Another feature of...
Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
First off, this review was a collaborative effort between Patrick Coyle and me. Patrick and I have corresponded since before the Dungeons and Dragons: The Movie review and we eventually hit upon a deal. He had reviews in various stages of completeness for D&D, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and Wing Commander that he’d punched up just for fun. I had just received a copy of D&D on tape and had started on a review. We agreed to work together on that one with his insights and some of his text supplementing mine. He once summarized our initial exchanges thusly:
Patrick: u r teh funniest and best reviewer evar!!1
Of course, he was joking (right?) when he sent me that—his writing turned out to be far more elaborate, downright verbose. Plus he knows how to use capital letters.
Thus, for our second of two reviews for Jabootu, we’ve evened out our roles. He punched up the main body of the text, then sent it to me for a process he calls "Vanderizing," where I can add my own perspective and brand of humor, then back to him for clerical corrections and a few more observations, and so on. This yin/yang approach has ultimately resulted in a full-length review of a film that defined the words "incompetent" and "shameless," so we must be doing something right. The final review is done in my voice, with comments purely from Patrick’s perspective blocked separately, although you could probably tell anyway that he wrote that stuff because he’s far more observant than I. Plus, much of the ranting in the "Afterthoughts" section is his too. Bottom line: He’ll let you know when he’s speaking up.
The advent of DVDs seems to have killed off my "Eva Rates the Previews" feature as soon as it was born. Therefore, I’m introducing another small feature called Credit Where It’s Due™. This label will appear wherever an otherwise abysmal movie does something right or cool.
A reading of this draft revealed that certain words and phrases see heavy use. In particular, large quantities of "somehow," "just in time," "coincidence," and "suck" will present themselves. We thought we’d let you know in advance, in case our text begins to sound repetitive and you can’t quite put a finger on why that is.
As we began writing this, the home video version of House of the Dead was soon to be released, which must be breaking some sort of record for the quickest home release after imploding in the theaters. (It was until The Cat in the Hat, anyway.) If you didn’t know, this was based on an arcade game of the same name, where you just shoot endless waves of zombies. Never seen it, but I have heard that it stays true to its source—there is indeed a lot of zombie-shooting in the last few scenes, if you can sit around long enough to get there.
I’ll concede one point though–House of the Dead was one of the few movies whose mere advertisements turned my stomach. Maybe you remember what I’m talking about—that dreadful shot where some Frankenstein’s monster-looking dude protrudes his long purple tongue into a teenage girl’s ear, and she sort of gasps in what could either be revulsion or…pleasure. Argh. I’m sure I can blame that for a wave of icky nightmares that stirred the murky jambalaya of my sleep—dreams of eyeballs being clawed out, skin sloughing off like the hide of a molting reptile, and screaming people pulling their own tongues out. Sort of like watching a theatre of people enduring Freddy Got Fingered, come to think of it. Compare those to my more common (read: boring) dreams—like returning an overdue DVD and using the Big Blinky Eyes routine to get out of the late fee—and it’s obvious this movie has damaged me without my even having to watch it.
But the fate of House of the Dead is only the most recent example of the doom shared by most video-game movies. To use a term of art—they stink. They stink like a Houston garbage truck in August. This would seem only natural, since most games are brainless exercises in button-mashing. How could anybody hope to make a good movie out of this compost?
And yet, it can be done—to some degree. Popular video game movies of yore include the original Mortal Kombat and the original Tomb Raider. Resident Evil wasn’t terribly successful, but didn’t reek like most. Street Fighter did okay, its goofy moments often shrugged off as inside humor on the part of the writers.
The list of video game movies that collapsed under their own mass is more substantial, including Double Dragon, Super Mario Brothers, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Wing Commander, the aforementioned House of the Dead, today’s dartboard Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and probably more that have slipped my mind. As you saw, a movie in the latter category is the one I get to watch. Oh, what a lucky girl I am.
Some movie reviewer many years ago wrote that if they have to misspell a word in the title you should approach the movie with great caution. To date, I’ve found this to be largely true of a lot of movies, ice cream flavors, cutesy stores in malls, and band names.
Judging by the correspondence I get, one of the things people here like to read about—and you know who you are—is how a real live woman responds to watching the hideous sex comedies and gross-out movies I’ve reviewed in the past. I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint with this one. Like Dungeons and Dragons, this movie was just a cyclopean snore. My blood pressure never got raised once. I’d like to start to off with a funny story about watching this with my sister or step-brothers, but I can’t. My sister, when graciously invited to watch said, "Oh no! Not another one of your internet movie review things! No no!" Her housemate then invited me to grow up. Thanks, both of you. I couldn’t even get Dalton to watch, a sudden trip to a drilling platform in the North Sea suspiciously winging him away.
Finally, let’s take a gander at the DVD box, shall we? On the back are arrayed various scenes of action and a couple of screen captures from the DVD menu and special features, followed by a breathless blurb about the plot, dripping with hyperbole. All of this is overlain on a panorama of destruction, with a leaning Eiffel Tower. Not badly done. The front is plainer. Going with what works, they put the Mortal Kombat stone dragon on the cover. This logo, however, has the stone façade of the dragon being shattered by a real dragon underneath, its green scales poking through in places. Again, not badly done.
Ah, but the leopard always shows its spots eventually. In a revealing bit below the dragon logo, the movie put the tagline—"Destroy All Expectations" If one was expecting a couple hours of enjoyable kung-fu action, then the tagline is dead-on.
The cry is heard:
…and the theme song—a tinny, dated techno dance-floor clearer that I vaguely remember from my clubbing days—begins to pound. It’s not a good omen that it sounds like it’s being broadcast through a soup can with a string. The problem could be with my TV, but I feel safer blaming the movie. Otherwise, we get pretty much a recreation of the first title sequence—flames gushing over the Mortal Kombat emblem, the voice again bellowing "Mortal Kombat!" and an explosion.
The opening scene splays onto the screen, an establishing shot of what I *think* is supposed to be Angkor Wat bluescreened onto the set of a studio with some real shots interspersed in, perhaps taken from the last movie. We hear expository dialogue read by a voice that sounds like an announcer in a National Geographic documentary on the mating rituals of anteaters. This line stands out:
"Mortal Kombat is not about death, but rather, the preservation of life."
If preservation of life means brutally killing the few to save the many, than this statement is largely accurate.
We get a quick recap of the first movie, referring to Liu Kang—pronounced "Lou Kang"—and his companions. Note, however, that the shots taken from the first movie only feature Liu Kang and Kitana. Why is that? Wait and see, grasshopper! Apparently, humans defeated the "Outworlders" and thus saved the Earth from Some Really Bad Thing for one generation.
But deceptively, the Outworlders have decided to totally screw the whole tournament deal and stage an all-out assault on Earth, appearing at the Shaolin temple/holy site which featured Liu Kang and many strangely bickering monks in the first film. The invasion, seemingly taking place only minutes after the end of the first movie, is heralded by stormy clouds and movie lightning that sounds like two swatches of polyester rubbing together, then the invading warriors start falling from the flaming maelstrom in the sky—an effect achieved by superimposing them over the storm clouds after which they jerk and wobble their way downward.
As the flames fade, we cut back to the sound stage where the black-turbaned ninja dudes hit the ground, then begin springing and leaping and catapulting back and forth in front of the camera. The many hundreds of monks sitting around the ersatz Angkor Wat, rather than handing these interlopers their butts on a platter, instead choose to sagely panic and run in every direction. Hey, you paid for these extras, why not have them fight? I assume a bunch of Asian monks in a kung fu movie based on a video game would be capable of kicking tail—after all, this movie is sort of like the education bill recently passed in the U.S.—No Chop-Socky Cliché Left Behind.
The wheels fly off this movie with alacrity. Four of our heroes and heroines from the first movie are reintroduced, for the first time in the case of two of them, as new actors have swapped out the old ones. Liu Kang, the monk-trained kung-fu fighter, and Kitana, the Outworld princess, are intact. The other two provoke initial bewilderment since the faces they’re wearing in this movie are brand new to us, but their props give them away. They are apparently action film star Johnny Cage (with signature sunglasses) and Special Forces agent Sonya Blade (with signature skimpy tank top). Actor Linden Ashby has been replaced by Chris Conrad as Johnny Cage and Bridgette Wilson by Sandra Hess as Sonya Blade. Got that? Two major characters played by other people are introduced right out of the chute. But it get worse, just wait.
Our heroes find themselves surrounded by expendable henchmen waving their hands around, projecting an aura of menace that might rival a teenager trying to convince you he’s expert in an obscure martial art he can’t even pronounce, much less perform. The star villains then show up. The first is a horned centaur, somewhat more successful than the ones on Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, mostly because they use jump cuts to disguise the fact that his four legs and hindquarters don’t actually join his human upper torso at any time. He actually looks a little like a triceratops. A couple more plastic-masked ninja-types join in, albeit more somberly colored than Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Reptile from the first film. Finally a four-armed woman, presumably the kin of Goro, villainous henchman of the first film, arrives. She probably represents one of the most successful effects in this film, as the four-arm effect is, to my admittedly amateur eyes, completely seamless. I guess she’s supposed to remind us of Kali Ma. It’s good to see that every culture will take a poke in the ribs here.
As befitting the chief baddie, Shao Khan appears with the cheesiest fireball effect of all, and proves to be a sort of Chinese/Shogun-looking guy with a skull mask. Hey, it’s Skeletor! Hahahahaha! Look at this dorkus! Skeletor is played by Brian Thompson of Cobra infamy. Wow, he’s ripped for a guy in his late 30’s; he’s obviously been lifting in preparation for this movie. Or maybe it’s a steady diet of greens from chewing scenery. Anyway, Shao Khan is apparently the honcho around here and the movie acts like we’re supposed to know that and fear him. But…he wasn’t in the first movie. The actors and actresses look as bewildered as fans of Mortal Kombat: the Good One must have looked in the theatre watching this assault-with-intent-to-bore.
Oh, and speaking of guys who weren’t in the first movie, now we meet Lord Rayden. "Hey! Wait a minute!" cry the slathering fanboys, "Rayden was too in Mortal Kombat!" No, y’all are thinking of Christopher Lambert. The guy playing Lord Rayden here is Clan of the Cave Bear and Judge Dredd veteran James Remar. You know it’s a bad movie when you’re left pining for Christopher Lambert.
"The Earth was created in six days!" Shao Khan proclaims. "So too shall it be destroyed. (Cue cartwheeling henchman) And on the seventh day, mankind will rest in peace!"
Note that he doesn’t say "rest in pieces." Because that would be cliché, and we’ll have none of that. Also, I'm Catholic and thus largely ignorant of eastern religions. That said, I’m not aware of any Asiatic mythos which claims the Earth was created in six days. The ones I’ve read about claim variations of cyclic creations or more or less infinite reality. But I suppose if you’re going to mix your Japanese and Chinese mythos why not stir in some Judeo/Christian too while you're at it.
Our heroes are a bit peeved at these unwelcome guests and insist to know what had happened to allow the Outworlders back to the Earth. After all, winning the tournament they just returned from was supposed to seal the passages to Earth for a generation.
"This is not good!" Johnny Cage intones, his Ray-Bans in a bunch.
"I thought our victory in Mortal Kombat closed the portals!" Liu Kang exclaims. Did he just mention the previous movie by name? Oh, good Lord.
"What was closed can be opened again," Rayden authoritatively intones. Oh. I guess that whole mess in the first movie was a total waste of everybody’s time.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Liu Kang demands, expressing naïve outrage.
Here, let me answer. With this one line, the scriptwriters have essentially torn in two the plot of the first movie, insulted the intelligence of everybody who saw it, and destroyed any vestiges of disbelief-suspension we might have had remaining. And all within two minutes of the beginning of the movie. It’s lameness incarnate. If you’re searching for appalling screenwriting, your journey ends here.
Anyway, at this, a purple-clad woman joins the baddies with a screech, her long black 90’s death-metal hair with white streaks trailing behind her.
Kitana (woodenly): "Mother…you’re alive!"
Woman who looks like Elvira: "Too bad you…(*ominous pause*)…will die! Mwahaha!!"
Who said hatred wasn’t a family value? If she’s Kitana’s mother, she must have given birth at like the age of 12 or so. Kitana is played by Talisa Soto, who also appeared in the critically eviscerated Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. Bond lovers might remember her—though not very fondly if at all—as Lupe Lamora from License to Kill, where she made the least of her limited screen time by acting like a mascara-lacquered totem pole.
Rayden faces off with Khan, who attacks using cartoon green-streaked energy bolts. Rayden does some lightning stuff back at him, all the while hollering gibberish. Undercutting this high-powered hostility are pulse-deadening slow-motion shots and long views of our combatants hurtling through the air—but not actually fighting each other much. These guys fight like the dancers in Michael Jackson’s "Beat It" video.
Eventually, a henchguy hurls a whip to Khan, who uses it to snare Sonya Blade and drag her underfoot. She’s supposed to be this martial arts, special-ops super woman and yet Khan gets his foot on her neck with no trouble. Ah yes, the scriptmonster requires a captive woman—however implausible the circumstances—and it won’t be denied.
Rayden: "You hide behind a human?"
Shao Khan: "Why not, Lord Rayden? You hid behind them during your entire pathetic life!"
Oof. Score one for Khan.
By the way, all the bluescreening is horribly, horribly obvious. Think "weatherman on hick local affiliate in eastern Montana" bad.
Johnny Cage, being the passionate soul he is, charges at Khan with his trademark Shadow Kick, a flying kick that leaves echoing after-images behind him—which veteran Mortal Kombat viewers have never seen before. In fact, nothing in the first movie ever suggested in the slightest that Cage possessed supernatural fighting powers. At any rate, Khan easily smacks him down and gets a deathgrip on Johnny’s neck. He demands Rayden back down or the human dies.
To my absolute astonishment, Rayden responds by shooting a strangely subdued, almost lethargic bolt of lightning that creates a white glowy thing over the super-baddies we’ve been introduced to earlier—a power he’ll never use again in this movie, by the way. He essentially declares that if Johnny dies, Khan’s "Generals" will die as well.
Oh, but it gets even worse. Any hopes that Rayden may have lifted up are irrevocably dashed against the rocks in the scriptwriter’s head when Khan calls his bluff and Rayden fails to kill one or more of the "Generals." (Steee-rike one!) If he had done so, he could prove his resolve while keeping some bargaining material. Instead, he backs down from his threat completely and makes another deal, offering himself in exchange for Johnny. (Steee-rike two!) Rayden steps forward and releases the Generals, at which Khan rightfully declares him a fool, breaks Johnny’s neck, and then blasts Rayden on his divine butt. (And he’s outta here!) And so, exit Johnny Cage—a favorite from Mortal Kombat—within ten minutes of starting. In its own pea-brained way, this is like if Han Solo had gone out into the cold on Hoth in the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back and, instead of saving Luke Skywalker from the snow thing, froze to death.
In a weird bit—perhaps in Johnny’s honor—some sort of horned statue thing now rises up from under his body, lifting him up with it. Uh…what?
[Editor Ken: Eva has kindly invited me to say a brief (brief? me?) word over the untimely demise of Johnny Cage. Johnny was, as I recently indicated, was my favorite character in the original movie.
Being quite a fan of Mortal Kombat (the motion picture), I eagerly went to see the sequel the first night it hit the theaters. l was immediately confused and then more than a bit disquieted when I realized that another actor had taken over for Linden Ashby. Mr. Ashby's amiable and wittily underplayed performance as the wisecracking Johnny balanced the more wooden characters of Sonya and Liu. He was also a talented enough martial artist--although not in Lui portrayer's Robin Shou's class--that Johnny's battle with Scorpion remained for me the film's highpoint. Therefore I began the film more than a little nonplussed. However, if I were uneasy at seeing a new actor taking over the role, I was flabbergasted when they elected to brutally kill off Johnny in the film's opening minutes. At that point the sequel would have had to have done an awful lot right to win me back. As Eva and Patrick will establish here, this was in no way the case.
Mr. Ashby at the time the sequel came out was starring in a Sam Raimi produced TV series called Spy Game. Ashby's character was an expert at fighting with any object to be found at hand, no matter how prosaic, and most episodes featured some elaborate fight sequence built around this premise. It was a cute series, but quickly cancelled. It is thus one of the reference for my general rule about TV espionage programs: Spy shows need to have an edge to them, and this means you have to allow your characters to kill their opposite numbers. Instead, this was one of those deals where the central characters were solely equipped with knockout dart guns and other such non-lethal gear. Bah.
The question remains, though. Was Mr. Ashby replaced in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation because he was busy working on his TV show? Was Johnny killed because they couldn't retain Ashby's services? Or did they send Ashby the script, and he dropped out when he saw that he was being brought back for a grotesque little cameo, in the same way that the makers of Jaws: The Revenge wanted Roy Scheider to reprise his role as Martin Brody just long enough to get himself eaten by a shark in the beginning of the movie?
My annoyance with the sequel hardly ended there. My other favorite character in the first movie was Lord Rayden, a storm god. As played by Christopher Lambert, Rayden has convincingly and humorously non-human in the way he viewed the contest. Rayden was the immortal advocate of the Earth and its mortal fighters, acting sort of like our faculty advisor. However, he also at times seemed to view humanity's possibly imminent destruction with a certain amount of blasé amusement.
Lambert, like Ashby, was tragically replaced by another actor. However, Rayden's fate was even worse than Johnny's. Here the Thunder God went from a wryly detached advocate for humanity to a grim, humorless Christ figure willing to sacrifice his immortal existence to save the human race. I dare anyone to watch Lambert's Rayden in the first film and James Remar's ploddingly grim Rayden in the second and tell me they believe the actors are playing the same character.]Shao Khan considerately reminds everyone of his six-day timetable, then dimension-sucks himself and his do-nothing Generals back home. These Generals really don’t ever do anything, like give orders or make strategy—you know, stuff generals generally do. All of Khan’s miscellaneous henchmen remain, however, and Khan’s disembodied voice commands their attack. At this point, Khan has already committed every major Bond villain mistake – leaving the enemy no option for capitulation, announcing his plans well in advance, and turning his back (literally) on the heroes before leaving it to his faceless goons to dispose of them. Our heroes run down into a stone labyrinth of underground corridors, which Rayden seals by blowing the roof down behind them. How about just nuking the bad guys with that magic you got?
As they catch their breath, it’s time for Rayden to explain what kind of a wheezing, smoke-belching plot we’ll be jostling in for the remaining eighty minutes. Rayden—who knows everything and is sure to tell it all slowly in a Zen-laden patois that William Manchester called "the majestic style of the lullaby"—is perennially useless except for fireworks and cheap parlor tricks. Rayden’s inspirational speech falls short of the mark, but yields the overripe fruit of hyperbole. Lines like "I’m telling you this for your own good!" and "You must train!" slither past. He says Earth and Outworld are merging and becoming one realm. Liu complains this is against the rules for Mortal Kombat as he understands them (as any of us understand them, actually), and Rayden concedes that Khan is a big fat poopy-pants cheater. Part of the evil plan involved resurrecting Kitana’s mother, Sindel, who can somehow make all this possible. Also, somehow, reuniting Kitana with Sindel will break his hold over her and close the portals. Rayden further exposits that his powers will wane as Outworld and Earth merge, so the humans have to become super-strong to defeat the bad guys.
It’s interesting how they accept Khan’s declaration of a six-day deadline as Gospel—one wonders what would happen if only four days down the line, while everybody’s still preparing, Shao Khan reappears and surprise! his conquest is complete.
What all this translates to, really, is how the movie is going to tread water until the Inevitable Final Battle. So what do you do with the eighty minutes or so between the protagonists’ arrival and the final battle? That’s pretty much the dilemma in these movies. On one hand, we have the desire to wring money from the kids’ pockets with the least effort possible but on the other hand we have to stretch this thing to movie length. Sounds like a job for the Plot-O-Matic 3000™ to me! We’ve got to waste time here so we’d better run the most humdrum plot vehicles through the car wash of boredom one more time.
Let’s see, we’ll have
This movie has ‘em all and, as you’ll see, they’ll unspool in the least riveting manner inhumanly possible. It’s by-the-numbers plot advancement at its cynical worst—in fact, the DVD’s names for the various scenes, conveniently printed on the inside of the DVD case, seem to reflect this ho-hum, time-to-make-the-donuts mentality:
You can sort of piece together the entire movie by reading this list, twists and all. Look, I just realized something. Not only shouldn’t you watch this movie, but you shouldn’t even waste time reading this review. Go outside and play. Go to a baseball game. Go buy shoes. Just go.
All right then…it’s time to send each member on her or his merry time-wasting way. Liu and Kitana are to "seek out the council of one called Nightwolf" who we’re told lives on the Hopi Mesa and protects "his people." What he protects them from we can only guess, probably something supernatural since he’s a movie Indian Hero. Sonja, who during Rayden’s spiel has been pacing back and forth and badly acting the pathos that is apparently rocking her over Johnny Cage’s silly demise, is to go free some old-buddy Special Forces guy named Jax, whom we very briefly met in the first film and whose face has surely also changed, except I just don’t care enough to find out. Rayden himself will go to the Temple of the Immortals and find out what the explanation for all this cosmic chicanery could possible be. Gee Rayden, and here I thought you had all the answers. Way to make yourself scarce while the other guys do all the work.
The temple passage takes them to a funky futuristic hollow sphere on a platform, perched at the mouth of a tunnel. According to Kitana, the "velosphere" will allow one to travel anywhere on Earth in hours, propelled by the "inner winds"—this sounds suspiciously like it is driven by flatulence. "You will be moving so fast it will be as though you are not moving at all." Which is movie-speak for "won’t have to explain away the fact this thing will never leave the sound stage upon which it was constructed" if you ask me. Rayden demonstrates the velosphere process by throwing a torch at the tunnel entrance and watching it get sucked in. Sonya the Special Forces agent proves to be easily impressed by the concept of pneumatics.
This brings me to what is quite possibly the single most inept special effect to hit the screen in the last twenty years of theatrical cinema.
See, this velosphere is apparently like a super-secret mass transit system for…whoever built it, something that reminds me of a cross between those hollow spheres used for human-bowling you see at the carnival and the teacup ride. First picture a giant hollow scrap-metal sculpture of a bowling ball, with lots of irregular openings in the surface and some bars and handholds within for the bad actors to hang onto. This system works by two people hanging upright inside it, face to face rubbing up against one another, then shifting their body weight around to guide the giant ball through subterranean tunnels that lattice through the Earth. The semi-molten Earth—with its liquid iron and nickel core and temperatures over 1000°F and no oxygen. We see this in action when Rayden and Sonja are suspended in the first sphere, Rayden blandly says "here we go," then leans himself forward to set the thing in motion—or to look down Sonja’s tank top as he rubs up against her. Or both. "Velospheres" huh? More like "Grope Globes" to me.
As extraordinarily stupid as all this sounds, the execution comes off even worse than the concept. Rather than simply have the ball roll into the tunnel entrance, an effect that one assumes could have been easily achieved using a model of the sphere, a piece of string, and some basic yo-yo technology, the filmmakers opted instead for especially careless stop-motion animation. Thus, we see the ball disappearing down the tunnel using a grand total of seven frames of hilariously jerky "animation," resulting in an overall effect that could be best described as pathetic. You know those cartoons grade-school kids make where they draw pictures on the corners of pages then flip through them really fast? Those are made with more care and competence than this shot was.
Liu and Kitana are speeding through the tunnels in their little sphere, tunnels conveniently lit by chunks of glowing rocks hanging here and there, stagelightolites, maybe. Kitana tries to explain the science of it all, using Star Trek technoblather: "It’s the transupercalibrated turbo incabulator with reciprocating dingle-armed transmaniacon shamalamma ding dong." Liu pretends to be uncomfortable rubbing up against Kitana. My hero. Worse yet, this whole bit is accompanied by a subdued fast-tempo Casio beat, altogether more appropriate for the buzzer option on a clock radio.
Cut to what *I think* is Outworld, replete with unconvincing Dante’s Inferno-wannabe CGI landscape and random bits of flames lancing upward into the sky, just to remind us what an unpleasant place this is. We see who *I think* is Khan without his Skeletor mask, with smooth head and even smoother, Vin Diesel-esque features in his throne room, adorned with many spikes and open flaming pits, just to remind us what an unpleasant place this is. He’s visited by a rather plain-looking fellow in a robe, who *I think* is supposed to be Shinnock. At least that’s the name given in the scene listing and character sketches. The poor souls who tried to watch this without the luxury of DVD would have to wait until the final scene to learn his name, and even then they couldn’t be sure who it belonged to.
Shinnock proves to be Khan’s father. When he inquires about whether Rayden has been checked into the wooden Waldorf yet, Khan vaults off his throne with a whooshing, slow-motion, lamely choreographed somersault, just to remind me what an unpleasant place I’m in, sitting in front of my TV screen with this movie playing on it. Khan then admits Rayden’s not…uh…quite…dead yet but that he’s working on it. Khan really is a chip off the old blockhead. Pop zoom-cuts forward, quite upset with all this. He bellows on about how the Elder Gods must not know about what’s going on regarding the merging of the realms until their conquest is complete, because only then will Daddy Khan and Baby Khan have the power they need to defy them. "Never underestimate the power of the human spirit!" Shinnock declares, surely raising a hearty "Huzzah!" from the audience, before leaving. Kahn’s Baloney, indeed.
Arriving at the Hopi Mesa velosphere transit center, Kitana and Liu pause to have a kissy smoochy moment with some bland romantic banter better suited for a Christian romance novel. (Yes, they exist). You know, with the imminent end of the world looming and all, this would be the last thing on my mind. But it’s a good thing for the plot that they paused to close their eyes and kiss, otherwise they would have noticed the waist-high smoke that’s been very conspicuously following them and now wafts around them. This smoke congeals into Smoke, a black-grey armored and lightly-dreadlocked robot warrior. Who’s made of smoke. Seriously.
The battle begins as Smoke charges Kitana, kicking her hard enough to send her flying slowly backward and on a slightly rising trajectory. Liu intervenes and faces off with Smoke, and Kitana, being a mere woman, instead battles three generic black-clad scrubs. Smoke looks and moves a little like Styx’s Mr. Roboto and various whizzing and whirring sounds are made as he shuffles around. He awkwardly shambles at Liu like a clumsy kid bedecked in an ill-fitted Halloween bed sheet worn over a winter coat with the eye-holes cut in the wrong place.
"Fighting" follows, with some mighty scrawny beats playing over the soundtrack, lots of slow-motion tumbling and falling, unrealistic Roadhouse-esque beatings, and whooshing sounds to convince us how kinetic all this action is in spite of the evidence before our eyes. Kitana pulls out a couple of stupid-looking, wavy-bladed…things…which have magic powers that make them "clang!" loudly when they come into contact with flesh and to disable her foes with nary a mark on them. Oh, and they also spread out into fans at the last moment, just to make sure the audience won’t complain about the lack of game references.
Meanwhile, Smoke gets some distance on Liu and prepares a small rocket in its chest, accompanied by some inexplicable Power Rangers gesticulations. The rocket gets fired, and Liu dodges by springing and somersaulting backward off of a lump of metal, thereby propelling himself upward about twelve feet, all while shrieking a rather girlie-sounding "YAAAAAAAHHH!!!" The effects here are pretty good, as the wrist-thick cables obviously being used to yank Liu up into the air are completely invisible. Smoke’s missile goes on to blow up a stone bridge leading to the surface, magically igniting the whole thing at once, and somehow also causing the ground around the support pillars to explode as well. Atomic grenade!
After a bit more pummeling, Smoke is standing across from Liu and Kitana, and readies another rocket. Just in time, a blue-clad masked ninja guy comes sliding down a mostly-horizontal shaft of ice, hanging upside down with his legs wrapped around it in what must be a very uncomfortable position, spraying Smoke with his freezing magic and turning it into paper-mache. Our heroes are surprised enough by the ninja’s arrival that they almost forget about Smoke’s unfired missile. Luckily Liu is on the ball enough to kick the robot square in the chest, right where the missile is actually. Instead of Liu’s leg being disintegrated in an explosion, Smoke gets knocked over a ledge and blows himself up.
The blue ninja takes his mask off, revealing a rather mundane fellow with a fashionable movie scar down half his face, and introduces himself as the kid brother of Sub-Zero, the magic ice ninja Liu killed in Mortal Kombat I: It Was Better. At least he’ll surely be the last of the Sub-Zero family, the way he had his legs clinched around that ice shaft. He says he’s there to help Kitana, as some legend says that she’ll be able to stop all this. Exactly where one picks up these legends, and why she’s the key to this, well…don’t ask. As for finding her, it somehow turns out that Smoke has been chasing the kid brother (who in fact is also called Sub-Zero) until recently when he was reprogrammed to go after Kitana, and Sub-Zero somehow realized this and simply followed the robot. Kitana suggests that he help them with his powers. Sub-Zero Jr. then recreates the destroyed bridge with his ice magic.
Did you think it would be over that easy? That whizzing and whirring sound you heard earlier wasn’t just Smoke; it was also the Plot-O-Matic3000 warming up again, because in a "surprise" twist, the undead masked ninja Scorpion appears to do battle! This despite being blown to smithereens in our previous installment by the late Johnny Cage and with no hint or suggestion that he would ever resurface. How can this be? Well, according to the "Kombatants" biography feature on the DVD, this Scorpion guy is unkillable and will always come back after being destroyed. You know, movies can make their own rules, but when they break them past a certain point like this, the audience eventually gets annoyed. Also, his little dossier thingie says he’s a freelancer (an undead, unkillable ninja working for money?), and not on Khan’s side, despite the fact he’ll deliver Kitana to Khan here in a moment. Ah, unsupported and inconsistent character motivations—Jabootu’s footprints in the sand on the Great Beach of Bad Movies.
With a hearty copyrighted "Get over here!" Scorpion launches two of his little eel-harpoons from his hand, which Sub-Zero Jr. give the slip with an ice-clone thing. He and Scorpion then have it out in an uninspired kung-fu battle on the fragile ice bridge. This goes on for about a minute, the only interesting features being some very obvious physics-defying wirework toward the end, Sub-Zero’s hair looking like it’s been shrink-wrapped in certain shots, and Liu’s and Kitana’s utter inability to help in any way.
Only when Whata-Zero Jr. is hanging by his fingertips over the cavernous abyss does Liu jump in to help. Scorpion then melts away and reappears behind Kitana once Liu’s gotten Total-Zero Jr. back on his feet. The plot dictates that a female needs to be captured at this point, so Kitana—who has kicked butt thus far, culminating in decking the three chumps who jumped her earlier in this scene—apparently goes into Helpless Girl Mode. While she’s paralyzed by her abundance of X-chromosomes, Scorpion finds it easy to grab her from behind and dimension-sucks away like Shao Khan did earlier, leaving a resonating "Suckers!" echoing off the wall—a sound not unlike that which kids heard after watching this in the theatre. Sub-Zero Jr. warns Liu against going after her before completing his "training" and then impossibly vanishes once he’s momentarily off-camera. Oh, this is so dumb.
Rayden drops off Sonya at some unmanned gub’ment facility, with a weird purply vortex overhead. Actually, from the outside, the "facility" sort of looks like an abandoned insecticide factory. We can only assume that Rayden learned Jax was here by means of his selective omniscience, since the last anybody saw Jax he was in Hong Kong, practically beside Sonya right up until she got drafted into Mortal Kombat. Rayden also fails to explain why this place has been abandoned, and since Sonya doesn’t ask, we never find out. On top of all that, nobody even bothers to mention the connection between Sonya and Jax, ignoring anybody new to the series. These screenwriters couldn’t plot their way out of a wet paper bag.
Sonya easily accesses the facility and somehow knows how to get straight to Jax, who is just now recovering from some gub’ment super-duperdy experimental surgery. What amazing coincidence! He’s in a room that looks like a ‘90s version of the science laboratory that was the centerpiece of Exorcist II. This is especially silly since you’d think whoever previously occupied and fled the facility would have taken great pains to bring the subject of their (presumably super-expensive and super-secret) super-experiment with them. Sonya and Jax greet each other, and she pulls away his covers to reveal…his new super-duper mecha-arms that Jax identifies as "cybernetic strength enhancers" which "take what you’ve got and quadruple the muscle." Whatever.
Somehow, Sonya’s aware that the facility is about to be attacked, just as we see more flaming warriors fall from the sky outside. Jax wonders where everybody else in the facility went. So do I, actually, since they surely had guns that would have rendered them virtually impervious to an assault by a bunch of hand-to-hand fighters.
Sonya: "Everybody split! The whole facility is going to be trashed by an extermination squad."
Jax: "An extermination squad? What do you mean ‘extermination squad’?"
Gee, I don’t know Jax. Maybe she means a truckload ofOrkin Men are about to show up.
OK, this is the first scene that highlights a rip in the fabric of logic that will slowly grow like a black hole and, in my opinion, eventually will suck this movie in on itself like Jupiter at the end of 2010. Namely—where is everybody? Where are the guards of this facility? Where are the Marines? Khan’s army consists of ninja types with nary a gun among them. One soldier with an AK-47 and a case of ammo and this movie is over pronto. This problem just grows and grows as the movie goes on.
But meanwhile, back at the oasis, Jax busts himself free from his restraints, exhibiting his delight in stereotypical street-black fashion ("now that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!").
[Editor Ken: I lamented earlier that the sequel doesn't just replace the actors playing many of the major roles, which is obnoxious in itself, but in Rayden's case completely alters his personality as well. This also holds true for Jax, although he was but briefly seen in the first movie. As Sonya's more level-headed partner, he spoke and acted like, you know, a highly trained and well educated tactical police officer. All in all, he calls to mind the equally proficient and erudite spy played on TV's Alias by Carl Lumbly. The original actor also seems to be a good fifteen years older than his replacement, a former football played by the name of Lynn Williams. Mr. Williams main claim to show biz fame prior to his appearance here was a five year stint as 'Sabre' on the proto-reality series American Gladiators.]
Jax is up just in time, as the doors burst open to reveal another robo-warrior. This one’s colored yellow, and seems strangely cheesier-looking than the previous one—sort of like a school bus yellow version of the imperial bikers in Return of the Jedi. Another robot? Is fighting faceless, seemingly-interchangeable robots a hallmark of the game? Snore.
This robot’s special gizmo is to launch a couple of self-propelled little floating spiked CGI balls, which then attach themselves to the corridor walls and explode, cracking lots of glass and setting things on fire. Wouldn’t it be better to actually kill the target itself instead of beating around the bush? Oh well. I guess the evil robot knows more about killing people and breaking things than I do. The DVD "Kombatants" features named this sunflower yellow goon "Cyrax" (yet another name never mentioned within the movie itself).
First, there’s a Terminator rip-off sequence where Cyrax the Techno-Ninja assumes a tough guy stance in the flaming doorway with his arms akimbo—which makes him look like one of those tough guy wannabes in the gym who bow their arms out to look buff when the girls walk by but instead look like their deodorant didn’t dry. But he doesn’t look tough at all. He looks like a prissy goober in a canary yellow dorksuit.
Cyrax is talkier than Smoke, and does a little boasting: "Death is the only way out!" Cyrax then stalks closer and proceeds to shatter every single pane of glass surrounding the little surgery room with one whoosh of its arm while Sonya and Jax hit the deck in a hilariously brainless slow-motion scene. Of course, there’s the dilemma of two good guys and one bad guy, so to prevent the problem of having people like me complain that one good guy is just standing around while the other good guy does the fighting, the Plot-O-Matic introduces four faceless Benchwarmers-in-Black through another door so as to keep everybody busy. Thanks. This movie has more scrubs than an emergency room. But, of course, this means the scrubs must still stand around, attacking one at a time. Naturally, Jax the black man offers to take on "home boy" while Sonya the teensy white girl battles the extras.
More kung-fu to over-processed technobleats plays out (but with lots less slow-motion than before), with Jax getting momentarily beat down, leaving Home Boy Ninja to menace Sonya. He deploys his second weapon, a bunch of little green-glowy globule things that envelop a target and slowly dissolve the fleshy matter off of it. This is handily demonstrated when Cyrax’s first attack somehow misses Sonya and works its magic on a random red…er…blackshirt whom the Plot-O-Matic shoves into harm’s way.
Alrighty, fasten your seat belt. The next two minutes showcase one stunningly stupid bit after another. In a way, there’s a sort of malign craftsmanship at work here because it must be nearly impossible to suck this bad without hurting yourself. If idiocy were a July 4th fireworks display, this would be the final flourish.
First, Jax gets back into the game, and I start to realize the gimmick used by this fight—not slow-motion like before, but lots of attacking the camera, which I can’t imagine doing while keeping a straight face. Anyway, in an incredibly stupid sequence, Jax gets his robofist embedded elbow-deep into a handy breakaway section of the plaster wall and momentarily becomes stuck, and Sonya—dispatching her foes right on cue—comes to help. Now wait a minute. How can this happen? This guy can punch through anything but gets his arm stuck in sheetrock?! They get Jax’s arm out just in time for it to intercept another salvo of disintegration globules that wraps around the metal covering (somehow leaving the rest of him unhurt). He then shakes the globules down on the ground. Meanwhile, Cyrax’s little weapon door closes dramatically…cluing us all in that he’s somehow decided not to use that weapon again. And this means…? What?
I guess it’s the signal for Sonya to launch herself off of Jax and over Cyrax, and in defiance of all the physics I ever learned, throw the fully-metal armored robot back a good dozen feet and into some pipes. The wire work here makes me think I’m watching American Gladiators. The pipes begin spewing out steam that magically causes some powder we saw spilled earlier to catch fire. Sonya gets a bright idea and blows a handful of the stuff at Cyrax, roasting him with a superimposed fireball effect, and something akin to the generations-old over-exposure effect to illustrate Cyrax getting superheated. As they inspect their disabled foe, a little mark on its back comes to life in the form of a little itty-bitty CGI dragon that squawks at the audience then vanishes in a flash. By an incredible coincidence, this mark just happens to be covering up the part of Cyrax’s innards that tracks a countdown with little blinking lights. (Credit Where It’s Due™: At least it’s not a counting-down LED—you know, the bomb timers that all the Bond villains get wholesale down at BombCo or Blam’s Club?). Sonya and Jax look at each other. OMG! He’s going to blow up! (*yawn*) But don’t worry, because Jax and Sonya use one of those handy "offscreen teleporters" to magically appear outside, running toward the camera in slow motion with a blue screen behind them. They manage to throw themselves to the ground just in time for a cheesy fireball effect on the blue screen to go off.
Back in Outworld’s Hillshire Farm, Khan’s "Generals" bicker with each other until Shao Khan appears and demands a report. Four baddies are present. Motaro the Centaur, Sheeva the multi-armed woman, Sindel, Kitana’s mother, who preens for the camera like a prostitute happy to be on an episode of COPS, and one of the faceless ninja-type ciphers from the beginning, the one in the blue-black costume. The blue-black ninja reports that his forces have eliminated two of Earth’s best warriors, Kabaal and Stryker, whoever they are. Anybody know? Khan asks if he made them beg for their lives first, but the ninja begins to stammer something to the contrary. Khan then takes a massive hammer and whacks the cracked dragon symbol of Mortal Kombat in the center of the chamber, making blue flames shoot out of it.
"I have no use for excuses! Rain, this will never happen again."
"It will never happen again," wimpy blue-black ninja agrees, reciting the epitaph of many an evil movie henchman. Khan then whacks him with the hammer and sends him into a flaming pit. Wait a minute. Khan killed him because he didn’t make these two unknowns he killed offscreen beg for their lives? Is that what I’m to swallow here? In spite of the fact that General Black N’ Blue Ninja had more kills to his credit than anybody else at this point, Khan included? Khan’s leadership here makes McClellan look like Lee.
The remainders then jockey for position to take the fallen warrior’s place. Khan nominates snidely Sindel to be his "General Queen" as Rain’s replacement, judging the others as far too impetuous. Now there’s a judge of character.
Now we cut to Liu stumbling around in the bright sunshine of what looks like Monument Valley, home of Buick ads and Marine wannabes climbing buttes during football games. (Although the credits say this portion was filmed in Jordan.) Liu looks lost, tired and—like me at this point—in need of a drink. Guess he didn’t think to pack in any water. At least Sub-Zero Jr. could have stuck around to provide some refreshments. Next scene: night apparently has fallen, and the wandering Liu—channeling the great Shaggy—easily gets spooked when he hears vague growling noises and stumbles over some animal bones before finding himself in an Old Indian Burial Ground™. Moments later, Liu is attacked by a wolf, realized with Liu wrestling with the camera in slow motion. Eventually he throws the camera off, and the wolf clumsily morphs first into a guy with a bad wolf mask, and then into an Indian clad rather like a biker. We know he’s an Indian because he has red face paint that makes him look like a Mexican wrestler you might see while bathoscoping through deep cable at 2:30 am. He also has a big feather in his headband, like Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians.
Still snarling, he asks, "Pretty cool, huh?"
Well, no. It’s pretty lame, actually.
"It’s my animality," he continues. Your what?
When Liu asks who he is, rather than being helpful and providing a name, the biker American Indian comes back with "wouldn’t you like to know" Which Liu obviously does, or else he wouldn’t have asked. But maybe I can work it out for him. Let’s see, it’s night and this guy just morphed from a wolf. Night. Wolf. Nightwolf. Hey!
After some antagonistic banter, the "mystery" figure reveals that he somehow knows Kitana was captured (these mystical warriors must all have each others’ cell numbers), and that Liu Kang must undergo three tests to take down Khan. In the ‘Kombatants’ feature on the DVD, Nightwolf (whoops, did I give that away? Sorry.) is described as "streetwise." Not if he lives out here, he ain’t.
One of the tests is a test of courage to find his animality. In order to do this, he must do what must always be done in order for American Indians to ever do anything according to the movies—enter a dream state. Nightwolf offers to do that "the fast or slow way." Naturally, Liu, who’s in a bit of a time crunch, wants the fast way, cueing Nightwolf to take his glowing green magic tomahawk (because he’s a super-Indian, naturally) and sling it at Liu, whacking him with the backside of the tomahawk head and knocking him out. You know, head injuries that knock people out are really one of the most removed-from-reality plot devices in Hollywood. He’s lucky he didn’t kill Liu. Way to get caught off-guard, kung-fu master. Hey Nightwolf, got any of those tomahawks for me?
"Sweet dreams, Liu Kang," accompanied by a couple of quick tambourine and tom-tom beats. Because he’s Indian, you see. Do you get it yet?
Aw yes, our first chance to critique an Indian Dream Sequence Test as Nun of Jabootu. We’ve been looking forward to this for some time. First, Kitana comes walking toward him out of the clouds with her hair down and clad in some flimsy wrap. Liu then has some bad dreams of Kitana trash-talking him and Shang Tsung from the previous movie snarling and killing his brother. Oh, the pathos! Overlaid atop all of this is a stream of jabbering from Nightwolf about "flames from within" and so on. There’s a shot of Khan bellowing "You will FAIL!!!" and finally Nightwolf telling him to find his "animality," a word echoing in his mind and sounding goofier with each repetition. Liu then has some more flashbacks of his fights earlier in the movie—ah, flashbacks of previous footage, the budget director’s friend.
Then we see Liu’s face undergo a Hulk-ish transformation, turning all green and scaly and his eyes getting all serpentine. I guess his inner animal is a dragon or something. Lucky him: this movie would be even lamer if he found out his animality was a banana slug or a manatee. The music crescendos and the flashback scenes come faster and faster and then…
…poof! Liu awakens in a blue-for-night shot, with some light snow, then braces himself up to see a barely-clothed Asian woman. She names herself Jade, then proceeds to paw all over Liu, licking his fingers (!) and claiming she’s been searching the mesa for him. (How did she know he was here? Oh, never mind.) Jade starts murmuring a lot of nonsense, saying something about how her greatest fear is to die alone.
That’s surprising to me. Judging by her appearance in this celluloid claptrap, I thought her greatest fear was standing in the unemployment line.
She more or less throws herself at him, stripping down to a two piece that attempts to make her look like an Asian Pocahontas-wannabe in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. Oh, this is bad. He "gives in" to this wanton strumpet for just a few seconds, wrapping his shaking hands around her, before nobly rejecting her advances because "his heart belongs to another." Oh really? Haven’t seen much evidence of that. A wedding ring? Any dialogue describing a loved one? Nada. Must be referring to yet another plot element from the last movie. Anyway, apparently upset by this, she transforms into a sort of blue movie-ninja outfit, then attacks him with a spear.
She mops the floor with him for about thirty seconds, but he eventually gets the better of her and ends up laying on top of her, his groin planted firmly between her legs (subtext alert!). She laughs like a vixen and announces he’s passed one of his tests, a notion that justifiably angers Liu if these "tests" mean getting jerked around like this. Believing he’s got another test to go, he refuses to leave yet for the temple of the Elder Gods, where everyone was supposed to hook up later once enough time has been wasted on the opening side plots, but Jade talks him out of it by promising to help him rescue Kitana. They skedaddle together.
Alright, it’s digression time. I’ve always felt there wasn’t enough responsibility in Indian Dream Sequence Test Taking. I mean, any old American Indian Movie Guru can give an Indian Dream Sequence Test, but do they earn their pay and actually grade them? Did Steven Seagal get a grade card in On Deadly Ground? I think not. Right, it’s time for some accountability here—if we have to sit here and watch these moronic ‘tests’ then they ought to be graded. Specifically, three tests were to be passed, and we think only two were. Nightwolf said the first was to be "courage" and Liu would pass if he found his animality. The examination that was thrown at him was a montage of reheated footage and he only managed to grow some scales and make his eyes look reptilian. Pretty mediocre if you ask me. What kind of Indian Vision doesn’t have ancestor spirits or talking animals or some such? Sheesh, even Homer Simpson had a wolf counsel him when he was strung out on hallucinogenic peppers.
Now, the next test was unnamed, but I think it was the ancient "be true to your betrothed" test. Liu did get a little groping in and then proceeded to get worked over pretty good in the subsequent scrap, but I think he did alright. Patrick feels I’m going easy on him—he thought Liu indulged himself a bit before resisting, and thus dishonorably tries to make out with a strange girl in the desert and be Nobly Monogamous at the same time:
The next test wasn’t even administered. Liu ran off the set with Jade.
Well, it looks to me that Liu didn’t get the job done. We never do see the third test, either. I guess school’s out.
Back to the movie and Kubla Khan’s not-so-stately pleasure dome, wherein our villainous baloney loaf is keeping the heroine Kitana in a cage hanging within your typical dungeon room. He comes in, flanked by guards and in a stilted bit, he attempts to be gracious and offers the woman a drink through the bars, without any sneering, boasting, or other trace of villainous behavior. She heroically spits it out at him. That’ll show ‘em. They air some dirty laundry about who killed whose family, before Khan gets tough again and storms out after saying that a live Kitana will bring the heroes to him instead of a dead Kitana. Really? Why doesn’t he kill her now and make Liu and friends think she’s still alive?
Jax and Sonya are wandering out in what looks like a huge abandoned gravel pit. Jax complains that there are no trees, nothing. Sonya looks around and sadly says, "Nature’s dying." No, you’re just filming in a big gravel pit. Sonya’s also apparently been doing a half-assed job of explaining the situation to him, saying just enough stuff to make Jax ask a lot of questions, and then refusing to explain herself. Their exchange could easily be seen as an exchange between the audience and the screenwriters:
"You know Sonya, you keep talking about mergers and realms, but it don’t mean squat to me!"
"I can’t explain it. The merger [of Earth and Outworld] is close. We’ve only got a few days left. Use your imagination!"
"Use my imagination!? If I’m going to die today, at least tell me why?"
"Nobody told me why Johnny had to die."
(Hey dearheart, I can tell you why—it was in the script)
"Who the Hell is Johnny?"
Good question, Jax. Sonya then decides to throw a snit and declares that she can’t count on anyone but herself. There’s some more "meaningful" dialogue that’s supposed to highlight Sonya’s supposed sorry mental state, but it all comes off as ponderous japery.
Jax is understandably peeved at this and lets her know it. Sonya responds by throwing a juvenile "you don’t understand me!" hissy-fit and runs ahead of Jax, separating them. Meanwhile, more ominous horned statues are seen. This is evidently grim stuff for Sonya, remember, what with that ridiculous and incomprehensible Johnny memorial and all. Look Ma! No sympathy!
In an instant, a pink-clad ninja woman with a pair of sais attacks her. For a moment, she’s mistaken for Kitana, then right on schedule another fight starts over what sounds like the Megadeth track listed in the music credits. More somersaulting, more loud "clang!" noises over the power chords as the mystery fighter’s sais dig into the soft earth. Being the main "chick fight" of the movie, with one in tight pink leather and the other in a loose tank top, it seems only natural that they happen to be fighting in a mud pit. Hubba hubba. And yes, the two kombatants proceed to slather each other with it as they roll around in the muck and pull one another’s hair, thanks for asking.
Eventually the pink ninja is put down, (complete with a dragon tattoo on her shoulder coming to life, screeching at the audience, then disappearing in a flash). And we never find out who she was or why she was here or anything. I had to figure out her name using the quotes section over at the Internet Movie Database. She’s somebody named Milena, played by stuntwoman (and equestrian!) Dana Hee.
Hang on though, because something asinine this way comes. Of course, no fight in this movie comes one at a time, and now the horned statue that spooked Sonya earlier comes to life, turning into some mammoth cartoon reptilian…thing…which comes at Sonya. It’s about sixteen feet tall or so, moves fast as lightning, and is armed with claws and more sharp teeth than a great white and raptor combined.
But—never fear—Jax finally catches up and begins pummeling the thing—half by aiming at the camera, the other half by punching empty air occupied by the CGI monster superimposed over it. If the special effects weren’t bad enough, the size differential between the monster and Jax is so incongruous that the first thing that sprang to my mind was the Stonehenge scene in This is Spinal Tap. I mean, this looks like Hervé Villechaize taking on Shaquille O’Neal! But, apparently by punching it enough times with his metal arms, Jax causes the beastie to get sucked back into the earth. Then, quick as it came, the scene is over—a Jabootu drive-by shooting.
Jax helps Sonya up and comments that she looks good covered in mud. Nice. They exchange some more buddy banter before more flaming warriors fall from the sky in the distance, then they hustle away.
Cut to Rayden, standing dramatically at the entrance with his back to the camera. I recognize that he is at the ancient city of Petra in Jordon, the Urn Tomb to be exact. Oh, Queen Noor, what’s the deal allowing them to film this dud at Petra? Groan. What’s next…Police Academy 7: Assignment Vatican City? Anyway, Rayden, hearing his cue—"mystical music"—then turns to stride inside, arms slightly out at his sides like his deodorant didn’t dry either. I guess he does this because it’s even more dramatic. He’s come to the Elder Gods to tattle on Shao Khan.
He goes to a dusty chamber with three doorways across a chasm from him. He kneels in prayer, his hands steepled in front of him, brow furrowed—perhaps asking forgiveness for this movie?
He intones, "I’ve come to the Eternal Palace because your sacred rules have been broken."
At this point I was hoping he was praying to St. Orson and St. Alfred, the Patrons of Plot Lucidity and they would rattle off a couple of real reel rules this movie really really broke, like changing many of the characters from the last film, killing a favorite within five minutes of starting this thing, and busting out an Indian Dream Sequence that made Seagal’s cultural pandering look like an educational piece from the BBC.
But, as usual, I’m disappointed for instead he continues, "Shao Khan has invaded the Earth."
That flips some kind of magical switch, for now the chamber is suddenly enveloped with shadows and thousands of candles and swirly colorful winds around him coalescing into three vaguely humanoid-sized apparitions—one each composed of air, fire, and water. Where’s some earth so we can bury this thing?
"As always, Lord Rayden, you are granted three questions."
"Why was this treachery ever allowed?"
Because the last film made money and…
Editor Ken: He wasn’t asking you,Pip.
Oh, sorry. The Gods answer with some folderol about people having the freedom to change their destinies and later question why Rayden cares about mortals at all. In other words, they lay down vaguely arrogant and meddling rules, don’t bother to enforce them, and wrap it up by saying callous stuff about—and making things difficult for—those who take the initiative.
"So you will stand by and watch the ruination of Earth?"
They respond cryptically… (Get it? Urn Tomb of Petra? Cryptic? Ha! I slay me!)…that Kitana has the power to stop Khan’s invasion. Eh, that’s not what he asked. Better they just say "yes" outright, which would be a more accurate answer to Rayden’s inquiry. And besides, Rayden already knew this—he’s the one who gave that little tidbit to our heroes at the beginning of the movie. Maybe Rayden can look into the future to find out answers to questions he hasn’t asked yet, then later has to ask them in order to maintain temporal continuity. That, or else "continuity" was a foreign word to the scriptwriters.
By the way, the voices of the Gods are distorted electronically. I think this was done in an effort to make them sound ‘cool’ but actually they now sound like the electronic voice on a cheap answering machine from the ‘90s—the "wind" god especially.
"How can I be sure Khan’s portals will stay closed until the next tournament?"
By killing Khan, they say. *I* say that if they really want to be certain, just keep making sure this movie tanks at the box office like an M1-Abrams—that’ll keep the portals closed forever. Mission accomplished.
They then demand if he’s willing to give up his immortality to help the humans. Why would this be necessary? Why does it always seem to be necessary in these movies? Who knows? At least they don’t dish out mortality as a "reward" as in Highlander. But, with humanity being so swell and all, Rayden says he would die for us.
Cut back outside. Liu, Jade, Sonya and Jax hook up at the Temple of the Elder Gods, and after Jade surprises Jax with some of that frightenin’ kung fu fightin’, the quartet of clods wind up bickering some more. Oh, and Jax comments on Jade’s legs, wondering if they’re good for anything other than fighting. I guess because she’s tall and decked out in this silly cami-top thing. Sonya wonders how Liu managed to lose Kitana, and he in turn accuses her of leading a horde of goons to their location.
Said horde now appears in the canyon she and Jax arrived through moments before. Jax, despite his heavy use of "street" lingo usually associated with unsophisticated folks, has so far been one of the most reasonable characters in this movie (not like anyone in this picture is a Mensa candidate, but still…). He further demonstrates his relative sensibility by suggesting they argue with each other later and deal with the bad guys now.
The horde arrive, boasting an odd array of warriors, including black-clad ninja types hopping around, some mounted guys covered with metal plates in the manner of disco balls—immediately recognizable as being remarkably similar to the armor worn by the English in Braveheart, foot soldiers with bright red banners, and—by remarkable coincidence—Khan himself in full Skeletor regalia sans the mask along with some of Khan’s higher-ups including Sindel, Mistress of the Dark. All that’s missing are the Flying Wallendas and a dozen clowns packed into a VW. This all is supposed to be imposing, with martial music blaring and scintillating panoramic shots across this vista of faux Visigoths, but, really, it just looks like the carnival is back in town.
It gets even stupider when you realize that none of them have guns. And these are people I’m to understand are taking over the world? One platoon of riflemen and they’re goners. Heck, if our four heroes and heroines had some machine guns to go with all the cover they have, this movie would be over in FIVE seconds. Aren’t Jax and Sonya supposed to have "Special Forces" (or whatever) training? Wouldn’t the super-secret gub’ment lab have some extra guns they could’ve taken? Even *I* have a little SigSauer pistol. I could end this movie.
Meanwhile, Rayden meets our heroes at the temple entrance, garbed now in an outfit even a suburban heterosexual man would easily recognize as a fashion disaster; yellow breeches, leather bracers and boots, and a blue low-cut vest held closed with three buckles in the front. His hair is also now blond and cropped quite short. Rayden now looks like some unfortunate at a Renaissance Faire. He immediately bags on them all, saying he expected to meet real warriors, not arguers. He then gives some more blather about all of them working together like a family, then immediately follows up with "what’s the deal with your arms?" directed at Jax.
"I’ve known you one minute, and you’re dissin’ me already?" You tell him, friend.
"I mean no disrespect," he begins. Fooled me. He then yammers a bit about how Jax’s real weapon is his own faith, his enhancements are his real weakness, blablablah. This is, demonstrably, clearly bollocks. Remember that ridiculous scene with the animated dragon-dinosaur thing in the mud pit? Where Jax put the smack down on it with those arms? The arms that shook off the disintegration ray in the lab? The arms that, according to him, take the muscle you have and quadruple the strength? How could this be bad? Whatever.
Suddenly, the four lead people on horseback come into view (where did all those hordes go?) and Rayden tries to open a portal to Outworld. This involves a lot of arm waving and groaning by Rayden while the other characters exchange worried looks. Someone says that Rayden’s powers are leaving him, a comment meant to heighten the tension, which you can cut with a yawn.
Back to the Riders. We see two of the remaining riders are Sindel and Khan. Khan gives the order to "destroy… (Shatner pause) everything!" and Sindel accommodates him by shrieking at the top of her lungs, causing some kind of shockwave to wash over the cliff façade. After several moments, it starts blowing up like, well, a model of the cliff façade. Khan starts laughing all eeevil-like, very wide-mouthed and forced—Brian Thompson’s dubious acting forte.
Rayden manages to finally squeeze open a portal, and everybody jumps through before the wave of destruction can reach them. Khan is delighted, as this apparently means that our heroes have somehow fallen into some kind of magnificent and cunning trap. You’d think he would prefer killing them outright rather then leading them into an elaborate setup, but I guess that kind of mundane thinking is why I’m not an inter-dimensional warlord. What an idiot.
Our zeros find themselves in Outworld where signs of the merging worlds continues, as our heroes take note of a suspension bridge—I’m guessing the Golden Gate—nearby with cars still on it, all seemingly petrified like it’s a model…or a painting. Where, exactly, are all the people? Did they even bother trying to explain this? Oh, this is just so stupid. How would those ninja wannabes stand up to the 1st Marine Division?
After some more pontificating, Rayden insists they must go straight to Khan’s place, but Sonya and Jax, expert soldiers that they are, decide that’s a bad idea, and so Jade offers to show them a secret passage… hmmm. Liu trusts her immediately. You know, Liu puts the "liu" in "liuser."
Cut to Shinnock and Khan where we get more father/son banter and arguing cosmic matters and the Elder Gods and so on that goes on and on with all the rational deliberation and politeness of a Usenet debate on abortion. Oh, and Khan taunts Kitana who is still in the cage wherein she spends most of the movie. Finally, a role she can wrap her thespian legs around.
Cut back to the intruding imbeciles. Sindel ambushes our heroes with three stealth ninjas, sort of like clones of Reptile from the first movie, assuming that whomever thought of this scene hadn’t actually seen the first movie. Rayden sends the others off while he takes on Sindel and her boys. A bunch more slow-motion somersaulting and twirling takes place, with an occasional punch or kick.
Check out the ninja who plays peek-a-boo with Rayden from behind a stone column. I dare you to watch that and not laugh. Also enjoy the part where Rayden and the last of the Reptiles stand in place and throw a series of spinning kicks at each other, but neither is anywhere near close enough to connect. It’s like a tumbling or floorwork portion of a cheerleader drill. If either of them wasn’t so caught up with their twirling, they could have stepped in and actually hit one another.
Once Rayden’s done, he returns to find Sindel knocked out. Jade takes credit and gets a proverbial thumbs-up from Jax. From the look on Rayden’s face, he’s not so certain. Dun-dun-Dunnnnnn!
Cut to Shao Khan giving a fiercely-enunciated pep talk to his hordes as the Eiffel Tower looms in the distance. Daddy looks on, generally unimpressed with his son’s apparent conquest of the French. There are too many jokes here for me to choose from, so just insert your own.
Liu, who apparently teleported immediately to Khan’s Palace of Eeevil—you know the routine: spikes and flames and chains and all—and almost immediately finds Kitana asleep in her cage. After a few long, quiet moments where Liu looks around and sees nobody guarding Kitana, he is immediately assaulted by a darkness-shrouded, blade-armed figure swinging on a chain, much to nobody’s surprise.
"It’s a trap, Liu."
Heavens to Betsy! Really? Thanks Kitana.
After a couple more passes, the assailant reveals himself as a guy in a tunic, pants and a really bad Halloween mask. And I mean bad. Like someone just slapped on a comically oversized plain latex mask of a pale yellow lizardlike face with a bunch of protruding needle teeth. Trick or treat! I got a rock.
He swings back down with his blade arms, and another fight starts. The two kick and slice, with Liu eventually incapacitating him, but not before a hilarious bit where the bad guy pins Liu to the floor and tries to strangle him…with the razor-sharp blades on his hands. Guess they aren’t so razor-sharp, eh? Waiting until the masked man is down, a couple of the guy’s buddies show up right on cue. Ultimately this comes down to the hero not being a good fighter, but the bad guys are even worse. Liu bests them, then the masked guy reappears and he and Liu duke it out on top of the cage. Eventually, the toothy fellow gets knocked into a fire pit. You know the kind, the ones that flare up whenever something falls in, just so we can be sure it’s full of fire? Liu frees Kitana, but just as they are about to get away, Sheeva, the four-armed woman "General" in a silly red rubber leotard, breaks in. Of course, a fight with a four-armed woman would require some real skillful editing, effects, and direction, so instead, Liu saves the post-production people a bunch of trouble and merely squishes her by dropping Kitana’s cage on her.
By the way, needle-tooth guy is named Baraka. I had to go to a game fansite to dig up that info. Stupid movie.
Kitana is reunited with her unconscious mother, who quickly awakens on cue. Of course, we have a half hour left, so it won’t be that easy. Snidely Sindel is still on the dark side, and attacks Rayden with a lash of her hair. I hope this hair attack is cooler in the game than it looks here because it just looks really stupid. Jade now reveals her dark side as well (duh) and announces that the legends regarding Sindel’s significance were false. Bringing Sindel and Kitana together would do nothing, except lure our louts to Outworld and their doom. (Why not wait until the realms merge? Oh, nevermind.)
"It was soooo easy," declares Jade. The tall woman who plays Jade, 6’0" Irina Panteava, is a really bad actress. Let’s see…a little googling…yup, she’s a supermodel—or at least described as one. That explains it.
Anyway, its time for Sindel to make an exit. While Sindel teleports away by virtue of twirling in place and Peter Panning out through the roof in a sparkly blaze, Jade slips out. Once again everyone’s pretty upset about the latest turn of events and proceeds to chew out Rayden, who himself is rather baffled as to why the Elder Gods would lie to him. Remember? The Elder Gods mentioned that Kitana was the key to closing Khan’s portals? I just mention it here again since the plot is so disjointed I sure didn’t get what was up the first time.
Here we get a little bit of pointless character development—Sonya notices underneath an oh-so-conveniently placed rending of Rayden’s tunic a dragon-like tattoo on his shoulder. She and Jax note that they saw something just like it on the pink ninja and the yellow robot. (I suddenly feeling like I’m describing a trip through a PG-13 version of the game Candyland.) Rayden confesses it’s a family crest (on a robot?) which allows safe passage through a portal, and that the ones that flew away were temporary passes. Seems the sign is a crest of an Elder God, whom Rayden’s the son of. Everyone seems a bit upset that he didn’t mention this sooner, though I fail to see what difference it makes. And you know where all this is leading, right? Yes, that’s right, it’s time for that grandpappy of all movie clichés, that Pythagorean Theorem of movie formula, to rear up like a nightmare—Rayden and Khan are brothers. Oh brother.
Meanwhile, Khan’s smacking Jade around, angry with her for letting the heroes flee their ambush, but Sindel speaks up for her. It’s not good enough though, as Khan holds the woman off the floor by her throat and allows some CGI dragon-thing, looking like the earlier cartoon beast that Jax thumped, to erupt from a fresco on the wall and gobble her up. Khan then goes on to threaten Sindel before stomping out. The Centaur thing, Motaro, seems to think this will be a marvelous opportunity to usurp Sindel’s position at Khan’s right hand, apparently lacking the faculties to put together simple linear association: people entrusted with high-profile assignments from Shao Khan tend to have short life spans.
Back to brother Rayden, busy giving another of his half-baked, Yoda-like pep talks before reminding them that the fate of all lies in their hands alone. Or more specifically, Liu. As they advance on Khan’s place, they see more signs of merging—look in one direction of the sound stage and there’s the Eiffel tower, in another direction is a painting of lower Manhattan, the World Trade Towers prominently displayed, and in a third direction is the temple of the Order of Light, Liu’s Angkor Wat-like home. All three ersatz vistas are lined up like vacation showcases in The Price is Right.
The champions arrive quite quickly, finding Khan and his three remaining baddies—what happened to everybody else?—on the front stoop. Three baddies? Yes, there’s some scrub in another of those ninja suits, this one black and red. We last saw him way back at the beginning. Convenient that we have four heroes and four villains remaining, huh? Well, plus Rayden too, but he’s backed out of this with all his "only you" garbage. As they say, the morgue, the merrier.
Rayden tries to make one last appeal to his brother and daddy—Shinnock has popped up conveniently. They try to woo him over but he declines, earning him a green blast to the chest from Khan, knocking him off a crumbled wall a good two dozen feet. For the now-mortal Rayden, this is a bad thing. In a longish sequence, all the good guys gather around him while he bleats out some parting "win one for the Gipper" bilge before cashing in his chips. Of course, the bad guys stand around and let this go on. Rayden gives us one more cliché from beyond—in death he becomes the Can-O-Spinach character whose demise inspires the rest of the good guys to Great Deeds.
The fight commences, with each villain and hero already having established their match-ups, thanks to a series of cuts where the good guys pick their targets. Centaur takes on Jax: "Mr. Ed is mine." Sonya and the red-and-black ninja face off, Sindel and Kitana air out their family issues like Jerry Springer Show guests minus the bouncers, and of course, Liu and Khan are the star attractions.
You know how these thing go—the hero takes a licking but comes back to prevail. The centaur Motaro starts whacking Jax with his prehensile tail, usually rendered in CGI, but replaced with a prop gently nudged against Jax when he actually gets hit.
Sonya throws a couple of spinning kicks at RBN, but after he ducks both of them, she fakes winding up for a third. When red-black ninja drops prematurely, she punches him straight in the face instead. Not bad.
Khan menacingly cracks his neck, of course. He also somersaults into action. Later, Shao Khan after removes his cape before the final battle, it reappears briefly during the fight before disappearing again.
Khan and Liu take up most of the action, but the first several cuts bring us to Jax and Motaro. Jax takes a thumping and gets thrown around. He reveals another power of his arms—the ability to thump the ground and send out a shock wave. The centaur manages to rip off one of Jax’s strength enhancers and taunts him for his fleshy weakness. From the look on Jax’s face, it is possible he doubts himself? Duh.
Cutting to the other fighters, ninja scrub shows off his gimmick, shooting goopy CGI tentacles from his chest that disconnect and congeal to form, not a clone, but a differently-colored masked ninja. Yes, yet another one! I believe this makes a grand total of six different colors of masked ninja, three colors of ninja girls, and two robo-ninjas.
Jax decides to tear off his other arm thingy in despair, as we see the other heroes getting beaten down pretty thoroughly. Sonya in particular is getting ping-ponged backed and forth by kicks to the head by the two ninjas. So obvious are the kicks’ lethality in real life that this fight has the feel of a Tom & Jerry cartoon.
But just in time (really!), Sonya calls out for help from Jax, and he rallies, along with everyone else. He gives Motaro a couple of good shots to his abdomen when he rears up, and finally pummels him senseless. I don’t know if it’s bad costuming or bad CGI, but I swear it looks like Motaro’s front legs are just baggy pants. Jax then goes on to help Sonya take on her pair of assailants, giving Sonya a chance to use some leg-twisting neck-breaking maneuver, a variation of a favorite from the first movie (and the original games, of course). Seems they’re a team again, what with Jax having his self-confidence back, and Sonya trusting someone enough to scream for help.
Kitana also deals with her mom. Actually, we’ve been seeing this on and off through the other fights, but frankly, this one is the least interesting bout.
Khan has Liu on the ropes and taunts him further, triggering the hulk transformation we started to see before back in the desert. Liu then changes into a ten-foot high winged dragon using some of the weirdest, wobbliest morphing effects I’ve seen in a good, long time. It also really doesn’t help that the dragon appears to be animated using 100% claymation. Khan returns the favor by becoming a hydra. At this point I began experiencing flashbacks to Clash of the Titans, as everybody stops to watch the two wobbly clay beasts lash at each other for a minute before each falls off a wall and they change back to sapien form.
When Liu sees Khan bleeding, he teases him over how he’s bleeding like a mortal. Khan demands to know how this is, and Papa Khan, standing by idly, coldly reminds him there was a price for defying the Elder Gods. (Ever notice it’s always "Elder" Gods? Where are the Younger Gods?) He then threatens to finish all this himself, but just in time (again!) the fire and water Elder Gods appear in humanoid form and restrain him. Where’s the wind god? Did he not feel like showing up? Was dad the wind one? Is that how the Elder Gods could have lied, but then, didn’t Rayden know all along his dad was in on this? Especially since he knew Khan was getting help and that they were both sons of an Elder God? Aaaagh!
Anyway, THE GODS decree this must end the way it should, by Mortal Kombat! Never mind that the results of the previous movie’s Mortal Kombat competition should have secured Earth’s safety, except that the Elder Gods totally whiffed on enforcing their own rules. The next fight lasts about two or three minutes, with Liu busting a couple of impressive moves, but the heavy application of slow-mo ruins it somewhat. After a bit of this, it’s somehow decided that Khan’s lost, despite his continued willingness and ability to fight. The tattoo on Khan’s back starts tearing free, while dad suddenly finds himself trapped in a series of glass panes which then fold themselves into nonexistence. Khan’s tattoo pulls itself into a full-sized dragon that, like the others before, shrieks at the audience and whirls away.
And just like that, everything’s back to normal. Earth is restored, and Liu and pals are right there. Oh, and Sindel’s not evil anymore. And hey, the water and fire gods bring back Rayden. Shinnock’s name is finally mentioned, but without the DVD you’d have a real fun time trying to figure out which of the many unnamed characters in this movie they’re referring to. Rayden’s offered a chance to become an Elder God with them. He gives our heroes parting words about camaraderie and friendship and snore, and then disappears in wavy smoke. Suddenly, we see the cracked Mortal Kombat emblem from the beginning is repaired, and the credits roll.
"Does any man know where the Love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"
Replace "waves" with "movie" and Gordon Lightfoot could have been describing this shipwreck.
Even with such a potentially stillborn genre as video game movies you have a certain level of
expectations. Character development is going to be minimal, but you look for bad guys with reasonable motivations and you want people to act in a vaguely rational manner. So, for example, while we know that Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft isn’t going to visit her cancer-stricken sister two weeks after having an affair with her sister’s husband, we hope that she won’t be left in some "certain" death trap while the bad guy goes out for a cigarette.
In fact, let’s briefly compare MK:A with Tomb Raider. In Tomb Raider, Lara Croft—played by Angelina Jolie (and Angelina Jolie’s chest-enhancing hydrobra that went uncredited)—is a British aristocrat who spends her time engaging in lengthy aerobic sessions, weapons maintenance, and archeological pursuits. She’s out to nab an ancient time-machine gizmo before the bad guys (played by Ian Glen, Daniel Craig, and a bunch of faceless target dummies) get it. This McGuffin is broken up in two parts and has to be put back together—but only during a planetary alignment phase that won’t occur again for another 5,000 years; making a standard car warranty look good in comparison. That’s pretty much it. So far this is standard action movie fare.
Yeah, it’s a paean to the implausible, but even putting aside basic questions—like "How come an ancient time-traveling culture can’t make a decent safety deposit box?"—it’s still not that bad a movie considering its target audience. Jolie does a creditable job as Croft. She does a lot of running and jumping and looks really cool firing twin pistols at various things that need to be shot. It’s not too hard to imagine her as an adrenaline-junkie with a strong desire to be reunited with her father (Jon Voight). And it is pleasing to note that Tomb Raider does violate one hard core action movie rule for female characters: Lara Croft never once runs in heels.
Now compare this against MK:A for a lesson in What Went Wrong. Here we have a movie that looks like it skips through time and space rather than flows through it. The script was written and re-written by a horde of people and it shows. What’s really unforgivable is that the same boneheaded mentality applied to the video game movie genre as a whole is applied in MK:A to its only possible strong point—the fight scenes. The camera is shifted frenetically making some of the dynamic stunts—which are the entire reason for making an action movie in the first place— visually hard to decipher. At the same time, it’s cheaply made. Very cheaply made. The rush of energy the viewer is supposed to get watching a kung-fu protagonist constantly defying the odds never…uh…kicks in; that combined with MK:A’s penchant for not having one climactic scene when it can have two (sometimes four) going on at once, leaves the viewer in a slightly confused and passive state. Really, how hard is it to film faceless protagadroids beating up bad guys for 93 minutes?
The single biggest thing that makes this movie much worse than the original is the way it breaks all the rules the first movie and the game established. In the first movie, as in the game, everybody accepts the tournament rules. Two people square off and one walks away. We don’t consider Big Cosmic Questions about Elder Gods or why the fate of the world would come down to a street fight, because hey, the here and now before us on the screen is entertaining enough. Not here. As Nightwolf aptly (and undoubtedly inadvertently) said to Liu in the desert: "The Tournament had rules. This time, anything goes."
What he said. You simply stop caring because it doesn’t make sense and you can’t figure it out anyway.
And finally, a quick look at the tale of the tape. MK:A cost $30 million to make and grossed $37 million. If the cost to advertise and the fees demanded by theatres were anywhere close to the production budget—as is often the case—this movie was its own Atomic Grenade.
[Editor Ken: Also, the theaters generally take about fifty percent of the box office take, meaning that the studio more likely gleaned something like $18-19 million bucks from its theatrical run. It probably went into the black on foreign and ancillary revenues, but obviously killed what was once a promising franchise.]
Not much more to say, really. This was just a shoddy, shameless cash-in, has been widely recognized as such by both fans and non-fans of the games themselves, and has sunk out of sight, leaving nary a ripple except being ensconced on the Internet Movie Database’s Bottom 100. I think Patrick needs to vent though, so I’ll hand the mic over to him.
When the first Mortal Kombat movie was released, it managed to overcome what was previously an insurmountable obstacle: being based on a series of action fighting video games where two characters pummel each other with martial arts and superpowers, and the victor unequivocally eliminates the vanquished by performing a "fatality," like ripping out his heart or punching off his head, or something of that nature. The movie that arose from this source material was miraculously more than enjoyable, it would go on to become the only videogame-based movie aside from Tomb Raider that might be called successful. As a whole, it was good fun, even for those who had no idea what this whole "Mortal Kombat" thing was all about. Worth the matinee or rental price at least.
But, of course, the inevitable sequel arose. I say it was inevitable not just because of the longevity of the game series or because the closing scene of the first movie practically screamed "To be Continued!" I say it because there’s virtually no chance that the American film industry can do something right without immediately proving their inability to grasp why that success took place. Mortal Kombat was able to stand on its own two legs, appealing to a relatively wide audience in spite of its narrow and…um… rather nerdy origins.
The reason it worked was because the makers of Mortal Kombat managed to resist limiting itself to the established fan base. The story and characters were all simple and straightforward, leaving the viewer free to enjoy the on-screen butt-whooping free of lingering doubts and unanswered questions, while the game-players could enjoy a solid series of set-piece fight scenes—the very same reason they enjoyed playing the games in the first place. Only the most obsessed fan would have any complaints over petty details (and really, why else do obsessed fans exist?), but even they couldn’t fail to appreciate that somebody honestly tried to make a decent movie out of the game they adored, which was enough to earn their forgiveness for any possible transgressions.
Jabootu surely felt cheated and enraged that such an obvious victim eluded his grasp, and so went the extra mile to leave his mark on the sequel, cruelly seizing it and wringing out everything that made the first movie popular. This he accomplished with an insidious, yet simple twofold approach: convincing the filmmakers the success of the first movie was due solely to its insider references, and by putting the words "sure, why not?" into their mouths many, many times. The result was an hour and a half of disparate bits and pieces from the first three games acted out and stitched together into something meant to resemble a story, which is exactly not the reason anybody went to see the first movie. Just a handful of the completely extraneous game elements include:
Standard setups and plot elements were thrown in to fill out the remaining time, but apparently the writers couldn’t be bothered to make a single one of them coherent, resulting in a slew of loose threads that simply can’t be overlooked by any cognizant viewer. Was the fake legend about Kitana a clever twist, or the result of scriptwriters being backed into a corner and desperate for a way out? Why did Rayden go to the Elder Gods for advice if he knew his father among them was in on the invasion? If Jade was an evil infiltrator, how did she know about Liu’s three tests, and does she even count as one? Does this mean that Liu skipped out on not just one, but two of his apparently unnecessary tests? And by the way, just how is this Outworld invasion going down? Did everybody on Earth just get whisked away like the Rapture? Why were the only ones left a handful of elite super-fighters? Like Eva noted, kung-fu warriors don’t have much of a chance against modern armed forces in an open battle. They might be able to conquer, say, Luxembourg, and even then only by virtue of their sheer numbers. But the whole world? I don’t care how high you can kick, no martial art is going to stop napalm from an A-10. Toasty! (Hey, I just made a pointless insider reference to the Mortal Kombat games. I’m a screenwriter!)
One would think that after a century of set precedents, the movie business and those within it would have a solid grasp on how to offer an entertaining product in return for the money from our pockets. Then something like this comes along to remind us that there are still those with no clue as to what the public wants. I even knew people who dressed up as Mortal Kombat characters for Halloween who, when asked if they caught this movie, invariably responded along the lines of "you’re kidding, right?" and "no, no, oh dear God, no."
Mortal Kombat II: The Wrath of Jabootu did have one positive side-effect. Film critics across the land set aside their differences and joined together to slam this movie without exception, in a show of unity not seen since Spartacus was demanded to turn himself in.
The Critics Rave!
"[Take] the adolescent male focus on mud-wrestling females (I kid you not) and crotch shots of the various fighting beauties and you have something that makes no pretense of being anything other than what it is. You know that when an acting joke like Christopher Lambert won’t even return for the sequel, some fragile line has been crossed."
"What an awful movie! There is nothing...I repeat, nothing worthwhile in this film."
—Madeleine Williams, CINEMATTER
"Movie sequels rarely live up to their predecessors, so you’d probably guess that Mortal Kombat: Annihilation would have it made — it didn’t have much to live up to in the first place. You’d be wrong."
"Please, folks, unless you feel like there is nothing left for you in this world and want to end it all, avoid this film at all costs."
Shao Khan—Dilbert boss meets Attila the Hun
Sindel: "You said Rayden was no longer to be feared."
Shao- Khan: "I AM TO BE FEARED for if you fail me now, I will feed you rotting corpse…to the worms! Ha ha!"
A typical Mortal Kombat exchange—a fearsome flurry of halftime locker room pep talk chestnuts. Henry V before Agincourt they ain’t:Sonya Blade: "There’s so little time left."
Kitana: "Whatever time we have, we must use well."
Jax: "Are we really ready to die here?"
Liu Kang: "If we die, we will die in battle. Together."
Thanks go to Carl Fink, Bill Leary, and of course Ken Begg for their assistance in making this review possible.
-Review by Eva G. Vandergeld with Patrick Coyle