Sequels usually get a bad wrap. Although the modern sequel has become the chance for franchise and multiple sequels planned well in advance, the history of cinema until recently spouts only rare sequels that match or better their original release. So of course it’s fitting that the first sequel on our list clearly doesn’t beat it’s predecessor in any fashion but also is the first video-game movie sequel made to boot.
Game Over #18: Mortal Kombat Annihilation
Dir: John R. Leonetti
Box Office: $51,376,861 Worldwide
Of course to touch on Mortal Kombat Annihilation (now to be referenced as MKA from here on out) means you have to touch on it’s origin film, Mortal Kombat - released in 1995 and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, based on the ar(k)ade fighter of the same name. Of course that will get it’s own slot on this series of articles coming up, simply because it made more money than this sequel did.
Normally at this point in this articles I plan to talk about the origins of why the film happened in relationship to the game that spawned it, but being that this is a sequel we’ll skip this part (and instead I’ll discuss that when talking about the original film later on). But it’s worth noting that the original movie really framed the idea in a general kung-fu movies surround cribbed from something like Enter The Dragon, a plan which made the original palatable to a wider audience than perhaps just game fans. The sequel however has other plans.
Released two years after the original, MKA seemed to be quickly rushed out when the previous film was a surprise success (subjectively speaking, profits to budget wise). So indeed the film itself picks up immediately at the end of the last film, where Liu Kang (Robin Shou) has saved “Earthrealm” from destruction at the hands of Outworld. However the evil leader of Outworld, Shao Khan, has other plans and invades the planet anyway. Yeah, it’s already starting crazy and going up from there. It’s at this point that I’ve already realized this movie really just goes for the game fans, and kinda forgets about the general movie audience the further it goes in - immediately losing the idea of even trying to adapt the game to a film but make a film directly of the game.
To back it up, the first thing you see and hear is the New Line logo and the most famous thing to come out of the original movie. The Mortal Kombat movie theme song. So clearly they want to first sell this to anyone who remembers the original film at any level. Which just seems like trickery to me.
Setting up expectations already, the sequel dives into flashbacks and narrative voice over by Lightning God Raiden to get everyone back up to speed. And we strike our first problem immediately. It’s James Remar. Remar is a fine actor in his own right, but unfortunately has the stigma of being the “poor-man’s Christopher Lambert” and ends up being cast where Lambert says no or cannot return. Which is a shame though as he’s actually a better actor than Lambert. Indeed, for MKA - as Lambert was in the previous film as Raiden so he’s been recast here by what we could only call his understudy. It won’t be the last recasting we see.
Once the flashback is over we pick up the action and probably lose most of the audience. That’s not even including the terrible effects which already seem worse than the ones two years earlier... we’re already getting an indication the budget has been stretched on this return effort. While Liu Kang and Kitana (Former Bond girl, Talisa Soto) both return from the previous film, we immediately also see Sonya and Johnny Cage have been recast along with Remar’s Raiden. On the villains side, after ninjas fly in from every angle possible (in a so bad it’s good way) - enemies from later games who didn’t appear in the last film just suddenly appear and then immediately line up so we can get a good look at them. Subtlety, yes there is none of that in Outworld it seems.
Sheeva, Rain, Ermac, and Motoro are in the line up. In the back, Kahn (scenery chewing Brian Thompson) somehow doesn’t sound that imposing, shouting biblical nonsense in a generally non-threatening voice which doesn’t match his look (nor to mention the sound of the characters voice or appearance briefly seen at the end of the previous film). He announces the demise of Earth, saying it’ll take six days for Earthrealm and Outworld to merge. Raiden speaks in bad riddles, and we get the start of the really bad acting/line reading we’ll get used to when Kitana’s mother, Sindel, supposedly dead - turns up - threatening to kill her own daughter.
Then some bad jumping effects (and first of many continuity errors to boot) has Khan and Raiden face off at each other, before eventually Kahn uses Sonya as a threat and Johnny Cage ends up dying to protect her. Certainly a ballsy move on the scripting side, the move ends up taking Raiden by as much surprise but then Shao Kahn instead decides he’s had enough fighting and inexplicably vanishes when he could have killed them all himself, instead leaving a clan of his generic cinema ninjas to chase after the good guys while Raiden closes off their escape path instead. Seems like that was a bad choice and makes no sense when we’re told the next part.
Underground, Raiden uses flame magic to light the place (WTF?) and explains some sort of vague prophecy that Kitana’s resurrected mother is the key to whats happening. Raiden says the bad guys are extermination squads set to kill off any challengers, and as the Earth and Outworld merge he will slowly lose his powers. Seems like Khan should have just killed all these guys when he had his chance, but then - movie.
Somehow as the woman from Outworld, Kitana knows about a fast travel system underground on Earth called a Valosphere... as shown above, it’s basically a Gladiators-sphere with more jagged edges and clock looking pieces. Except you hang inside it and it doesn’t look awkward to have more than one person in it at all. Raiden wants to bring Sonya’s cop-partner Jax into the fold, while Raiden instructs the others to get more help via a guy called “Nightwolf.” The actual sphere sequence is absurdly low budget and silly but matches the tone set so far perfectly. Immediately this film has taken a turn into possible campish classic at this point. Interestingly also it feels like we just removed Johnny Cage to just replace him at a fast whim with new characters removing some of the urgency away as well.
Kahn, looking weird without helmet, hams up an entire sequence in his castle on Outworld talking to his father, Shinnok, who is behind the plot in what seems like some off-kilter multi-dimensional soap opera at this point.
Liu and Kitana are attacked by members of Kahn’s squad, including a rocket firing cyborg ninja, Smoke, AND regular ninjas, while backed by a repetitive electronic soundtrack. Smoke blows up some miniature scenery before being frozen by Sub-Zero(‘s Brother) and blowing up. Sub Zero(‘s Brother) reveals that Kitana is the key to stopping the plot before making an ice bridge to allow their escape, however Scorpion returns before they can do so and after an absurd fight sequence Kitana is kidnapped via a pink portal - in what is the worst effect so far in the film.
Sonya saves Jax at a medical facility where he was getting enhanced metal arms (complete with a “woo, now thats what I’m talking about” moment - so 90's), but they too are attacked by one of the squads, led by another cyborg ninja - Cyrax - who inexplicably shows off his bomb firing ability by firing them at walls to achieve... a fireball that does nothing.
This is followed by him smashing windows which somehow makes Sonya and Jax move in weird slow motion as they avoid the glass that went no where near them. Then of course the regular useless masked Ninjas have to turn up too, you know - because of some contractual agreement they’re required to fill out all fights or something. Then the fights on, it’s the usual stuff, until the Cyborg ninja Cyrax throws out some weird gunk which accidentally kills one of the hapless ninja guys by melting him.
Sonya and Jax end up double teaming the cyborg and eventually blow him up with a combo of flame and chemicals lying around, by Sonya blowing chemicals at him in reference to one of the characters finishing moves in the game series. A stamp on his outer shell turns into a tiny dragon which flies off into a portal just after they see it on him.... yes I just wrote that... I swear this just gets weirder and weirder... which sets off a self destruct that they both just escape through the magic of green screen explosions.
The bad guys meet, argue, and discuss their plans in poor exposition form. Khan picks Sindel as his new general and storms off. Again, this feels I’ve walked into watching a weird sci-fi-soap. At this point the film has gone beyond camp classic and is just walking off the cliff of bad movie.
Liu Kang pulls a “Caine from Kung Fu” look and wanders the Earth looking for “Nightwolf,” who finally appears - both at NIGHT as a WOLF who turns into a man (his name is clearly SOOO literal) - this is his “Animality” he explains. He also explains Liu will need to undertake three tests; the first being courage to find his own “Animality” via a dream quest, which he begins by throwing an axe at Liu’s head.
This knocks him out to a place where nightmares - and Juno Reactor music - plague him into finding his inner... dragon, and a near naked woman in snow - Jade, who ends up fighting him as part of his test. Jade plans to take him to the where Kitana is being kept. Meanwhile back in soap-opera-realm, Khan and Kitana have a conversation which might as well not existed in the film as it does little to move the story forward.
Back with Jax and Sonya, they end up fighting over whats been going on only to split up pointlessly, and Sonya is attacked by Kitana’s “evil twin” Mileena, in what ends up being little more than mud wrestling - complete with hair pulling and kicks to the stomach. Sonya’s defeat of Mileena boasts another weird mini-dragon, and some giant CG abomination which Jax turns up to punch into the ground for some reason. After commenting on the fact that Sonya “looks good in mud” the pair are interrupted once more by generic ninjas causing them to run off and escape. Another pointless scene done.
We return to Raiden confronting the Elder Gods over the events of Shao Khan’s invasion. He is granted three questions (are they some sort of genie gods?) which resolve him to possibly give up his own immortality to save the human race. Sonya and Jax are now where Raiden was (with Sonya looking like she never went near a drop of mud - in your face continuity!) wanting to find Raiden and the gods, however only find Liu Kang and Jade - and a giant mass of extermination squad generic ninjas, with Sindel, Shao Kahn, some bonus armored horse riding guys and, for some unknown reason now, many others in medieval styled armor. Just because they had them.
Raiden arrives, complete with new clothes and a haircut, to bond the team together, move the fight to Outworld, and fight the bad guys at home. Sindel screams the rocks down (another game move reference which just seems odd here) but Raiden opens a portal just in time to save everyone. However it seems this is exactly what Khan wanted for a trap he has set, and with the group now in Outworld they press on ahead to rescue Kitana from Khan’s fortress (where Khan somehow is already back immediately to in another exposition scene with Shinnok).
Sindel, also somehow immediately back in Outworld, confronts the group who Raiden takes on with her three Reptile warriors while the Liu Kang moves on. The fight proves easy in that Raiden almost wins single handedly... Jax takes credit for as “we won” even though it seems Jade took out Sindel herself. Returning to Shao Kahn, and we’re back to the terrible yelling as he exclaims this is Earth’s final day and the Eiffel Tower emerges from the ground in Outworld as to prove his point. Just as Liu Kang sneaks in below them to rescue Kitana from her prison and we all hope this movie concludes soon.
But “oh no” it’s the most obvious trap ever (Kitana even says so, one point to the screenwriters!) and instead he’s forced to fight the Baraka triplets (in some crazy over the top face applications) with his arm blades, while the music provided by Future Sound Of London now cements this as one of the most 90's films you’ll ever see. Also perhaps one of the most awkward fights you’ll ever see, as the stuntman struggles to move his arms with the giant fake blades attached. As Liu Kang finishes off the final one and kicks him into the pit, he also changes into a masked ninja, probably due to the movie makes realizing they didn’t have a shot of where the Baraka enemy landed and hoping no one would notice the continuity error at this point in this terrible film.
Liu frees Kitana, but the four armed Sheeva appears to fight them only to be immediately crushed by Kitana’s cell exactly five seconds after she enters the room. Given what effects it took to pull of her four arms, that’s seemingly one way to keep the budget down. They return to the rest of the Earth warriors while Raiden explains that only Kitana can help her mother and then close the portals to Earth.
But oh no, this too is all part of the obvious trap, the “prophesy” is false, and of course Jade is also in on the plot to lure them all to Outworld while both of them... err... make their escape... which is odd because wasn’t this the plan to lure them here for some reason? What the hell?
Revelations follow regarding Raiden being tricked by the Elder Gods, of which one of them is his father. The tattoos which turned into dragon creatures are passes for portals between the realms, but more specifically a crest mark of people from the god’s bloodline. And finally the bomb shell, Shao Khan is... Raiden’s half-brother! Shinnok is both their father. This really is a soap-opera script in disguise!
Back in the fortress, Khan attacks Jade and Sindel reveals their unexplained plan to ambush them seems to have been wasted when it was just the two of them to attack all the Earth warriors. In Khan’s anger, Jade is then eaten by the weird unexplained CG monster we saw getting beaten by Jax earlier on in the film, and then orders Sindel one final chance to organize the forces in defense of his fortress or she will join in Jade’s demise.
After explaining the situation, the team backs Liu Kang to take on and
kill defeat Shao Khan (this is a PG-13 movie based on a M rated game after all!). Then it’s time to cue the generic ninjas once more as they lead a short montage leading to another pointless small scene where everyone confirms they’re ready to die together in battle at the now Outworld based temple that Liu Kang is from. Once again proving they’re ability to line up and wait, the remaining main warriors of Shao Khan are standing at the top of the steps of the temple, with Khan himself standing above them all once more - and Shinnok waiting in the shadows, literally. The match ups happen, and then just before the fight begins, Raiden interrupts the battle by appearing.
Shinnok and Raiden fight, and Shinnok offers him to return to the family - but instead Raiden chooses his real family - the Earthwarriors, and pisses off his brother who shoots him with an energy blast to the chest sending him flying, and dying with the warriors around him. “This is the beginning of the end” Khan yells, cementing the near finish of the film more than his actual goal of winning. Jax takes on Motoro, the half-horse guy (“Mr Ed is mine” he quips), Kitana against Sindel, and Sonya against red ninja Ermac (“the leftovers” she states, which is kinda true at this point). And Liu Kang of course confronts Shao Khan. Finally it’s final fight time.
Of course all the fights are cliche. Hard punches and kicks are thrown everywhere, some game reference special moves are used here and there, the good guys look like they’re all going to be defeated, but then turn around and win their fights just in the nick of time. Of course. Jax loses his metal arms and absurdly punches stronger than he did with them for some unknown reason and beats Motoro down before helping Sonya, while Kitana wins but doesn’t defeat Sindel - rather making her watch Khan’s defeat. Headlocked by Shao Khan, Liu now unleashes his inner dragon “Animaility” and in what tops the worst CG effects already, turns into a very crappy looking dragon. Not to be outdone, Khan one ups the bad CGI and turns into a terrible looking multi headed beast.
And now it’s a battle of crappy CG vs. crappy CG that... just makes my head hurt. It’s so bad I have to add multiple images. They don’t do justice on how clunky the whole thing is however.
After what is likely to be one of cinemas worst fights ever, they fall off the platform their own and both return to human form. Shinnok attempts to help his son, only to be stopped by the other Elder Gods declaring the future can only be determined by.... dun-dun-dunnnnn... MORTAL KOMBAT. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
Cue the theme music. Cue the final fight.
Liu Kang wins of course. And then we’re treated to more bad CGI as Shinnok folds into cubes and vanishes in a portal (seriously... WTF?), and Khan’s skin peels off reveling a dragon thing inside which vanishes (also WTF?). We return back to where the movie began, normal Earth. Sindel is magically returned to normal and reunited with her daughter and Raiden is revived to take over the spot of his father in the Elder Gods after wise words about the Earthwarriors now being family.
I really think we’ve reached a new current low on the games-to-film trend and we’re only three films in to the top 20. Looking back so far Boll’s film was ambitious but no where near as generally bad as this, and Super Mario almost looks like high profile art when compared. Some movies can really be so bad they’re good, but as my commentary of the contents attests to, Mortal Kombat Annihilation really is a rough watch.
Strip away the gaming elements and the film would still be a bad film, but however it does so far be the first film which shows a good reason to go against my original thoughts on some level. Because the film seems far more catering to the game fans than general movie watchers by being super specific with it’s inclusions. Is this a true movie-to-game?
No. I counter that this isn’t because they’re not adapted but rather just thrown in, or even forced in, as some sort of fan service for the die hard. But even worse no one working on this film adapted this into a watchable film for anyone - even if you were a game fan, you weren’t going to walk away from this saying they’d nailed it. A turd is still a turd, marketed at hardcore fans or not.
Fighting games are a hard comparison, because while there is backing narrative, most of the story doesn’t play out during the game - only in the surrounding setup and endings each character gets normally, at least by 90's standards when the movie was made. MKA overreaches to cram in as much reference to it’s source materials where possible, but never actually asks to think if they make sense to both serving a film narrative and would often work for an audience who doesn’t know the games at all.
Bad visual effects constantly undermine the ambition but you can’t complain as much about the attempt under time of release and budget but rather the choices with what they did. Such as the pink portal which somehow looks worse than the portals in the original film which should just have been used again, or the pointlessness of CG vs. CG, for just a couple of examples. But things that any and all films should get right most of the time are just wrong. Like the editing and continuity are sloppy, props look flimsy often, costumes look frequently cheap, and scenes and things happen in the story that just aren’t needed to progress.
It also has a plot that is not far above a generic soap opera at times as I’ve mentioned time and time again, and when you combine that with the uneven level of acting involved it’s really not hard to feed into that comparison of ‘soap opera’ like events. Nor was it lacking in some weird plot holes too... we also don’t know what the other two tests Liu Kang was supposed to finish to defeat Shao Khan were, because he seems not to have bothered with them after Nightwolf vanished and Jade turned up. Deleted scenes? Plot for a sequel that never happened? Who knows? Who cares?
Unsurprisingly the critical and box office reaction to MKA killed the future of film franchise. The games co-creator Ed Boon even has gone on record saying he wasn’t a fan of the film, even though the other co-creator worked on the story (maybe also a bad idea). However before the release of the second film, it was reported a third one was planned with returning cast members from both previous films but quickly cancelled once reaction to the second took place.
Mortal Kombat went instead to the small screen, where a single season of a show called “Mortal Kombat Conquest” was produced in 1998, by the same company and producer behind this film. For some time after there was rumors that Paul W.S. Anderson was being asked to and considering returning to the franchise to pick it up from where the last film ended and correct it, however this never eventuated.
After that the franchise went quiet until 2010, when Kevin Tanchareon released an unlicensed web short of a gritty new take on the concept called “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth” which was a pitch to sell to Warner Bros. and New Line, both rights holders of Mortal Kombat on a new film. This in turn lead to a fully licensed and funded two season webseries by him called “Mortal Kombat Legacy” which fueled rumors a rebooted feature film would come at a later date.
At this stage the rebooted film hasn’t happened, and a third planned season of the webseries is still due - having supposedly been filmed in early 2015 - but the other future of the franchise in films is yet to be determined. However there is always a chance the movie, and the iconic theme song, will return again some day in a new form.
If we concluded this on game references, then so far MKA would be winning hands down on the amount of things in the film directly connected to the game series. However that’s not the question here. They aren’t adapted in any form, rather often thrown in as part of of willy-nilly attempt to justify this as being connected to the franchise in game form. If Miyamoto thought Super Mario Bros. was too focused on being a movie about a game, then I’m glad he wasn’t the creator of this franchise because I didn’t think it could ever get this bad. As I said earlier SMB looks brilliant by comparison, clever almost in its references.
Positives? Nope. Nope. Nope.
I know one of my rules is to find a positive in films that could be taken away from each one and potentially be used for a good film... but all I could really say here is watch this film and then don’t do anything it does. It is simply a painful film on basically all levels. James Remar was good though. Is that something? Probably not.
Lessons learned? Know your limits.
While it would be easy to cop out here and repeat “don’t make a film like MKA” there is something clear about the film where the over ambition to include things hardly or not done before overtook the film. Especially the want to put so many CG visual effects in a film before knowing they could actually work.
You shouldn’t let “modern technology” overtake the reason for putting things into the film. Clearly the series producer Lawrence Kasanoff, and his company Threshold Entertainment, were really pushing digital media at the time and clearly the idea of live action actors fighting CG creations and CG creations fighting CG creations were important to him (he even mentions this in a brief interview on the DVD features). This clearly was not a smart idea because technology just wasn’t there yet to make it believable.
There is some discussions online that the films plot really worked around what CG they could make work in the film. If this is true or not will likely never be told, but it’s certainly not hard to believe that might have been the case when you see the end results.
So you don’t have to watch/suffer the entire film yourself, here’s 8 minutes of the “worst” of the film which will give you a visual understanding of what I’ve just written about. In the words of Shao Khan himself - “...it is glorious.”
Next time - Another sequel makes the list immediately when we return to a small, silent, foggy resort town.
About ‘Game Over: Failure of the Video Game Feature Film’
A series looking at the top 20 profitable video game feature films to figure out what is lacking and what should be done to make a successful adaption of game to film. There are a set of rules to stick by, so for an introduction on the whole series I’m doing please check out the original post located right here.
Movie fanatic, writer and publisher of numerous gaming and movie websites of the past, and former video game guide writer. Started making content in 1997 and ran or assisted with several successful sites, mostly in the realm of Horror and Survival Horror gaming through the early and mid 2000's. Includes sites such as ResidentEvilFan.com, Streets of Silent Hill, EvilGaming.net, SurvivalHorror.org, ShenmueDojo.com, VGN, Gamers Alliance, GamersLounge.com, and BHXnet/BIOHAZARDextreme among others. Usually under the name Rombie. Still occasionally appears around on old video game and Resident Evil forums and semi-frequently appears on the ProjectUmbrella.net Resident Evil podcast.
All images copyright to respective studio/photography owners. Used under fair use for critical comment on video game feature films only.