Movie adaptations of popular videogame franchises are nothing new and as long as there’s some cash involved they most probably will never die, like directors who think using some characters and building a flawed story around Beat ’em ups is enough to give the audience the same experience as the games deliver. Unfortunately that’s where they are mostly wrong. Maybe it’s not even the fault of the directors, but more the game formulas themselves, because to be honest: How do you build an engaging story around characters who in the original game just club each other to death, looking and jumping around cool (D.O.A. is one very fine example where this actually works pretty well; especially with the looking-good-part). Now with Mortal Kombat it’s all about the violence. So how do the movies fare?
(USA 1995, director: Paul Anderson)
I remember being very excited when this came out in 1995. I was a huge fan of the games, even though I wasn’t actually allowed to play them (in legal terms) as they were 18+ age restricted and later even banned in Germany (and still are, at least the first three and I lost count/interest with the other 3D-reimaginings). Of course that’s always the safest way to make young people/adolescent thrillseekers interested in those games even more. Just look at Dukem Nukem 3D or Doom when they came out: All the controversies surrounding them only helped the cause of the developers/publishers to promote them. The selling point was, of course, the violence. In Mortal Kombat it was the way you could finish off your opponent with a so-called, well, finishing move. Decapitation, ripping out someone’s backbone, all the nice stuff. There wasn’t much more to it.
Unfortunately the movie adaptation lacks any of these glorious moments. It’s a PG 13-flick (even though in Germany it got an 18+ and now on BD a 16+ restriction), so there’s not really much violence happening. There’s also a lot of intentional humor which doesn’t really work. The bad acting could be forgiven, the fight scenes are fun, but a bit too slow, so what’s left? One could find inconsistencies of the character’s presentation, but as there’s not much story or interaction between them in the game anyway (after all, they just beat the crap out of each other and pull each other’s guts out), it’s a bit unfair to dwell on that. So do the fight scenes deliver? They do partly, because I always had the feeling as if the actors went a bit too slow and that without the cool soundtrack (“Mooooooortal Kooooombat!”) it wouldn’t look half as fast. So what remains is a no-brainer with a pseudo-story and a more-or-less funny Christopher Lambert. Nothing to be excited about, nothing reeeeally bad, but also nothing reeeeeally good either.
It’s interesting to note that many years later the director Paul Anderson would really hit it with the first Resident Evil movie which admittedly didn’t have much to do with the games either, but at least had a decent amount of violence, blood and gore and a faster pacing to do the franchise justice. Something which is, unfortunately, completely lacking in this adaptation and makes it rather pointless.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
(USA 1997, director: John R. Leonetti)
After the mediocre first movie and the less than average ratings and opinions about this sequel, my expectations weren’t that high, especially since it had a 12+ age restriction on it (next to the weird German 18+). So I thought this would just be another lame attempt to cash in on the franchise, and promoting it on the backcover with “From the camera man who worked in the original Mortal Kombat and Piranha 2010)” didn’t help much either. But I was pretty much surprised when the first fight scenes started. They are faster and more in-your-face that the original. Sure the story and characters are even more nonsensical and there’s some horribly bad acting involved, but just like Masters of the Universe this doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing as long as it’s not boring. I thought the movie was entertaining throughout, no dragging along some bad joking which happened with the Johnny Cage character (with obvious reasons)a lot in the last one. I don’t really remember all the characters of the second game, but some make their appearances and even though they look a bit silly in their rubber suits, masks or bad CGI effects, it’s still fun to recognize them. And because there are more pointy weapons (and guns!) to be used, the action seems more immediate than in the other PG 13-movie (which makes you wonder how the hell it got a 12+ age restriction and how the German 18+ actually hits the right key at some points).
So it’s pretty much the same nonsense with different actors (the new Raiden isn’t such a bad substitute for Christopher Lambert who I found a bit annoying with his lines in the first movie anyway), the same cool soundtrack, but with faster fight scenes and some cool ideas borrowing from the games. Now if it would only include some real fatalities or babalities, that would be awesome. Rob Zombie, if you read this, what about a remake with some real blood and guts, gore excellence? This 2.x or 3.0 imdb-rating movie really makes me want to try out the third one and the short-lived Conquest-series (which haven’t been released on BD yet) :).
And what the hell is this? A short MK movie released in 2010 with a rating of 8.0?!