Mortal Kombat is probably one of the most faithful video game adaptations ever made, as of 2015 at least. It takes the paper-thin characters, the confusing and convoluted plot, and the creepy-architecture-plus-candles-plus-Buddhist-Monk aesthetics that the games have made themselves known for. It doesn’t have the level of brutal violence that the series is known for, since it’s only PG-13, but everything else about the series carries over very nicely.
And that’s a good thing, too, because that makes Mortal Kombat a triumph in cheesy 90s filmmaking.
As soon as the movie begins, you’re assaulted with constant dutch angles, slow-mo kung-fu fighting, and really dark environments with weird moody lighting. Christopher Lambert, King of 90s B-Movies, once again graces us with his presence as the Thunder God Raiden (though he barely does anything in the movie). And Sonya Blade quickly establishes herself as the 90s movie favorite trope, the hardcore badass action woman who has no real personality and still becomes a damsel in distress somehow. Her character is so ridiculously played out that it’s hilarious.
There’s quite a bit of use of really bad CGI for some of the characters, as well, which is really endearing. They had come a long way from the dark days of Lawnmower Man, even in the two or three year difference between the two movies, so it’s still really bad effects, but good enough that they look silly rather than completely jarring.
This fight scene exemplifies just how 90s this movie is. While Liu Kang is the main character of the story, Johnny Cage is the only one in the main cast who is truly entertaining throughout, and he is cranked up to near-cartoon levels of silliness at various points in the movie. He gets to fight the fan-favorite character Scorpion, who really has no reason to be in the movie whatsoever, and the fight is filled with CGI effects and needlessly-elaborate sets.
In the context of the movie, the Johnny Cage/Scorpion fight comes out of nowhere and isn’t really mentioned anywhere in the rest of the plot. This is because the second half of the film is almost completely plotless; it’s just fight scene after fight scene with the three main characters with little explanation, sort of like a kung-fu version of Mad Max Fury Road, except the story isn’t nearly good enough to complement the constant action in this one.
Everything about Mortal Kombat makes it perfect for a Saturday night movie night with friends, just like most of the best 90s action movies. It’s dumb enough that you can laugh at it, but as a movie it’s still entertaining enough that it’s an enjoyable experience on its own. Con Air and Judge Dredd would be proud.