Mortal Kombat is HBO Max’s latest hit, gaining more viewers (opens in new tab) in its first weekend than Godzilla vs Kong and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the other Mortal Kombat movie. The one from 1995.
There seems to be a lot of love for the original Mortal Kombat, and I’ve seen several ‘best video game movies’ lists that prominently feature it. There’s a big problem, though, because Mortal Kombat 1995 sucks. It’s really quite dreadful, and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise.
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What people have been saying
Being one of the ‘best’ video game movies isn’t a particularly difficult thing. Historically video game movies have been so bad, that it means the whole idea is completely tainted. Things have been improving in recent years, but that stigma still remains. It’s a stigma the new Mortal Kombat has had to contend with as well.
But the 1995 Mortal Kombat still held a place on many “best video game movies” lists online. The past week has seen many of them replace it with the 2021 reboot, but in some cases it still remains.
Variety referred to the film’s “cult classic status (opens in new tab)” when discussing the reboot, thanks to the positive reception the film has received from fans over the years. Meanwhile Vulture (opens in new tab) placed it as the ‘least bad’ video game movie.
Esquire (opens in new tab) put it right at the top of its own list, but given that it also included Adam Sandler’s Pixels we have serious questions about the publication’s expertise in this matter.
Meanwhile, over on Twitter (opens in new tab), fans were hyping themselves up prior to the reboot’s release on HBO Max. People were talking about how much they all loved the original, and couldn’t wait to see what the new version had to offer. Plus some people believe the original is still better, despite its many flaws.
I remember it being 2002 and my cousin and I would stay up late watching the 1995 Mortal Kombat. Despite watching it over 100 times we'd still be excited to hit play on my dads old VCR. Now fast forward 19 years and I'm hours away from watching the next big film in the series. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/M5qUS4KuXeApril 23, 2021
The 1995 version is one of my favorite movies ever so I am obviously a little biased but I have to say it was refreshing and fun to see a more diverse international cast and to hear more languages this time around. I think a lot of the actors are great. #MortalKombatApril 24, 2021
listen, marriage is work. a lot of goddamn work. mostly defending the film Mortal Kombat (1995).April 24, 2021
Rewatched Mortal Kombat 1995 and yeah it really makes the new one feel like a bit of a dud. So much more energy in the original. Fights are way better directed, story better paced. Characters are much more memorable, visual design and the on-location shooting is gorgeous.April 23, 2021
Finished watching Mortal Kombat and I’m in the camp that it definitely should’ve been longer; that last 30 minutes felt WAY too rushed. I still prefer the 1995 film, but love how they made Sub-Zero a fucking monster in the new one! pic.twitter.com/RQo0ZX2t1BApril 24, 2021
Capturing the essence of the source is worthless on its own
Mortal Kombat 2021 isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it is a much, much better attempt at bringing Mortal Kombat to the big screen. Not only does it help capture the essence of the game and its array of characters, it’s also a much better film. It’s got a better script, with better production value and effects, and generally it’s a much more enjoyable experience.
Having watched both movies this past weekend, I can attest to this fact.
Mortal Kombat gets a lot of praise for “capturing the essence” of the games, and translating that into a film. Which is fair enough. Video game movies often focus on the movie aspect, rather than what made the video games great. But capturing the spirit of a video game is pretty pointless if you can’t then build a quality story around it.
Take Doom (2005), for instance, which is a pretty disjointed attempt at a video game movie. There’s very little to differentiate most of the plot from some generic space horror B-movie. Until the point where the movie goes into first-person mode, at any rate. A five-minute sequence that has been made to feel like it was pulled from a video game.
The sequence captures the essence of a Doom game pretty perfectly. But unfortunately that game is Doom 3, and the whole thing is so laughably bad that it turns the movie into a parody of itself.
Before that moment you had a weak take on the basic plot of the first Doom game, albeit without any of the supernatural elements. With the sequence, it makes me wonder whether the director was actually messing with the audience the whole time.
That isn’t the deal with Mortal Kombat. Like so many things from the ‘90s it does fall into the trap of trying to take itself too seriously, so you couldn’t try and claim it was all done as some weird joke.
Fan service can’t fix a badly made movie
One of the things that really bugged me about Mortal Kombat were the effects. A lot of the practical effects looked cheap, and the CGI was laughable. But this is a movie from 1995, with an $18 million budget. We were never going to get Jurassic Park-tier special effects.
All that could be forgiven if the rest of the movie was any good. Not only was the plot pretty hard to follow, even knowing the background of the Mortal Kombat tournament, the acting in the movie was really weird. At times it was cheesy and over the top, but at others the actors just looked bored and didn’t have their heart in it.
Nowhere is that more true than with Christopher Lambert. Aside from the obvious problems of having a white Frenchman play a Japanese thunder god, Lambert doesn’t seem interested in the movie at all. He gives off all the acting ability of Tommy Wiseau in The Room, but without any of the enthusiasm.
While the movie does do a fairly good job on the casting front, Lambert was completely wrong for the role. He has less right to play Raiden (or Rayden, as the movie spells it) than he did Connor MacLeod in Highlander.
Plus, the characterization of the film’s protagonists is skimmed over. Sure, the original game didn’t have much of a plot, and just threw you straight in there. But at the same time we could have had a lot more focus on who these people actually are.
Most of the focus is on Liu Kang, which is fair considering how prominent he is in the games. But even then we only get a few details on where he’s from and what he’s about. Sure revenge for the death of his brother is a fine motivator, but the whole process was rushed. Plus, the less said about his anti-climactic final battle with Shao Tsung, the better.
It’s fine to like bad things. If someone loves watching Mortal Kombat, then by all means they are perfectly entitled to watch it as many times as they see fit. Or fire off angry tweets about why they enjoy it so much.
Heck, I enjoy watching Doom from time to time. Mainly because of the first-person sequence. But I can’t pretend that the film is actually good. Because it’s not, it sucks. It sucks so bad that not even the combination of The Rock, Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike could save it from itself.
If you enjoy watching Mortal Kombat, don’t let anyone stop you. But let’s all agree that we have to stop acting like it’s a good movie. Because it’s the furthest possible thing from that.
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