[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
Last week, I discussed the background leading up to the first Mortal Kombat film, including the origins of the game. That film followed mainly the first game with a couple things taken from the second (such as the character of Kitana). But the film that followed took heavily from the third.
Now, Mortal Kombat 3 is famous for a few things. First and foremost, as I stated last week, it spawned a couple other games that were basically enhancements of itself (similar to Street Fighter II). But what these games, in any incarnation, have in common is that they include a plethora new characters.
The game's story is a good one--overlord Shao Kahn plans to revive Queen Sindel (Kitana's mother) in the human realm so that he can cross over into it and, thus, begin merging the realm with Outworld as a kind of loop hole in the rules of the Mortal Kombat tournament system. Because of his actions, the majority of the people of Earth are destroyed, with the exception of a select few. Shao Kahn sends his extermination squads out to take care of those remainders. Also, Raiden--who cannot use his powers in Outworld--begins to lose his powers due to the merging.
There are new characters, ideas, and subplots galore, as well. There is an added cybernetics subplot that gives Sonya's partner Jax some mechanical arms. It also is used to turn deadly ninja warriors into robots, including Smoke, Cyrax, and Sektor. We are introduced to Sub-Zero's younger brother, who is out to gain revenge on Shao Kahn; two dying species at war with each other, one of each being in Shao Kahn's army (Sheeva and Motaro); and many other characters with their own stories, like Stryker, Kabal, Nightwolf, Mileena, Jade, etc. One of the biggest surprises here is that Johnny Cage is actually killed and is not a playable character.
The reception of the game was decent and the game was a hit. Its biggest criticism was that it took away too many of the main and popular characters and replaced them with a ton of new ones. I find that particularly interesting considering what happened in the film adaptation...
When adapting something from a source material (say, a video game) that has a big fan base, your film tends to end up in one of these categories: 1) It ignores the game but still turns out kinda decent (Resident Evil); 2) It takes the spirit of the game, still ignoring some of it, but putting in some fan service here and there and it turns out pretty good (Mortal Kombat, Silent Hill); 3) It attempts total fan service, making fans happy but alienating a mainstream audience (FF7: Advent Children); or 4) It ignores the game and turns out terrible (majority). I can say that this is one of the few game-based films out there where the film is total fan service, yet it upset fans and mainstream audiences alike. It's that bad.
The film picks up where the first left off. Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Raiden (James Remar), Sonya (Sandra Hess), Johnny Cage (Chris Conrad), and Kitana (Talisa Soto) have just won Mortal Kombat and are expecting some peace. However, Shao Kahn (Brian Thompson) appears and begins to take over the earth realm by attempting to merge it with Outworld. At his side is Kitana's mother, Sindel (Musetta Vander), who had died years prior. The gang must figure out a way to prepare themselves and find a way to stop Shao Kahn before its too late and his extermination squads destroy mankind completely. You will also see the likes of Sheeva, Motaro, Jax, Jade, Nightwolf, Ermac, Cyrax, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Smoke, Rain, Baraka, and Mileena through the course of the film (as well as mentions of Stryker and Kabal)... whether it makes sense or not.
Mistake #1: Recasting every character except Liu Kang and Kitana. I guess if you're going to recast Christopher Lambert, the best option would be the almost identical James Remar, but his acting was atrocious in the film. But then again, everybody's acting in this film was atrocious. Still, you lost the bulk of your cast. The wise-cracking Johnny Cage is killed off in the first few minutes of the film... and although canonical with the game it's adapting, it was a poor choice. His character is basically replaced with the wise-cracking Jax, who makes very similar jokes as Cage did.
Mistake #2: The story--whatever there is of one--makes no sense. There really is no story here, to be perfectly honest. Shao Kahn shows up, but his character is quickly undermined by the fact his all-powerful father is involved. But by the end, it seems his father really isn't controlling things. But then again, he is. It makes no sense. Anyway, Shao Kahn wants to take over earth realm... why? They never say. He just does. Kitana is the key to everything, and everybody says so. But then she's not, so... yeah. Everybody has to split up to... no real reason. Liu Kang has to find Nightwolf to learn a skill (animality--an actually cool way to bring that into the film) to defeat Shao Kahn. And I assume Raiden drops off Sonya to pick up Jax. But why split up? Why not just go on one mission at a time and save yourselves some trouble? It doesn't matter anyway, as the animality is pretty freakin' useless, and Jax comes in handy twice--though one of those times doesn't count because it was while he was being rescued, so Sonya wouldn't have needed saving had she not been there in the first place to rescue him.
Mistake #3: The excess characters and their misuse just drags the film down. Some make sense: Sub-Zero's brother explains (before he disappears never to be seen again) that Smoke was reprogrammed to go after Liu and the others to stop them (though never explained how Smoke came into being or why he was after Sub-Zero's bro to begin with). Others like Rain or Ermac--hell, even Sheeva and Motaro--make sense because they're just a part of the army. But then there's a totally random re-appearance of Scorpion (who now has 2 stingers), despite his death in the previous film. Mileena shows up for absolutely no reason, fights for maybe one minute, and is never given a name. Baraka is just some monster that guards the cages. Again, at least half of these characters aren't called by name, some of them only appear momentarily and disappear just as fast, and almost all of them die stupidly. The inclusion of all of these characters left no room for further exploration of story or character development or themes. This leads to...
Mistake #4: No exploration of story, character, or themes. It sets up an interesting bundle of ideas with cybernetics versus raw human nature and potential. Whether that's Jax and his cybernetic arms vs his regular arms (which is kind of explored), or the idea of building killing machines like Cyrax when you could train yourself to bring out your animal instincts, like with Nightwolf or Liu Kang. But the cybernetics stuff is barely a sidenote, the animality stuff is worthless, and even the original themes of fighters with or without souls that the game itself explores is nonexistent.
Mistake #5: Visually, this movie blows. There is an infinite amount of green screen that looks terrible. The CGI is just as bad as the first film, and the director, for some reason, felt the need to include a couple CGI monsters here and there. And, yes, the animality moment is painful. I even knew that at 11 or 12 or however old I was when this film came out. But even when the film goes more natural, it doesn't work. The animatronics and whatnot was better with Goro in the first film and just looks really rough in this one (with Sheeva or Motaro, specifically).
If I could give this film anything, it's that there may be a fight or two that are decent. Some of the fighting choreography is alright, though even most of that is incompetent (what was with the Raiden dancing fight? It looked like it came right out of the "Total Eclipse of the Heart" music video). The film isn't super painful or anything. It is certainly bad, and it did hurt to sit through at times. But I've definitely seen worse films. This could easily be one to sit with friends and make fun of. I do want to ask this, though: Why the hell are there 11 minutes of credits at the end? I remember the credits being long when I was a kid, but this is ridiculous. There are no scenes inter-playing with the credits or anything. It's just credits. For 11 minutes. Seriously... even the ending credits are incompetent at their job in this film. That's just sad.