Release Date: August 18, 1995
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson (as Paul Anderson)
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, Linden Ashby
Rating: 3/4 Stars
Looking back, I couldn’t have imagined any other reason why I watched Mortal Kombat multiple times as a kid if it were not for the insanely popular game series this film was based on. I was 7 years old when it came out and an avid player of the game when Dunk-a-roos, Snack Packs, chicken nuggets, and Fruit Gushers were a staple of my diet. Aside from the frenetic action and kick-assery on display, its otherworldly and ancient aesthetic, and a rip-roaring soundtrack streamlined with rollicking guitars, Tibetan music, and 90’s infused Electronica, I couldn’t remember much else. Years later, and on the heels of its 25th anniversary, I took the opportunity to rewatch the film. It’s safe to say that even today Mortal Kombat remains as offbeat, bombastic and thoroughly entertaining as it was years ago.
The story of Mortal Kombat follows a trio of characters including Lui Kang, a troubled and wayward former disciple of ancient martial arts, who learns of his younger brother’s death at the hands of Shang Tsung, a sorcerer hell-bent on ushering in the demise of humankind. Sonya Blade, a tough-as-nails officer, is out for justice to catch the killer of her work partner while a former champion fighter and now actor, Johnny Cage, looks to prove his credibility amidst gossip and rumors that he is a fake. A celestial tournament under the moniker of Mortal Kombat serves as the key to bringing all these characters together through challenges and face offs against unparalleled enemies in brute and fatal fashion. Need I say more? Let’s face it: you’re probably only here for the action, and boy, does it deliver.
By no means is Mortal Kombat a technical marvel, but praise can be given to its solid and moody production design evident in the many sets and stages for our fighters to duke it out on. CGI hasn’t aged as well, but its use and appearance remain effective in broadening the scope of danger and mysticism encountered along with pretty cool practical creature effects mixed in. Acting is buttered with a heavy dose of cheese and camp with a standout role by the wonderful Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung played with devilish charm. Christopher Lambert savors a penchant for mischievousness and seriousness as the god of thunder, Raiden, and Linden Ashby’s portrayal of Johnny Cage delivers comedy painfully corny and endearing at the same time. Robin Shou as Lui Kang delivers a performance that beckons our attention to root for sweeping success, and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Sonya Blade embodies the tough-type who stands confidently in a fight all on her own.
Where Mortal Kombat falls flat is in its disjointed and one-note narrative leaning heavily on exposition; however, where story lacks, the film is livened with charisma and fun on all sides by its actors and insanely kinetic action. Much is forgiven in the creatively choreographed fighting on display aimed to thrill and excite, and the accompanying music and playlist included elevates the ante to heart-pumping effect with case in point being its techno-driven theme song that remains as iconic as it has been since it was first heard. I mean, come on—who doesn’t just want to spar immediately at its pulsating beat?
As the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but smile recalling what I had just watched. Mortal Kombat and its mix of music, design, martial arts, and brazen acting so bizarre and kooky leaves little room for disappointment in entertainment value. When it focuses on the draw to battle, Mortal Kombat succeeds despite the limitations of its PG-13 rating; much could only be imagined with a hard R rating. If you’re looking for a time capsule picture from the 90s, one that is fiercely confident in its world and characters, then this movie will test your might, providing pure escape and fun for you to have at with. While Mortal Kombat won’t be remembered as a cinematic masterpiece of the refined kind, it doesn’t bar it from being a quintessential masterpiece of its own kind.
Mortal Kombat is rated PG-13 for non-stop martial arts action and some violence.