That’s right, August 18th, 1995 marked the US Theatrical premiere of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat. Based on the successful run of Midway games, Mortal Kombat was one of many attempts in the ’90s to bring video games to the big screen. Unlike some of its contemporaries at the time, Mortal Kombat didn’t meet with the same backlash as The Super Mario Bros. Movie or Street Fighter. So how come Mortal Kombat was fairly well-liked, while other video game movies languish? Let’s dive in!
It actually felt like Mortal Kombat
One of the biggest successes of the movie was that it actually felt like Mortal Kombat. MK on its face is a pretty stupid concept. A group of fighters represents Earthrealm in a fighting tournament held once per generation. If they lose to the villainous Outworld, their realm will be taken over. It goes a long way to give a premise for a bunch of people to fight each other. And yet, Paul W.S. Anderson didn’t shy away from that!
That’s the plotline they stuck with for the movie. While that might have seemed cheesy, so was Mortal Kombat and that’s what they got right. While parents of the ’90s thought that Mortal Kombat was going to turn their kids to the Devil, kids in the ’90s saw it for what it was. Silly, and fun. So when the movie used a thin plot device to give an excuse to show a bunch of cool fighters throw down with each other on the big screen, we ate it up!
The set and character designs were also handled well, with many of the fight scenes looking like they could have been stages in the game. I’ll even forgive some of the awful computer CGI, as it was still 1995 and well… yea, it looks like it. Sub-Zero and Scorpion looked cool, and that’s all that really mattered.
How come they still can’t get it right?
Listen, part of the issue is that I’m 31 now and not 9. But that reasoning doesn’t make for a great article, so let’s check out some other issues. First and foremost, they’re all taken so seriously. Prince of Persia, Halo, Warcraft, the list goes on. One after the next, they’re all taken completely seriously. To an extent, that can be a good thing, but here’s the problem: The games they’re based on were frequently silly. Halo, for example, was a great game, but the writing is not Hollywood caliber. That’s fine for the game where I’m distracted by escaping the Flood and fighting the Covenant. But when you try and make it into a 2-hour movie, the writing needs to be on point.
You know who did it right? Pokemon. Detective Pikachu brought the world of Pokemon to life but didn’t take itself too seriously. It had fun with the quirks of the franchise and the overall silliness of the premise, and what resulted was something fun for audiences of all ages. The younger kids get to see Pokemon on the screen, and the adults get to relive some of their childhood and poke fun at it.
But light-hearted brevity and self-aware humor isn’t the panacea for video game movies. Case and point – Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic was very light-hearted and had absolutely no problem poking fun at its source material. But that movie was an absolute slog that was only watchable for a few Jim Carrey lines. There’s a fine line to walk with self-aware humor. Deadpool does it right, Sonic does not.
Will the new Mortal Kombat be any good?
Oh, you knew I wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity to talk about the new movie. Yes, Mortal Kombat returns to the big screens next year, COVID-19 willing. Will it be any good? That’s really tough to say. If the recent animated movie is any indication, it’s got a shot at being awesome. It looks pretty serious, and the film’s R rating suggests we will definitely be seeing some fatalities in theaters. (That’s a weird thing to type out in any other article.)
A serious Mortal Kombat movie can work, and anything that gets us away from the cartoonish Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is welcome. But they can’t forget that on its whole, Mortal Kombat is silly. There needs to be a degree of fun and humor mixed into the film. If it’s just two hours of gore and fighting, it’s doomed to failure. Think back to when you played Mortal Kombat as a kid? Do you remember it for tight controls, a gripping plot, or the dark themes? No. You remember it for hours spent laughing with your friends. That’s what the movie should be aiming for.
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Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment