Before Grand Theft Auto became the game of choice to pissed off parents’ “violent video games are the cause of all of society’s ills” agenda, there was Mortal Kombat. Released in 1992, the game featured seven playable characters (eight if you were lucky enough to unlock Reptile,) who would fight each other in an other-worldly tournament. The game was a smash success, both at arcades and on the Sega Genesis, and naturally lead to Hollywood capitalizing on Mortal Kombat’s popularity with a feature film in 1995.
The thing about Mortal Kombat, though, is that it has no plot. There is no central hero, no good guys or bad guys (except for Goro and Shang Tsung), you really just pick whoever you think looks the coolest (which is obviously Sub Zero or Scorpion). The characters also don’t really speak or communicate, except with grunts or Scorpion’s “Get Over Here!!!” So, adapting a video game with no true central plot or characters who have any sort of substance to film requires a lot of creative tinkering and making stuff up out of thin air.
Which explains the movie Mortal Kombat, which doesn’t feel as if it were written by humans as much as a beta version of an AI screenwriting robot. To call any of what the characters speak as dialogue is an offense to the English language, a collection of one-liners randomly interspersed throughout the film, with no meaning or message ever truly conveyed. The film is a living, breathing version of a grammatical error, a moving typo made of flesh and blood.
But, the fight scenes and set design are outstanding. Liu Kang’s battles are the highlight, with his battle against Reptile expertly-choreographed with just the right amount of silliness and camp. The film also utilizes early-era special effects in combination with practical ones, like with Scorpion’s biting spear lasso or Goro, a character crafted from an impressive animatronic display. When these effects are given their screen time, it easily makes for the most thrilling parts of the film.
It’s a bad movie but still enjoyable, not in a so-bad-its-good way, but one that you can fast-forward through parts where the characters actually speak and not miss out on anything of substance. Its a perfect airplane movie, something you catch mid-flight to strive off boredom, a brisk 90 minutes that pass by quickly until you can switch over to something better.