Watching Mortal Kombat (1995), now, nearly twenty-five years after its theatrical release, is an exercise in one’s ability to suspend disbelief. The plot and performances play second fiddle to the film’s obviously dated visual effects which, when the film was released, weren’t cutting edge, per se, and the videogame franchise of the same name, that serves as the film’s base, is up to its eleventh* installment and no longer feels new or nearly as edgy as it did in the early 1990s. Most modern viewers will have already become acclimated to, and desensitized by, Mortal Kombat and its imitators by the time they watch Mortal Kombat (1995), or its sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t worth watching (and re-watching).
Much like the videogame series, the plot of Mortal Kombat is a simple one that haunts the background of the film, allowing the action sequences and visual effects to take center stage. In the film, the evil, soul-stealing sorcerer, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), is making a play for Earth Realm (Earth), and three talented, but wildly different, fighters, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), must save the world by competing, and ultimately, winning, a tournament called Mortal Kombat. There are more players in this game, like the God of Thunder and Defender of Earth, Raiden (Christopher Lambert), the ten-thousand-year-old princess, Kitana (Talisa Soto), and the super-powered ninjas, Sub-Zero and Scorpion, who can freeze their opponents and send a living spear from their hand, respectively. All viewers really need to know is this: Fighters from Earth must save their planet by competing in a supernatural fighting tournament.
Throughout the film, our team must learn to work together while simultaneously facing and conquering their own fears, but again, their character-journeys are only secondary to the combat sequences and the story’s supernatural elements. Each fight sequence is well-choreographed, and the visual effects are effective, but only those easily romanticized by nostalgia will find themselves not comparing Mortal Kombat to modern movies and pointing out the film’s visual shortcomings. But regardless of said shortcomings, Mortal Kombat is highly entertaining and offers viewers an action-packed escape.
Writer Kevin Droney (Wing Commander) and director Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator) did a fine job pacing the film and creating an immersive viewing experience that places viewers in the middle of the film’s most exciting scenes. It should also be mentioned that the movie’s soundtrack was composed by George S. Clinton (Beverly Hills Ninja, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Ready to Rumble** ) and is the epitome of 1995-fighting-game-inspired-combat techno. If you’re not going to watch the film, at least give a track or two a listen.
Mortal Kombat (1995) is a hard-hitting, nostalgia oozing, videogame-inspired blast from the past that makes for a great escape.
Where to Watch: Currently, Mortal Kombat (1995) is streaming on Netflix; here’s the link: Netflix.
Editor’s Notes: *There are more than eleven games in the Mortal Kombat franchise of games, but for the sake of this article, we are leaving out the offshoots like Mortal Kombat: Special Forces. **These three films are also some of Charlie’s favorites…