Hell in a Handbasket: Mortal Kombat Edition
When this one came out, I was a teenager and I didn’t get to see it opening weekend. I was bummed, but then heard from multiple people that I was wise not to waste my money on it. So, naturally, I had to sit down recently to see it. It was bad. So very, very bad. Not even deliciously bad. We’re talking bad bad. When my husband has to stop and ask me, “Are you okay? You look kind of pissed,” one knows that it’s time to do a scathing write-up.
|Don’t look at me that way. I’m still mad at you.|
You know the drill. Here’s all the shit I couldn’t stand with this one.
#1 –Shang Tsung’s overly manscaped eyebrows and ridiculous facial expressions
I get it, the dude’s evil. Shaping someone’s brows that noticeably to achieve a villainous look and contorting your face into a constant “something smells” expression is a throwback to vaudeville. All he needed was a handle bar mustache and the hat/trench coat combo and he’d be Dishonest John from Beany and Cecil. Between the horrible eyebrows and the snarky villain facial contortions, it felt so cartoonish that I couldn’t take it seriously. It couldn’t even take it as a joke. I did not need his villainy pointed out in every way possible.
|“Bow before me, for I am EEEEEEEVILLLLLLLL!”|
#2 – Sonya Blade
She’s an entire study in how to fuck up a character. A special ops agent that storms into a crowded club in obvious military gear? Really? That’s how you introduce your allegedly strong, smart female? Sonya was way too reactionary for a special ops agent; she struck me as more of a loose cannon than an elite fighter, which plays into the notion that women are ruled by emotions and incapable of logical thought. Sulking around with an angry look on your face isn’t the best way to convey “tough woman,” and yet Bridgette Wilson looked like she was trying way too hard to give us female action hero between the ultra-feminine long hair and the perpetually pissed off look on her face. By the time she declared Johnny Cage to be the most egotistical person she had met, I caught myself muttering, “And you’ll sure as hell fuck him at the end of the movie.” Cliche, predictable and completely enraging, but yet that’s exactly where the plot went. When Shang was dragging her away, all I could think of was Betty from Kung Pow: Enter the Fist going, “I like ’em feisty.” She was eye candy, which wasn’t fair when you consider that a lot of girls at that time were happy to have a kick-ass female character to play in the fun boy games of the early ’90s. Dressing her up like fucking Barbarella for the final battle was the straw that broke my back. The pooch was complete screwed when it came to Sonya. Sometimes, you can’t hold up a bleeding dog’s ass and ask for forgiveness.
#3 – In what universe is Linden Ashby an action star?
Action stars come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they surprise you. Bruce Willis can sell me as an action star. So can Jason Statham (I’ll cop to watching Crank) and Milla Jovovich. One that I just could not see as an action hero? Linden Ashby. I could not buy him as Johnny Cage. Cage was supposed to be this buff hero type, a movie idol that projected cool. Someone that looks like he could not only win a fight, but win it easily and with style. With this casting, it’s as though they wanted you to assume that he was this amazing hero, and really, there was nothing there to prove that he had the goods to back it up. A pair of black Dockers and a prissy primadonna attitude does not a Van Damme make (though we are getting warmer). Mostly, it was about the swagger of being able to convey that you can be the big hero, even just on film. I did not get that at all. I could have beaten him (then again, I’m scrappy).
#4 – Liu Kang’s lucious, lucious mullet
The mullet is still with us to this day. It’s the herpes of the haircut world – scrub all you like, you will still find traces of it, no matter how in or out of fashion it is. I get that mullets were still around in 1994/1995, when the film was made. However, it just looked… dated. In a bad way. Really, though, it took away from my ability to concentrate on the actor quite a bit. I couldn’t tear my eyes off of it. The fact that the hair department had to make sure that it framed Robin Shou’s face in perfect Farrah Fawcett bounces sealed that I could not take this character seriously. It was even in slow motion a couple of times. I was surprised that it didn’t have its own wooshing sound effect to accompany it. I half expected it to have it’s own credit at the end of the film. It was equal parts horror and fascination.
#5 – Raiden
WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK. Christopher Lambert as Raiden?! You cast a white French dude as a character that was based on the Japanese god of lightning? Nevermind that English-speaking Chinese monks were worshiping a Japanese god in an Indonesian temple made up to look like ancient ruins; let’s set that one aside for a moment. You really mean to tell me that the casting agency couldn’t find ONE Asian actor to fit the bill? That’s messed up and offensive. I can name a half a dozen Japanese actors that would have made more sense than Christopher Lambert. Given, most self-respecting Japanese actors wouldn’t hhave been caught dead in this, but really, there had to have been at least one that was looking to pay some bills.
|In what universe is this guy a Japanese lightning god?|
Now, here’s the other problem that was posed to us in this storytelling: the character is presented as being worshiped by Shaolin monks, who are Chinese. The character is seeped in Japanese tradition. There’s a whole lot of cultural animosity there. It also implies that Chinese and Japanese actors are interchangeable. Which they’re not. Someone was drunk off his ass when he wrote this. Or really out of touch with the mechanics of intra-Asiatic relations. Take your pick.
#6 – Let’s cram as many characters into this movie as we can!
KISS Principle: keep it simple, stupid. Have a few characters for the first film, then incorporate others into the sequels (because we all know that there’s going to be a sequel, whether we want one or not). Did we really need Kitana, Reptile and Jax? I mean, I can see how Reptile could squeak in there, as he was an Easter Egg of the first game. The way he was used was just backwards. But really, what was the point of Reptile? To spit in Liu Kang’s face? And while we’re on the topic of misused characters, why did Kano come off as a sexual predator? Was that really necessary? If Kitana was so important, why didn’t she have the backstory she had in the game? And if we’re going this far, why not just have Dan Forden pop up and yell, “Toasty!” when someone lands a sweet hit?
#7 – Fighting styles of minor characters
Yes, show off your best moves while the main character just stands there, then get killed. I understand that everyone except the main characters will die, but put some effort into looking like a believable fighter. Someone good enough to make it to the tournament wouldn’t have made such a rookie error. The parade of nameless characters being thrown on stones in defeat in rapid fire succession reminded me of my reaction to the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin: I giggled at a ridiculous series of what was virtually the same shot (given, this one didn’t have the same weird-looking little kid repeated, but I think we were close). Being so blatant was insulting to an audience member. I wasn’t entertained. I was embarrassed.
#8 – Dry ice makes something more mysterious
Let’s not forget the blue lighting. Because it didn’t look overly cheesy or anything. While we’re talking about botched special effects, why did the death of Scorpion look so chintzy? The blood looked like red, chunky yogurt. You know who I expect this from? Sam Raimi, who did it in the 80s because he couldn’t afford anything more and made it funny. If you’re going to spend money on half the crap you did, at least shell out a little extra for some corn syrup. The last person that made a death work with the same materials was Peter Jackson in Dead Alive. Even then, that was for comedic effect. Make up your mind, Mortal Kombat: do you want me to laugh or feel like I’m watching a serious action movie?
|I now want there to be blue lighting when I’m about to do something heroic.|
#9 – Techno, techno everywhere!
Hey, you know what would be a great idea? If someone yelled, “MORTAL KOMBAT!” every time a fight began. Because, you know, I might forget the name of the movie as I’m watching it. I don’t mind technos so long as it’s not obnoxious (for some, this statement will make no sense. To each his own.). There’s typically a dance beat in video games. It didn’t come off as being video-game-like: it struck me as hokey and felt like a little kid was playing with a light switch. Or me as a passenger in a car with automatic windows. After watching this movie, I think I owe my parents an apology for screwing with the rental car so much on that trip to Myrtle Beach.
#10 – Cliched contestant dies first
Why is it that the first one that died in the official tournament was a black guy? Did we really have to go for the “black guy dies first” angle? Come to think of it, we only really had one other black contestant, and he bit it too. In fact, every one of our heroes with the exception of Art Lean, a black guy, made it to the end. What the fuck, people – you couldn’t spare one more hero from your trio? Then again, maybe I’m expecting far too much after the casting of a goddamned white guy in place of an Asian actor.
#11 – Why are we fighting outside of the tournament?
Johnny versus Scorpion – really? You couldn’t have done this in the arena? The dimension jumping felt awkward, like a chance to use a different set. It’s another instance of when the movie developed an incurable case of ADHD. I would have been worried about it running into the street and getting hit by a car, but it was so obnoxious that I kind of wanted it to die. There could have been more creative ways to work in different settings. This felt like it was unnecessary. We could have had better fighting in closed quarters. Again, I wondered if the goal was to try to have a more video-game style atmosphere. Fail.
#12 – Bad lines
Kitana tells Liu, “To win your next fight, use the element which brings life.” My first thought was, Vagina? Yeah, I went there. To be fair, the script and the acting made it an easy jump. Considering that the actual answer was “water” – a traditional symbol of feminine sexuality – I wasn’t far off. In all seriousness, though, it felt a bit like Dr. Seuss meets Bloodsport: “Would you, could you, near a moat? Would you punch him in the throat?” The fight would have been over so much faster if she had just said something like, “Hey, dude, just use water, okay? Water’s the key.” It would have gotten us to the end faster.
#13 – Goro’s punch
No one thought to punch anyone in the balls earlier? Forget your training: if some hulking dude with four arms comes at me like he’s going to rip my arms off, you bet your ass I’m going to think like that and go for the cheap shot. This is the fate of planet Earth we’re talking about here. I have to be honest: at this point, I just wanted the movie to be done. I did watch it, but it’s a bit hazy from here on out. Except…
|Cheap shots keep you alive, man.|
#14 – The ending
Is it just me, or did Emperor Khan showing up remind you of Vigo in Ghostbusters II once he was trying to bust out of the painting? I think the Ghostbusters could have done a better job than our tournament entries. At least the laughs would have been intentional.
Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I’m going to go play Tekken.
I want to send you an award for most helpful intnreet writer.