a big piece of wood, I’ll just Captain Caveman this whole thing. We’ll be home before we get a tan. This lack of explanation only makes the film come across more condescending. We get to see Liu Kang and Kitana hug-fight for two minutes while she gives him advice for his next fight. They don’t kill each other there, so I guess that fight was just for bragsies? Before I can even ask, they jump cut to the next match, where Liu Kang audibly recalls the tips he got like a minute and a half ago. It’s kind of insulting not to tell me why these people are fighting at any given time and then beat me over the head with the same line twice in two minutes because the movie thought I was screaming the title song while it was explained the first time.
Remember Liu: Just hit him when he's on the phone or something. 

They really went out of their way trying to show off moves from the games, or whatever approximation of those moves comes from looking at the games for ten minutes, realizing you can’t put any of the blood in a PG-13 movie, and hoping people will wipe the drool off their faces long enough to point and not knowingly when you cram some similar effects in there. I have no problem suspending my disbelief, but I can never get a clear direction which way to suspend it in. Sub-Zero is a guy who can freeze stuff, and I can get behind that. But what I am supposed to think when Johnny Cage’s special power is adding a bunch of freeze framed Johnny Cage shadows to his jump kick? Knowledge of the games doesn’t really help either. The movie doesn’t bother to explain that Scorpion is an undead ninja who jumps in and out of hell, but even knowing that I’m not sure what the fuck happens when he uses a Windows Movie Maker wipe to transport Johnny to… I don’t even know. It’s a bunch of ladders and bad scaffolding, which I guess can be pretty hellish if you’re a window cleaner, or a construction safety inspector. I only bring up how not scary this place looks because that seemed like the only advantage of bringing an enemy to a place who’s only other distinguishing feature is that it’s littered with weapons, which kind of defeats the purpose of stealthily cartwheeling up to someone when they’re walking unarmed in a forest. And that’s how he dies; Johnny totally takes advantage of the free spears and saw-toothed shields to fuck this dude up.
"This spear will pierce anything! Except, like, wood. Drywall maybe?"

After a whole bunch of slapped together fights (read, slow motion jump kick music videos) we finally meet Goro, and hahaha – holy shit – he looks fucking idiotic. He gets introduced by stitching footage of like twenty dudes falling down toget- hahaha I can’t even do this. Look, just look at Goro and tell me he doesn’t look like he strolled right off the set of ABC’s Dinosaurs.
"I swear, by the Shokan Warriors, I will slaughter all who are not the mama!"

His fight with Art Lean is like a condensed highlight reel of everything wrong with this movie. Anything from Sonya’s awesome ringside advice (Use the kicks!) to Shang Tsung declaring the fight a flawless victory despite the opponent landing punches, this is the point in the movie where if you weren’t positive if it was assuming it’s audience wasn’t just pointing out things it saw on its Nintendo box, you sure as shit are now.

One sad nut-punch later (Hey Pa! I saw that move in them there games!) Goro falls off a cliff and we’re on our way to the final battle, in which Shang Tsung has used his right to challenge someone for the final fight of the tournament (what) to bring Sonya blade to Outworld (what?) but it’s ok, because she needs to accept that final challenge or there can be no fight. Ok what?! This is what I was talking about when I brought up not knowing the rules to this wacky fucking tournament. This is like “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” with murder, every time somebody does something crazy like fighting people for no reason or kidnapping bitches, every player on the screen has to spout some nonsense about how that’s completely covered in the tournaments rules. 
"You weak pathetic fools! Check your entry pamphlet, page seven, section three!"

Finally, blessedly, at the end of the movie it’s all down to Shang Tsung and Liu Kang, and if you thought the movie didn’t have the balls to play that fucking techno song for a third time for this fight you haven’t been paying attention. The film has spent a long time avoiding exposition, and it looks like it’s done so just to drag this fight way the fuck out. Liu fights seven nameless guys who jump out of the ground, actually takes a good minute to figure out that when Shang Tsung morphs into his brother, it’s not really his brother, and finally more slow motion punching before a kinda limp dick fireball finisher onto some spikes. Right after he says “flawless victory” which makes even less sense than last time. The close of the film sees our heroes celebrating their victory a little bit before the evil emperor shows up. Even though the people of earth won Mortal Kombat, he’s going to invade anyway. Rayden practically trips over himself to sass out one more “I don’t think so.” before the credits roll. I’m just going to assume they cut out five minutes of these idiots explaining how that somehow falls under the rules of the tournament. Anyone want to guess what the closing song was?

I know you might be thinking that I’m shitting all over the movie a little unjustly. “It’s so bad it’s good!” or “I like it ironically!” might be things you’ve tearfully shouted at your screen. Unfortunately, all of that is bullshit. First of all, liking things ironically is how insecure pussies tiptoe around having guilty pleasures. Secondly, this movie spent three weeks at the top of the box office when it dropped and made a hundred and twenty million dollars worldwide. People put in a DVD they found in the clearance bin to show their friends things that are enjoyable terrible, they don’t blow out movie theaters. See, there's no excuses here. I know the source material isn't deep, I know that the premise is kinda dumb, but that doesn't mean you can get away with that in a movie. When we play Mortal Kombat, we only have to look at that premise and character development for a minute or two before we're bashin' skulls in game. No one loads it up and reads character bios for over an hour, so when you translate that to non-interactive media, you've got to actually work a story into that non-story. Mortal Kombat isn't there to work. Mortal Kombat isn't there to be a decent movie. What Mortal Kombat is however, is director Paul Anderson starting his career of patronizing gamers with shitty movies. He’ll continue this trend by stuffing his mattress with their money through the Resident Evil movies, knowing all the while that muppets with a controller in their hand will light up whenever they see something, anything from the games they’ve played up on the big screen, regardless of how mangled it is. “It’s ok,” they’ll say, “at least he’s not Uwe Boll.” Which is exactly how Paul Anderson likes to make his movies, just one peg over the epitome of terrible.


  1. Oh god, I died with the "Not the Mama" reference.

  2. What a shock, an article not written by a main member of the site is the only article worth reading.

    Very well done, it's the crowning achievement of this site.

  3. My ironclad rebuttal: Nah, this movie is totally rad.

  4. HEY! Johnny Cage was a f***ing badass in the MK movie

  5. Gorilla Eating An M&M Off Of The FloorNovember 5, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    To the author:

    >>"This spear will pierce anything! Except, like, wood. Drywall maybe?"<<

    Did you ever wonder why they don't call it wetwall, or I don't know, moistwall?