The Dark Herald Recommends Mortal Kombat

The Dark Herald Recommends Mortal Kombat

“Such a promising start.”

A phrase that is up there with “if only” as the saddest of words, isn’t it?

A young man that was an athlete at the top of his class and ends up in the gutter.  A roaring small business that is ready for the big time, destroyed by the lawyers.  A great first scene in a movie but the rest of it…

Motal Kombat opens in 1619 Japan.  There is an idyllic scene of medieval Japanese life.  A contented wife and her son working in the garden.  The little boy asks his Mama if he can look in on his baby sister.  She nods warmly and her son runs into the house and kneels by a cradle and feather-lightly adjusts a baby-sized blanket on top of her.  

A man wearing a katana is patrolling in the background, as another openly armed man approaches the woman. He is grizzled and in middle-middle age, he carries himself like an old soldier burdened by a life that was full of crushing duties and unspeakable memories.  He has finally found some peace in this world and a place that he can call home.  He tenderly tells his wife that he is blessed to have her in his life.

They were showing, not telling and it was all done so well that my mind reflexively tried to put it in historical context.  If it is 1619, then the Tokugawa shogunate has been in power since Sekigahara twenty years before.  This must be samurai family because it has been hideously illegal for anyone who isn’t samurai to wear a sword in public, since Toyotomi’s “sword hunts.”

I always thought Scorpion was ninja but the rewrites are acceptable due to the quality.

Hanzo walks off into the woods to do some chores.  His wife goes inside to look in on her children.  There is an angry yell and then blood sprays one of the walls.  A menacing figure enters, takes in the family and the rest of the surroundings, and notes in Mandarin, that Hanzo wasn’t there.  

Again, my mind called a few facts that fit the data it was receiving. Bi-Han is clearly Chinese although one that can speak Japanese and he has it in for Hanzo in a pretty serious way.  Assuming that Hanzo is forty-five he would have been eighteen when the Taiko invaded Korea.  The Japanese army was notoriously atrocity prone during that war. China had supported Korea in battle. Hanzo could have obeyed orders that left someone behind who would be raw about it for the rest of his life.  Because this guy seemed pretty mad about something.

The little boy, assumes a martial arts defensive stance in front of his mother.  Bi-Han is coldly (of course) amused by this and asks if his father taught him that.  The terrified mother clutches her son to her knowing that they are doomed. Bi-Han clearly decides that, they ain’t getting any deader, I better get work and his hand starts to grow sharp ice.

Hanzo is at work in the woods when he hears his wife’s blood curdling, agonized scream.  He rushes to his home in a panic, only to find that his entire world has been destroyed.  His wife and son are dead, buried in a block of ice.  

A frenetic and bloody fight scene starts as the scrubs try to jump Hanzo and end up sliced and diced for their efforts.  Hanzo grabs his wife’s garden spade and uses a rope to turn it into Scorpion’s signature weapon.  

Hanzo defeats the NPC but loses the boss fight with Bi-Han who kills him.   Sub Zero walks out of the frame, his revenge against Hanzo complete, his enemy’s entire bloodline is exterminated, and he is all the more hollow inside for doing it.

Hanzo revives himself at the crying of his infant daughter and tries to crawl to his house. He strength and his life both expire before he can reach her.  Then his corpse self-incinerates. There is a deafening flash of lightening and Raiden appears.  He collects the child and leaves the same way he came in.  

Opening credit’s roll.

This is the only part of the movie that is worth seeing. But if the rest of the movie had lived up to this opening this would be a Recommends with Enthusiasm.

The Mortal Kombat game first held Generation-X’s attention with its comically insane and gross over-the-top violence. The early Millennials were fascinated by it because they knew it was the game they weren’t supposed to play.  The original was not a lot different from Street Fighter, pick a character and play against the machine or more likely another player next to you.  It was so hot when it launched, that if there were only two people in the arcade, both of them would be playing Mortal Kombat and nothing else.  

Originally there were only seven playable characters, and one of those was an obviously color-swapped clone.  The player characters were photo-realistic instead of the hand-drawn animation style we were used to. And the game came with the ultimate enticement, hidden finishing moves that were gratuitously, disgustingly, and hilariously violent.  Heads were knocked off, heads exploded, spines ripped out, bodies were impaled on spikes, hearts were torn out and enemies were burned to ashes by a revenant. It was fantastic!

The characters themselves were a bit of an odd batch.  The Bruce Lee clone was expected, but the bald cyborg and the blonde in combat Jazzercise wear were kind of different. Lightning from Big Trouble in Little China showed up.  If you fought in single-player you could work your way up to the two boss characters.  A four-armed mutant in a ponytail and the evil old guy.  And why did the American remind you so much of Jean-Claude van Damme?

There was an answer to that last question. The game had started life as a vehicle for Jean-Claude van Damme, who by now has worked out that he should have done the project for free in exchange for points.  When the JCVD deal fell through a character using his mannerisms named Johnny Cage was created.

Mortal Kombat came out in 1992 and it was the last great game of the video arcades.  It showed up at the twilight of that era.  

The sixteen-bit Sega Genesis (Mega-Drive if you aren’t from America) was already in homes and was the first console to seriously blur the line between arcade quality games and the home console. Arcade games still held an edge but that edge would be broken the next year by the Sony PlayStation.  There would never be another Arcade great after Mortal Kombat.

The sequels were much bigger hits on home consoles than they were in the arcades. Motal Kombat II did okay as a cabinet but by the mid-nineties the math was clear, you were better off saving your quarters and buying a console than plunking them into an arcade game.

The games were such big hits that Hollywood came calling and couple of really bad Mortal Kombat films were released.  The biggest problem with them was that they were a cleaned-up PG-13 burlesque of the gory arcade games.  The second Mortal Kombat film pulled in $58 million world wide against a budget of $30 million, meaning it didn’t quite break even.

The series went into development hell for the next twenty years and finally emerged with a green light in 2016.  

After the fantastic opening scene, Mortal Kombat (2021) settles into a dull, poorly paced, badly thought-out film.  Our POV is that famous Mortal Kombat character…Cole.  I had to check and no, there is no Cole in any iteration of the game.  So, we see that Cole is a down on his luck MMA fighter getting torn-up for penny-ante $200 purses.  He has a wife who can’t bear to watch him get beaten anymore and a daughter who still believes in her Dad enough to be his corner man and I don’t care about any of this because I’m not watching Johnny Cage or Liu Kang.  I have no investment in Cole and neither does anyone else audience.

Cole get scooped up by Sonya and Jax.  Jax loses his arms to a fight with Sub Zero, and Sonya takes Cole and Kano to the secret temple of Raiden and I’m still not seeing Johnny Cage.  But Liu Kang finally makes an appearance and tells us his l-o-o-o-n-n-g backstory.  So now I don’t care about Liu Kang anymore either.

The character that was carrying the film all by himself was Kano.  Josh Lawson’s magnificently mad  scene chewing as the Australian super-thug Kano is the only reason to watch  this movie after the credits role.

There is a such a massive disconnect between the five star quality of the first scene and the two star quality of the rest of the film, that I am pretty sure I know what happened. 

A while back there was a great script floating around Hollywood that was based on Robin Hood. The key difference was that the characters were inverted, it was the Sheriff of Nottingham who was the good guy and Robin Hood was a thug who lived in the woods with his gang.  This script is still worth a read and it makes what happened to it all the more tragic.  A bidding war started over the script and in the end, it was ludicrously overpriced for the kind of story it was trying to tell.  Ridley Scott was hired as the director and shredded the script, inserting his own run of the mill, no different from the rest of the many, many Robin Hood stories Hollywood has made.  The result was an expensive film that did nothing at the box office and has been forgotten by about everyone.  But there was one scene in that film that promised something good.  It had Marion as a Northern farm holder driving the thugs from Sherwood off her land.  That was the only scene that survived from the original script and it was the only one worth watching.

I am positive that is what happened with this movie.  They had a good script, but it was greenlit in 2016, just before a revolving door was installed in the CEO’s office at Warner.   The numerous DC bombs and subsequent changing of executives left their mark on this production.  It feels like the kind of movie where the studio boss is sending out notes based on what his nine-year-old son wants to see his favorite character do on screen. It’s that cheesy.

The guys making the film, knew the battle to make something good was lost, so they shot one scene word for word from the original script.  Just trying to save something.

There is no Mortal Kombat tournament in this game, this was basically an extended training scene with the occasional fight on screen to break things up. 

My, Does Not Recommend rating always has the requirement attached, that there is nothing worth seeing in the movie.  In this case, there are three things that make it worth seeing.

1. They made it an R-rated film and the MK films have always needed to be that.

2. Lawson’s “fuck’n bewty” of a performance as Kano.

3. The opening scene.

However, that’s it.  The fights are okay but watch any of the Raid films and you’ll see better.


The Dark Herald Recommends with Extreme Reservations.

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