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Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

posted by Mel. on 4/10/01

Ow.

It takes a real act of willpower to completely fuck up a movie beyond all recognition in the modern machine of Tinsel Town. Every applicable aspect, nerve and step of evolution since those glory days of lens magnates like DeMille and Welles has been focus solely on spreading the blame of a bad production to as many points as possible along the way. Regardless of how leaden a bomb is cut loose from the studios to sink straight to the bottom of the consumer waters, there is almost always some salvageable aspect of the project: someone, somewhere, was working to ensure that their head was off the chopping block. A performance above and beyond the call of the material, a spate of wicked special effects, some empassioned concept. Be it for one scene or a thread that runs through the entire fabric of the finished product, we, as viewing lambs bounding into the slaughterhouse, will find some faint glimmer of redemption.

In summary, it takes a Herculean effort to completely infect every available pore of a two-hour movie with degenerate sucktitude. Truly, it takes more effort to ensure that every piston misfires, melts down, and then explodes into fragments than to make a mediocre movie that may be dull but completely inoffensive.

And yet, shit does truly happen.

The year was 1995, and the eyes of the young geek generation were firmly affixed on the second coming of the video game revolution--fighting games were permeating every aspect of pop culture, from the furor over violence as a blight on kid society to the tops of Christmas lists across the nation. The idea of adapting a video game to a screenplay wasn't revolutionary by any means, as the earliest call of studio arms in the genre had come a year earlier, with the absolutely horrible Street Fighter flick. The buzz surrounding the imminent Mortal Kombat movie wasn't optimistic, but there was no denying what happened when we all flocked our cynical asses to the local multiplex: we had been avenged as video game fans. While no arms were ripped out of their sockets, no spinal cords dangled and nobody's heart was torn, beating and leaking puss, from their ribcage, director Paul Anderson did what no other lensman before him had: he achieved mainstream success with a film based on kids' stuff.

By mixing stripped-down Hong Kong cinema mysticism and keeping the drama laughably light, Anderson achieved the impossible with a good cast and a focused vision. Mortal Kombat wasn't a great movie, but it had stunts and monsters in plentitude, boasted then-cutting edge CGI special effects, remained faithful to critical aspects of the game it was based on, and kept its target audience close to its breast. While the movie aged like vinegar in the years that followed and found itself progressively dismissed from the realm of the cool by geeks and normals alike, it was still a pivotal little piece of zeitgeist when it captured our imaginations half a decade ago.

Naturally, New Line Cinema saw dollar signs in the rinse cycle with their runaway hit. The script had bandied together elements of the first Mortal Kombat and its swank sequel, but a third game was at the starter's gate and creators Ed Boon and John Tobias certainly weren't hard-pressed for new ideas. The potential to franchise was absolutely blinding for fans and studio fatheads alike--unlike the godawful Mario Brothers movie of yesteryear, this was going to make the gap between games and movies a distant memory. Respectability was in the hands of all involved.

And so the sequel was announced, and hope stayed alive until Thanksgiving of 1997. I remember standing in line with Burro Boy, Exene, Kennedy and Diesel Dan that day, with about a hundred and fifty screaming kids and their droopfaced folks. We filtered into the theater with big grins, knowing what what we were about to embark on was a voyage of melted cheese, but fuck--that was the point. We loved Harryhausen for the same reason we loved the first Mortal Kombat, that sort of clodhopperish fantasy approach that never took itself seriously.

The theater darkened. The movie begun. And I began to suspect that something was wrong.

You see, it isn't rare for a television show to share the exact same introduction with the episode before it--the opening credits are a staple of shitcoms and serials alike, and have been since the dawn of television.

But in movies, it's a little weird to see.

Yet, there it was. Thirty feet high and exploding from the speakers, the exact same Mortal Kombat seal of the dragon revolving and twisting through fire and brimstone while the boom of techno tried to spike heartbeats throughout the theater. The exact same. Shot for shot. I glanced at my friends on either side, wondering offhand if we'd meandered into a double feature by accident.


Makeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstop

No. No, that would be too easy.

What progressed from that fateful moment was the longest hour and a half of my life. Repeat customers to this site know exactly how much I despise the breed of theater pigs that one has to endure with a trip the the movies these days--so when I tell you that I was compelled to began screaming one-liners at the screen during a lapse of sanity and good judgement about halfway through, you can tell just how truly fucked an experience it was.


We already knew the Earth's Saviour would have a mullet like no other

From the first ten minutes of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, you can tell that something is definitely rotten in the state of Thailand. Wisely, principles Linden Ashby (Johnny Cage) and Bridgette Wilson (Sonja Blade) bailed from the deck before the torpedo hit, leaving the guy from The Next Karate Kid and the chick who played The Cave Nug in Encino Man to scab in their wake. Not that it really matters--Johnny gets cacked before we can even realize he's a ringer, and Sonja's best scene comes when she gets into a fucking mud wrestling match. As you're starting to realize, the strength of this sequel comes from insulting the viewer to such an extrodinary extent with bludgeoning events and random occurences that, by the time you figure out what you've gotten into, it's too late.

The two embodiments of good and evil have also beaten tracks since the first Outworld tournament. We all know that original demonic badass Shang Tsung met his maker at the hands of intrepid Liu Kang (Robin Shou, trying hard to make something happen--God bless him), robbing the consequent installments of the phenomenal Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Tagawa is nothing short of a genre god, something like the Asian Christopher Walken. His Tsung chewed up scenery, flashed some mean biceps and prowled around in leather while contorting his eyebrows into positions unintended by human ability--his loss was a loss for mankind.

Wisely, someone attempted an infusion of medicine in the form of Brian Thompson. The beefy, ruddy Thompson is another member of b-movie royalty, having made a career out of picking up Arnold roles too bargain-basement for Schwarznegger's participation. Under any normal circumstances, Thompson is a knot of sneering, glowering gouda intensity; but as we alluded to before, this is no normal film. Any damage Thompson could have done to the awful state of the celluloid union is neutered the minute he starts swapping lines with his Shao Kahn's cadre of generals: brought to Power Ranger life by a former stripper, an American Gladiator with a horse's ass, a woman's who biggest role before the fact came in a film called "Dickwad" and a ninja in a suit so purple it would make the Joker puke. By the time Thompson transforms into a godawfully rendered CGI hydra, you can't help but to feel sorry for the guy. He tried. He really tried.

On the other side of the coin, we have the departure of Christopher Lambert, most likely ditching the opportunity to redux his Rayden role in hopes of something better. As it turns out, this is one movie that Lambert should have definitely passed on--fuck, it's probably the ONLY movie he could afford to flatly turn down, considering the nose-dive of his career since the original Highlander deal. James Remar, bit actor and sci-fi fringe scab extraordinary, fills his shoes with the worst interpretation of an established character since the beginning of time. It isn't Remar's fault, one supposes--he seems like the kind of guy who comes in, does the best job he can, collects a check and moves onto the next opportunity. Rayden's role in the original flick was that of watered down Yoda, gluing up certain portions of the movie with lame one-liners that kept the mood right where it belonged.

In MKA, Rayden's a pussy. Bottom line. He also has the best opportunity for an unintentional laugh-fest near the end of the tribulation, when he faces off against three opponents and manages to shed fifty pounds while shrinking four or five inches. The reason can be blamed solely on a nice cinematic first; that being the beginning of promising stuntmaster Ray Park's career as a nerd genre superstar. Notably, Park is probably the only unknown who got out of this sucker alive: Robin Shou never worked again, Chris Conrad's career has died into one role a year and nobody ever heard from Ermac again.

(Of course, considering his fucking character was based on a code error implemented into the arcade version of the game, that shouldn't shock a whole lot of people.)

The reason that the first film worked was that, despite the obviously lame onus of the material, Paul Anderson brought a certain sort of dignity to the proceedings. He didn't dismiss the lamer aspects of the translation as one-dimensional video game shit, providing small background vignettes for his title characters and working hard to import an organic noir-Hong Kong f-flick look and atmosphere for his characters to scrap in. Whereas Cage and Scorpion did battle in an eerie bamboo grove and the necromantic cathedral of the kombat tomb in the original, here we get a robot ninja fighting with a guy with metal arms in a lab loosely lifted from Saban's set for Zordon's fortress. Mortal Kombat is a premise based entirely on fighting to the death, yet we don't get a single memorable battle in the ninety-one minutes of Annihilation--a dozen or so ninjas in different colored costumes jumping around, piss-poor CGI critters coming out of rocks, and the kill-and-go of whatever person is convenient for the moment, sure, but not a decent choreography among them. The flavor of the movie is pretty much summed to a golden brown when the eminently badass Sheeva bounds from the shadows, four arms of potential violence bared and the seeming promise of a memorable contest against her enemies perking the interest of the hapless audience.. so naturally, someone drops a heavy steel cage on her. And she dies. In case anyone was curious, that's as fine an example of how to tell a viewing crowd that you'd love to piss down their throats as any ever seen on these shores.


We warned you that the San Diego cons were a real freakshow

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is an ugly movie. A bad movie. A very, very bad movie. If you feel the need to take a shot of the Kraft to the brainstem, then rent yourself the Ice Cream Man and stomp the hell out of the cover box for this flick upon visual confirmation. It's true--I usually do end these little ramblefests with a note of hope and fanboy encouragement, but there's no excuse for this one.

Stay away. Stay far away. Run, if you have to. Just don't do it

-m.

BONUS: TRIVIALITIES!

As piss-poor as this movie was, it didn't stop New Line from filming an alternate ending that left the door wide open for a sequel. Seen in bonus footage versions of the UK PAL version, the extended close has the Elder God Shinnok escaping the flimsy Phantom Zone knockoff prison he's been exiled to, then reporting to his superior in the form of god-sorceror Quan-Chi.


Will act...badly...for food.

All things considered, it's worth a prayer to your local god-sorceror that they decided not to use it.

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