The Emperor of Outworld has his sights set on conquering the realm of Earth. But in order to do so, he has to win 10 straight the ancient Mortal Kombat tournaments. The Emperor's sorcerer, Shang Tsung, has led Outworld's forces to nine straight victories. The only thing standing between Earth and the Emperor's evil forces are three humans: Liu Kang, who is only at the tournament to kill Shang Tsung for the murder of his brother, Sonya Blade, a law enforcement officer who was lured to the ship under the pretenses of catching her partner's killer, and Johnny Cage, an egotistical movie star who the press has dubbed as a fake and is only at the tournament as a way to prove himself. It will be up to Lord Rayden to teach his three warriors to look deep inside themselves to find the ability to beat Shang Tsung and save the realm of Earth from devastation.
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
. Starring: Christopher Lambert
, Robin Shou
, Linden Ashby
, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras
, Talisa Soto
, Trevor Goddard
, Chris Casamassa
, François Petit
, Keith Cooke
, Hakim Alston
, Kenneth Edwards
, John Fujioka
. Music by: George S. Clinton
I'm not going to try and convince you that 1995's "Mortal Kombat" is a spectacular film. Heck, I'm not even going to try to convince you that it's particularly good. Inspired by the brutal arcade games, the film is little more than a broad piece of "fluff"... a shallow bit of entertainment filled to burst with only the most common of cliché and trope, with an emphasis on effects of substance and action over drama. It's cheese, plain and simple.
And yet, director Paul W.S. Anderson's film has gone on to become something of an icon for children of the 90's. A pop-culture phenomena that is still widely beloved. Even its brilliantly goofy techno theme-song is still a standard at many a nightclub and house- party. It's elevated itself beyond its boundaries and is now often regarded as a classic of its decade, fondly recollected by those of us who used to obsessively rent the VHS at Video King every weekend. Oh, it's cheese. But it's delicious, nostalgic and entertaining 90's cheese.
A group of Earth's greatest warriors- including the vengeful Liu Kang (Robin Shou), special forces agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) and washed-up action-star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) are united by Thunder God Raiden (Christopher Lambert) to take part in a legendary tournament known as "Mortal Kombat." The goal is to pit fighters from various realms and dimensions against one another to find the greatest warriors in the known universe. However, should a world lose ten consecutive tournaments, they will be at the mercy of the victor- in this case, the dreaded "Outworld" has won nine against Earth, and the treacherous sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary- Hiroyuki Tagawa) is eyeing his tenth victory so that he may conquer the Earth for his emperor. And so, our heroes must try and save the planet with the help of Outworld princess Kitana (Talisa Soto), who seeks retribution for the death of her parents at the emperor's hands.
Yes, the plot sounds very silly, and indeed it is, often being summarized as a fantasy riff on the classic Bruce Lee film "Enter the Dragon." But it's not the main focus here. Merely a backdrop to help deliver what the film excels at, which is the development of highly likable characters and wonderfully thrilling action sequences, with at the time mind- bending special effects. You'll find yourself very much willing to forgive the somewhat shoddy story development for these very reasons.
The fantastic casting of our lead actors and the witty dialog helps us care and root for our heroes. Shou is fantastic as our "chosen one" hero Liu Kang, a man haunted by the death of his brother at the hands of the dreaded Shang Tsung. He's got a dark streak as a result, but also a very humanizing and identifiable sense of wit, and will occasionally snap back with a clever comeback or joke to remind us that he's not just a blank-slate, but has a likable personality despite his turmoil. Wilson is quite good as Sonya, who similarly has a chip on her shoulder thanks to the death of her partner. She's sort-of the most serious of our group, and while the role may come off as flatter than the others as a result, she plays an invaluable role thanks to evening everyone out. Ashby is a wonderful addition, and is the closest we have to a traditional comic relief. Formerly a famed actor, Johnny is now a bit of a diva, but Ashby wisely plays him as being just self-aware enough to know that he needs to grow up to become a better person. But he never quite lets go, leading to some golden moments of comedy.
But Lambert and Tagawa steal the show in their roles as Raiden and Shang Tsung. Lambert seems to be having the most fun he's ever had, and he uniquely interprets the all-power Thunder God as having a bit of a sarcastic sense of humor, which I found very welcoming. He's just detached enough from mortality to not quite be able to fit in with the other heroes, leading to some nice "culture clash" moments of humor. And Tagawa just chews the scenery in the perfect way as our fiendishly entertaining villain. He knows he's crafting a character that you'll love to hate, and he plays the role to perfection, with a childish glee.
The action is the other big highlight here, and even more than twenty years later, I think it generally holds up. This was one of those first big, sweeping martial-arts hits in the United States, and we hadn't seen anything quite like it at the time. The concept of a tournament featuring fighters from different worlds and dimensions allows for some splendid and entertaining mash- ups, so no two fights are quite the same, and there's good variety. There's also a really nice natural progression over the course of the film, so the stakes really ramp up with each passing action beat.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson has a really keen eye for scope and composition, and knows how to perfectly frame a shot and cut together sequences to make for some great gasps and winces from his audience. And he knows just the right moments to supply enough levity for us to catch our breath before hitting us again with an even more intense martial arts battle. It's splendidly directed and structured and there's never a dull moment.
In the end, "Mortal Kombat" may not be a great film. But it is great entertainment. It's a fun and wild relic of its time, and I know that for this fan, it'll always be a movie I pop on now and again for nostalgic kicks. I give it a very strong 8 out of 10 for this reason. Pop on the nostalgia goggles and get ready to have a fast, fun time.
Review by MaximumMadness from the Internet Movie Database.