After cribbing from the Cronenberg filmmaking handbook in “Event Horizon,” director Paul WS Anderson took the reins of the popular fighting game “Mortal Kombat.” A precursor to his handling of another popular genre game “Resident Evil,” director Anderson handles the adaptation of “Mortal Kombat” much in the way studios enjoy it. He takes a controversial, volatile, and violent video game, and transforms it in to a PG-13 action romp for teenage boys. With “Mortal Kombat” director Anderson almost gets it right. Close but no cigar.
The movie has the wise idea of mainly featuring characters from the original game, and focuses on the two more interesting characters of the game. But for all the advantages it posits, it also fails in various respects. Director Anderson and writer Kevin Droney attempt to reconcile much of the concepts from the game so it makes sense in the movie, but rarely does it come together. The film is mostly a revenge thriller where Sonya Blade is chasing after criminal Kano for killing her partner, and Liu Kang is looking for Shang Tsung who killed his little brother. Shang Tsung needs to hold a tournament and win for a tenth time to corrupt our world and–say it with me–conquer the Earth! The motivation for Sonya and Liu are pretty logical, but Johnny Cage’s own presence is a stretch as he’s approached by Shang Tsung camouflaged as his agent, who goes to extreme lengths to get him in to the tournament.
Why does Tsung care so much about a movie star entering the competition? In either respect, Cage is present because he’s in the game, and the trio of characters realize the fighting tournament is mandatory if they hope to see home again. Sadly, the most popular characters Sub-Zero and Scorpion–described as enemies in the game–are now just drones and plot devices. They have minimal to no dialogue and are meant as nothing more than obstacles, in the end. Which is a shame, because for all intents and purposes, Sub-Zero and Scorpion are dead on from their game counterparts. They’re ruthless and vicious, but lacking in the horrific violence they delight in. Scorpion never really gets to spear anyone, either. Raiden is also a let down as Christopher Lambert never really allows the character his own unique identity and feels as if it’s just a left over series of bits from “Highlander.”
While the framework for the story is there, the narrative is minimal. The trio of heroes learn more and more about the tournament, and engage in many fight scenes. They’re able to deliver their signature moves from the game, Goro is defeated more pitifully than Boba Fett, and there’s the obligatory cameo from Reptile who engages Liu in a one on one fight. The cameo is brutally silly, as it not only turns Reptile in to a lame plot device, but his appearance forces us to ask where the hell Johnny Cage was the whole time Kang was getting his ass handed to him. Nevertheless in the realm of movies adapted from video games, “Mortal Kombat” sucks the least, if only because it almost translates what made the video game so popular on film, well. Almost.