Since the dawn of filmmaking, directors have taken inspiration from existing work, adapting books, plays, and more to create their movies. With the advent of video games, filmmakers found a new source to tap, and over the years, video game movies have drawn the attention of cinephiles and gamers alike.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of these movies are pretty awful. Luckily, two of Stropse’s very own writers—Jose Nateras and Kirsten Carey—have decided to sift through the masses of these movies and offer fresh takes on some stale flicks. Together, Jose and Kirsten will give a watch to some of the most iconic (and occasionally reviled) video game movies out there, all in an attempt to unearth some hidden gems and spare others from wasting their precious time.
This time around, J & K will be revisiting 1995’s Mortal Kombat, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.
K: We’re three minutes into this thing, and I’ve already heard so many lettuce-tearing-infused punches, I’m impressed.
(Edit: It’s absolutely incredible that the composer is named George S. Clinton – the S. being very important to distinguish him from the legendary leader of Parliament-Funkadelic.)
J: Oh yeah, the soundtrack is iconic AF.
The narrative actually does a pretty good job of very quickly establishing the characters and moving along.
K: Right off the bat, I know that I want to know where Kano is, that’s for sure.
K: ‘90s Bob Odenkirk??
J: “This is where you fall down” is an iconic line haha.
K: YOU’RE TEARING ME APART, JOHNNYYYYY.
He was very, very easy to convince. Did anyone ever tell him not to go with strangers? On a boat? To an undisclosed location?
J: Johnny Cage is played by Linden Ashby. Haha, as a character he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Those Hollywood types are overly trusting to be sure.
K: Everyone knows Hollywood types are super naive. #yaburnt
J: I’m like, 90% sure these temple backgrounds are straight from the game.
Raiden’s got Christian Bale’s Batman voice, but like… a decade or two before.
K: That voice should not be coming out of that hair.
J: And here’s Christopher Lambert playing Lord Raiden, a character based off a Japanese God.
K: 0% surprise. Are we supposed to… pretend he’s not just the whitest dude?
**lighting sound effects!**
J: I mean, there are like, 3 other fighters from Earth Realm… but ok.
K: Who needs all the characters? Or all the exposition? The Avatar The Last Airbender movie taught us that!
**Johnny Cage hands his luggage to Liu Kang, handing him some money, expecting him to load it on the boat**
**Liu Kang smiles and accepts the money then proceeds to throw Johnny Cage’s luggage in the ocean**
K: I LOVE THIS SASSY MAN ROCKING THE HELL OUT OF THAT MULLET.
J: I think I read that Kano wasn’t originally scripted to be Australian, but they dug the actor’s performance from this movie and he became canonical Australian in the games from this point on.
**A true fact, noted in this article from Screen Rant:“In Mortal Kombat’s original video game canon, Kano was a criminal of Japanese-American heritage, which makes sense, as the Black Dragon organization certainly sounds like it could be related to the Yakuza. However, that all changed after the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie.
Kano was played onscreen by English actor Trevor Goddard, who for whatever reason, decided to play the character with a thick Australian accent. Goddard’s Kano portrayal proved popular, leading future Mortal Kombat video games to retcon his background into being an Australian.”
K: So this movie did do something constructive for the games!
Also, when I die, I hope I have an epic Viking-type funeral on a boat just like this one.
J: Robin Shou as Liu Kang is greaaaat! Love his ‘tude.
K: He is already my favorite.
J: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung. He will go on to play the grandpa in Johnny Tsunami.
**Scorpion presents his hand, from which a weird lizard-beak-thing crawls**
K: VERY HERE FOR THIS SUB ZERO ENTRANCE. And for the… lizards in Scorpion’s hands? I… don’t remember that from the games.
J: Pretty sure the weird beak thing is new for the movie… it wasn’t that way in the games. It was just a shuriken.
K: Definitely less aerodynamic, that’s for sure.
J: This movie came out in ‘95, Mortal Kombat 1 came out in ‘92, 2 came out in ‘93, and MK3 came out the same year.
K: Very good cross-promotion!
** Raiden gives a pep talk to Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage **
I’m pretty sure it’s rather difficult to follow anyone who, after saying “follow me,” explodes into lightning and flame.
J: Right, unless you can also spontaneously combust, you just have to like… guess where he went and walk there.
K: I’m impressed they guessed successfully.
J: For the record the starry night background is hella janky.
**Raiden gives a snarky laugh**
Why are you laughing at that?! #actingmoment
YESSS ‘90s CGI.
“It has begun!” #jinx
K: Honestly, I would take this creepy ‘90s CGI skull over 2020s polished CGI any day. Kinda like that Japanese horror movie House – it’s creepier when you’re not leaning on super high-tech FX.
J: Hausu is iconic, I actually just wrote a piece about Sweet Home which is very similar and is also kinda a video game adaptation, it’s the inspo for Resident Evil, the whole thing’s on Youtube.
K: HOW AM I A SELF-PROCLAIMED JAPANESE VIDEO GAME AND FILM NERD AND NOT KNOW THIS? I am ashamed.
Anyway, this mountain is obviously very real and very there.
J: Haha, indeed. Aaaand cuee the mysterious woman.
K: Aaaaaand cue the subtly sexist pick-up line.
THE TRIUMPHS OF ‘90S CGI RETURN.
J: Not to be outdone by the ‘90s animatronics we’ll see shortly.
K: Loving the gamelan in the score. Maybe not exactly geographically accurate, but I’m just going to assume that’s not what they were going for.
Maybe they just saw Akira and wanted in on some of that sweet, sweet gamelan action.
(Note: Gamelan is a really incredible set of percussion instruments from Indonesia played by a whole group of people as if it’s one epic instrument-organism. You most commonly hear of Balinese and Javanese gamelan. Do some YouTubing and enjoy.)
J: Maybe so, haha. I remember being thoroughly invested in all the glistening muscles at this point when I first saw this movie at like…. Age 7.
K: These hooded men had to think A LOT about how they were going to topple over those tables.
J: “FLAWLESS VICTORY.”
K: YES, here is the utter brutality I’m here for. Of course it comes first from Sub Zero.
J: CALL HIM OUT LIU.
K: LIU SWOOPING IN WITH THE CALL-OUT. Can I start a Liu Fan Club?
J: I feel like there has to be one out there somewhere.
Hahah, Johnny Cage as the primary straight white dude who’s also an iiidddiot.
** Kano finally makes his entrance **
K: Kano looks like a gross version of Joey Fatone. Also with, you know, a weird eye.
J: He definitely looks exactly like CJ in that one Backstreet Boys video.
K: We’re really showing our true colors here. I was a die-hard NSYNC fan, and took great pride in displaying a theatrical abhorrence for the Backstreet Boys.
J: I also preferred Nsync haha, but that video was a horror movie theme, so ultimately I had to be down with it. Iconic.
“I DO NOT FAIIIL!”
K: Look at that cheese plate. I’m envious. Why do the assholes always have the best dinner spreads?
J: I wonder if good charcuterie as a sign of evil is subtle queer-coding, or am I just reading too much into it?
K: Maybe? I’ve always read it as rich asshole-coding, because if I had the money to eat charcuterie plates all day long, I totally would. But, alas.
… Aaaaaand of course Johnny Cage knows how to track a woman by her perfume.
J: ICONIC MUSIC.
K: Totally forgot about the whole gamelan thing, but also this is EXACTLY what I’d want to beat people up to.
J: 100%. This song totally hyped me up to kick ass as a 7-year-old.
K: How did it take almost 40 minutes for this movie to have a slow clap?
“SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOOOOOT.”
J: Haha, is that a Rick and Morty quote?
K: Yessir. I couldn’t help myself.
** Finally some battles **
K: They have to pose for at least 30 seconds before they can punch each other. That’s a deleted idea from the game, I’m sure.
** Sonya Blade and Kano duel it out **
K: “STUDY THIS” and then attempting to kick a guy in the balls is just fantastic, I must say.
J: Yeah, Sonya Blade is pretty iconic, and this actress does a pretty good job. Pretty sure I read that she came on like, a few days before shooting started.
“Give me a Break” — “Okay” = Iconic
K: “FINISH HIM”
I honestly kind of expected that whole plot line to be more of a full-movie thing, but sure!
K: Most epic cartwheel I’ve ever seen.
J: It’s a good one. I think I read that this scene was shot in post because the initial Scorpion fight just kinda ended and they needed to make it more epic.
K: They succeeded. It’s not nearly as gruesome as the game, but somehow just watching someone get repeatedly stamped on is pretty brutal.
J: I’m sorry, but that POV in mid flip is soo satisfying to me and such a weird choice.
K: Agreed. Also, appreciating Scorpion’s line integration.
Well that reveal was certainly unexpected. Is that from the game???
J: I think a flaming skull reveal was a fatality of Scorpion’s at some point.
** Johnny Cage kills Scorpion and gives him a nice autographed photo **
Haha the stupid signature thing, wtf.
J: Like, was Scorpion a fan of his, or did Johnny just have those on him.
K: I have no doubt that he just has them on him at all times, and every single one of them says, “To my greatest fan.”
J: I kinda like the idea that Scorpion was a secret fan of his and asked for an autograph at some point, haha.
** Kitana and Liu Kang “fight” **
This fight is one of my least favorite in this movie.
“What?!” me too Liu Kang, me too.
K: Yeah, because there’s weirdly no stakes to it and they pause to chat every two hits.
J: And like, Kitana has an iconic look, not there, iconic weapons, not there, is one of my favorite characters to play as, but here…. Dulllllll.
K: Yeah, “toned down” is a supreme understatement.
J: And the whole riddle, hint thing “use the element that gives life” I’m just like… it’s not subtle, just tell him “yo, use some water brah, Raiden will leave a bucket for ya and everything.”
** we quickly see Liu Kang now fighting and killing Sub Zero with some water **
K: Way to accidentally use that element which brings life! Also, how the actual hell did the water not fall out when he windmilled that bucket for several rotations?
J: Centrifugal force.
** Goro fights a random guy in a fun wrestling ring **
Love this montage of Goro kicking ass.
Love Goro’s WWE entrance.
Love this guy’s warm up routine, poor dude, an original character in a video game movie…. We all know what’s coming.
K: “That’s right, use the kick!” At least Sonya’s less obtuse than Kitana.
J: Haha, seriously. “Use the foot which stomps the ground” or some BS.
J: Imagine being that actor and having to fight a giant muppet in this scene… like, dude probably has an MFA or at the very least a couple of Karate championships under his belt.
Goro lookin’ like some sort of live action MTNT reject.
K: Does Sonya… know him? Why is she so upset this nameless film-only guy’s lost? Johnny, too? Have they… seen any of the previous matches?
J: Haha, yeah, it’s kinda strange, those “Noooo’s” were a bit much considering they just met that guy when they got on the boat. I guess Johnny saw him compete in some fighting match at some point.
Everytime I look at Sonya though, I immediately see the fiance from The Wedding Planner.
K: Liu rocking the polo shirt vibe and still being able to maintain a badass energy is seriously worth respect.
J: Yeah, I think he was also a big part of the fight design… But I’ll have to double check that.
This was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, his second feature after ‘94’s Shopping.
K: Makes sense he also directed the Resident Evil films… Oh holy shit, and the Monster Hunter film from last year!
J: Sonya and Johnny go on to get married in the games, their daughter Cassie Cage is a major character in MK11
K: Makes me feel a little better about Johnny’s whole womanizing vibe. Just… like… a little.
J: Yeah, in MK11 there’s a whole time travel narrative where old Johnny Cage meets Young Johnny Cage and calls him out on being an idiot.
K: I love that very much.
J: Iconic sunglasses moment.
Iconic ball-punch split move.
K: DEEP RESPECT.
J: Goro’s high pony is like, mad impressive too. But he neeeeeds to moisturize those elbows, good lord.
K: He’s even got the extra pair of arms to help him reach those tough-to-get-to spots. No excuse for not having immaculate skin care.
J: Nice “This is where you fall down” call back.
K: DEEP MUFASA VIBES.
** Raiden gives our heroes one last pep talk **
“To the emperor’s asshole?”
J: Hahah, ew.
I mean… I don’t know how much he has really been teaching y’all, to be fair.
K: Saying cryptic things that sound important is not the same as teaching. This is a common misconception.
J: Quite, the smarmy laugh is not a successful educational tactic.
K: “Use the laugh which makes the heart question its sincerity.”
** Liu Kang fights Reptile **
J: This scene was another one they added in post to give Reptile an actual fight scene instead of just having him be a weird CGI lizard thing.
K: Zero complaints about the weird CGI lizard thing, though. Could’ve honestly used more. Could’ve made him the protagonist.
J: I actually think I like this fight more than the Sub-Zero and Scorpion ones…. That little lizard move with the hands? I’m a fan.
K: The setting is spot-on, too. Forgetting the name of the stage…
HELL YES TINY KICKS.
J: Iconic Liu Kang Kick!!!
That’s like the one move I could reliably pull off as Liu Kang on my Sega Game Gear.
**Upon Liu Kang defeating Reptile, he turns into a pile of bugs**
K: Is Scorpion Oogie Boogie?
J: Or is Oogie Boogie Scorpion?
(Edit: We were both talking about Reptile here.)
K: PLOT TWIST.
**Kitana emerges from the shadows of Outworld**
J: I’m sorry, but she’s just not selling it for me. I feel like Johnny, Liu, and Sonya are giving me decent performances, Shang Tsung and Raiden are a bit scenery-chewing, but they’re having fun with it…. But Kitana…. Come on girl, give me something.
K: It’s also like … girl, why don’t you go into the black tower yourself? Is it because you lost your sweet sweet fans?
J: Also, not feeling this look for Sonya. When the hell did she get bangs?
K: And get her hair done? Did Shang Tsung work on her hair? What if he secretly loves hair styling?
But yeah, it’s like the ‘90s version of the Leia bikini, kinda sorta.
J: Yeah, like, what is with the weird captive costume change? Like, why did you take her shoes? Why give her a blow out? Why the leather mini dress?
**Liu Kang makes a reference to being a descendant of Kung Lao**
Kung Lao is an awesome character, but I’m pretty sure they’re supposed to be like, the same age.
K: Of course Johnny Cage likes the dress. Why did I not see that coming?
I totally forgot he commented on it hahaha.
**The theme song for the movie starts to play**
“Test your might!” doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
K: I am absolutely going to start listening to this soundtrack while doing super chill things like baking.
J: “You made me bleed my own blood.”
Also, note the ascending columns on the stairs, very much an homage to the games.
The lead bad guy changing forms to be characters you already fought against is very on-brand.
K: Nice samurai.
I wonder what percentage of these grunts were recorded in post?
J: I bet, like 60/40.
Such goooood delivery “You. Will. Die.”
K: Kitana really gives me Gal Gadot vibes, which is not helping the whole weird character misrepresentation.
J: Yeah, I totally see the Gal Gadot thing.
I can’t believe they made him jog up those stairs like that.
It is soooo obviously not Chang. You literally saw him turn from Shang Tsung into your dead brother… like… come on. It happened right in front of your eyeballs.
K: And Kitana literally said, “Face your fears” right before you saw this happen.
J: Love the big MK logo on the floor, into the spikes, though when they emerged it did look like they were sprouting out from a layer of tinfoil.
The whole “Chosen One” thing is plaaaayed out, but was it in ‘95? Probably.
This fireball is…..
K: “All those souls and you still don’t have one of your own.” What a fucking burn.
J: ….Less than impressive, NGL.
**Liu Kang does a leaping punch thing, with a tiny little fireball**
K: Could’ve just been a normal punch for all that fireball did.
J: Yeah, you need a fireball to travel a little bit, gotta let it breathe for it to be effective.
K: My partner just very meekly yelled “Spiiiiiiikes” when Shang Tsung hit the ground.
J: Haha, love a good impalement, living for the “Spiiiiikes.”
K: Oh yeah, this is a sentimental ‘90s moment, you gotta have a lady singing nonsense words in falsetto.
J: Soooooo ‘90s. It would only be more ‘90s if it was “Return to Innocence” playing.
Raiden is uselesssss.
** The cliffhanger monster emerges, and the movie just frickin ends **
K: OH MY GOD WHAT. THIS MAKES ME IMMEDIATELY WANT THE SECOND FILM TO BE JUST ENTIRELY THIS WEIRD, WEIRD ORC.
And that is literally the end of the movie.
The second one starts off at the exact same point. But the only original cast members to return are Liu Kang and Kitana. Everyone else read the script and was like…. Nah.
K: I was coming in equipped merely with the cultural osmosis of Mortal Kombat that was unavoidable for any child born in the early ‘90s. And honestly, I was expecting absolutely nothing from this film, but I actually really enjoyed it. There’s something nice about a film not trying to be anything more than a fun romp of an action flick.
Of course, there’s definitely some cringey ‘90s things about it: Johnny Cage’s womanizing moments, characters who shouldn’t have been white but were (*cough Raiden cough*). But overall, I came out of watching this film and bought Mortal Kombat 11. So well done, ‘95 Mortal Kombat, and well done, capitalism.
I am, however, both terrified and thrilled that this film is supposedly one of the high water marks of video game films, writ large. We are really in for a time as we traverse this series.
J: I, like many, can’t help but look at this movie with a ton of heartwarming nostalgia. I still remember watching it for the first time at a friend’s sleepover birthday party. My mom wouldn’t let me see it under any other circumstances at the time. It was rated PG-13, and I was, like, seven.
Part of me can’t help but feel like the reason it is held in relatively high regard as far as video game movies go is the nostalgia factor. However, this movie actually was groundbreaking in a couple of ways. It was one of the first Hollywood movies to incorporate wire-stunts for the fight sequences, which would go on to be made popular in the West with the success of The Matrix. This is thanks to Robin Shou, who played Liu Kang.
Prior to getting started as an actor, he was a stunt man back in Hong Kong.
An oral history of the movie, published by the Hollywood Reporter, goes really in-depth into the making of Mortal Kombat and is a fascinating read.
Overall, even though the CGI and animatronics don’t necessarily hold up, there’s plenty to enjoy in this movie which, nostalgia not withstanding, is still a fun and relatively faithful adaptation of a beloved game franchise. With a new version coming out in just a week or so, this O.G. video game movie is still worth watching 26 years after the fact. That’s saying something.
This has been “J & K Give it a Watch!” We’ll be ‘giving a watch’ to more video game movies and shows, providing some commentary and info. In fact, our coverage of the 1997 sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation will be coming soon and once the new Mortal Kombat (2021) comes out, we’ll give that a watch too, so stay tuned!