The Quarantine Stream: 'Mortal Kombat' is an Awesomely Bad Bargain Bin Blockbuster

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Mortal Kombat

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: Based on the controversial and wildly popular fighting video game series of the same name, Mortal Kombat brings together bad actors, cheesy dialogue, dated special effects, and a poor excuse for a plot to create one of the most fascinatingly terrible attempts to adapt a video game. And it was all done on a shoestring budget of $18 million.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Even though most video game movies still aren’t much to write home about, it’s important to see how far we’ve come from the earliest days of studios attempting to turn popular video games into viable blockbuster franchises. If kids were willing to cough up quarter after quarter in arcades and beg their parents for money to bring video game cartridges home, then surely they’d be willing to fork over some money to see their favorite games on the big screen. The studios were right about the box office draw, but unfortunately, they were way wrong when it came to actually adapting the games into movies, and Mortal Kombat is one of the many early experiments that just didn’t pan out. And that’s what makes it so damn fun to watch.

When it comes to a movie like Mortal Kombat, you really don’t need a complex reason to get a bunch of martial arts fighters together for a tournament. But the movie tried to bite off more than it could chew by incorporating details from the second Mortal Kombat game, which is where the fantastical setting of Outworld was created. The movie is chock full of fan service and details that are poorly inserted into an a paper thin story, especially everything that Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) says. Characters like Jax, Kitana, Reptile, and Shao Kahn also came from the video game sequel, and the latter villain makes a totally goofy and shoehorned appearance at the end of the first movie to lead right into an inevitable sequel.

You would think that Mortal Kombat would have been able to learn lessons from the failed 1994 video game adaptations Double Dragon and Street Fighter, but that’s not the case. The film from schlock master Paul W.S. Anderson feels like it was written in a weekend by two teenagers who were asked to put together the script at the last minute while they were all hopped up on Mountain Dew and maybe a little bit of weed that they stole from their older brother. Even the fighting itself isn’t all that impressive, which is a real problem for a movie based on a fighting game. It’s all made worse by visual effects that look like unfinished animatics, with the exception of Goro, a monster of an animatronic that resembles a giant muscular penis with a horrifying face and four arms.

Believe it or not, there was even supposed to be more to Mortal Kombat than what ended up on screen, including a romance between Liu Kang (Robin Shou) and Kitana (Talisa Soto), something that’s hinted at but never fully realized. Even in the sequel their romance gets iced by the fact that Kitana spends most of her time being kidnapped. I guess romance just wasn’t Mortal Kombat fans wanted. They didn’t want this crappy movie either, but at least we can have some laughs about it 25 years later. Maybe the next Mortal Kombat movie will take things to the next level.

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