I may’ve been born in the late 80’s but I grew up in the 90’s, and growing up in the 90’s was like sprouting from the garden of brand loyalty. I was the target demo for Nickelodeon’s gross-out comedy, I saw Cartoon Network take its first steps, and I watched the Fox Kids after school programming lineup with a zealot’s dedication. To this day I carry an undying torch for the Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and Marvel Superheroes. My rapacious appetite for consumer culture was so strong my father had to bargain with me to watch educational PBS programming like Wishbone and Bill Nye the Science Guy in an attempt to balance out the nonsense of Earthworm Jim and Sonic the Hedgehog. None of those properties exemplified the 90’s you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do attitude like Mortal Kombat.
The Mortal Kombat franchise was steeped in controversy from the start. The original ultraviolent game about an inter-dimensional fighting tournament quickly became the scapegoat for youth violence and Gen X’s disregard for social norms. The game’s envelope pushing gore garnered massive news coverage which any first year marketing student could tell you would increase sales. Slapping the cartridge with an “M for Mature” didn’t stop kids form shoving quarters in arcade cabinets or lending the game between friends until it seemed like everyone was playing Mortal Kombat. Myself included. I remember begging my older brother to buy a copy of Mortal Kombat 3 for my 8th birthday. He was in the Navy at the time and might’ve been on a ship in halfway across the world, but somehow he did it, and I could while away the hours relaxing in a shower of blood and guts and brains (Whistle).
For me the joy of Mortal Kombat culminated with the 1995 feature film starring Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. I love that movie. I watched it so often a dragon seal is permanently imprinted on my brain and the theme song’s first notes trigger a Pavlovian pulse increase and the obligatory recitation of the unforgettably simple lyrics. Mortal Kombat is an immutable cornerstone of my culture (thanks consumerism).
Decades pass, I play the Mortal Kombat games sporadically, delving deep into Deception, Armageddon, and the retitled Mortal Kombat in 2011 and Mortal Kombat X in 2015 before Warner Brothers released the newest feature film in 2021. It’s been a bad year for movies, especially WB movies. The studio angered theaters across the country by announcing their 2021 film schedule would stream simultaneously on HBO Max for the price of a subscription. That was cool with me because I already have HBO Max but Warner Brothers gave me a couple black eyes last year when they produced a feature length film suggesting Wonder Woman had sex with an unwilling partner in Wonder Woman 1984 followed by the monster flop Godzilla vs. Kong. I needed them to convince me the future won’t be completely dominated by ‘The House of Mouse’ and Warner’s only remaining champion was Mortal Kombat.
They failed. Mortal Kombat is not a good movie. It plods through set piece after set piece making sure to introduce each of its 12ish kombatants to the audience by name. “I am Sonya Blade.”, “Call me Sub-Zero.”, “That is Kano.” as they bludgeon each other to death in the best hyper violent displays a couple million dollars worth of digital effects and wire work can buy you. The script over explains the source of each kombatant’s superpowers and introduces a protagonist who isn’t a preexisting character from the depths of Mortal Kombat mythology. And they don’t even have a tournament! None of that matters because the movie is a fucking blast.
Yeah, bad movies can be fun. To paraphrase Scorpion, get over it. It doesn’t take a professor of cinema studies to figure out Mortal Kombat is another in a seemingly never ending stream of franchise smash and grabs disguised as movies. It seems like every major studio is exceptionally thirsty to replicate what Disney did with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. WB has been unsuccessful with its DC superhero films and with Mortal Kombat’s release Warner Brothers finds itself in desperate need of a strong franchise after they routinely shit the bed like a castaway subsisting on recovered case of ghost peppers. A series of terrible superhero movies and a groundswell of support for the Snyder Cut undercuts their official continuity and suggests the only thing worse than the inmates running the asylum is when they’re replaced by the inept. How else can you explain having 3 different Batmen in the last 10 years? It’s a mess over there.
I don’t expect any Mortal Kombat sequels to stand up against the quality and craftsmanship of the MCU but that doesn’t mean they can’t be awesome. I set my standards for Mortal Kombat exceptionally low. All it needed were characters I recognized (brutally murdering each other), campy one liners and references to the game, and (most importantly) it must include the Techno Syndrome theme song. Not including the song would be a deal breaker, I can’t stress this enough. Mortal Kombat could’ve been as cinematically brilliant and moving as The Third Man and I would’ve relentlessly trashed it until my dying day for not including the song.
But there it was, right at the end credits, a remixed version of the song played and everything was right. Im going to avoid ending this post with a corny reference to the game like ‘WB Executes a Flawless Victory’ or ‘Mortal Kombat Wins!’. That’s what you can expect from the film’s terrible script, so instead I’ll say this. As a lifelong devotee I can say with supreme confidence that Mortal Kombat is a great time and a terrible movie.