Thursday, 29 March 2012
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Title: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Director: John R. Leonetti
Staring: Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, James Remar, Sandra Hess, Lynn “Red” Williams, Brian Thompson, Musetta Vander, Irina Pantaeva, Deron McBee, Marjean Holden, Litefoot, Chris Conrad
Plot: Picking up were the first movie left off, the Outworld leader Shao Kahn (Thompson) unhappy with the outcome of the previous tournament launches an invasion of earth, breaking the rules of the “Mortal Kombat” tournament. Now Liu Kang (Shou), Raiden (Remar), Jax (Williams), Sonya (Hess) and Kitana (Soto) must join forces once again to defeat Shao Kahn, before Earth realm merges permanently with the Outworld.
Review: Over the years I’ve been writing this blog I have covered on several occasions my love for the “Mortal Kombat” series, a series which at times has certainly tested the love of it’s fan base mainly with questionable sequels to the original video game trilogy, which honestly only now has come back to the same standard as the original games, while the live action adaptations have largely been more successful, though this film will forever be the painful exception by being a film that even the fan base struggle to like.
The original “Mortal Kombat” movie I openly admitted in my review is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, so you can no doubt imagine by excitement when I discovered that a sequel was originally being made. Sadly this film was not the worthy successor (an honour later bestowed to the Classic TV series Mortal Kombat Konquest) to the first film I hoped it would be even back then and upon revisiting it now, several years after that original viewing with a really open mind I still found myself really disliking this movie.
While the first film was based on the original game, this film is based on Mortal Kombat 2 & 3, with the focus here being largely on the storyline from the third game, not that you can really tell as the melding of the two worlds is essentially the only real plot link that the film shares, especially with it exchanging the cityscapes of the game for a generic desert setting which was surprising seeing how this film had a larger budget than the original film, though where this budget went is even more confusing as none of it seems to have been put onto the screen, with the effects frequently appearing amateurish and the sets having none of the atmospheric designs of the original film, with there being really only one real set in the form of Kahn’s castle while only other sets are just generally generic ruins such as the one used for the final showdown.
The plotline is almost non existent outside of the heroes traveling to the Shao Kahn’s castle on their own yet essentially identical paths, while Raiden whines to the elder gods about what Shao Kahn is doing and how it violates the rules of “Mortal Kombat”. Needless to say all the characters handily all converge in time for the big showdown, while along the way we get distractions such as Liu Kang learning to harness the power of “animality” something which appeared in MK3 as a new way of finishing off your opponent and following on from the groundbreaking “Fatalities”, which had been joined by the more random “Friendship” finishers and completely bonkers “Babality” two things which are yet to make it into one of these spin off’s, yet for some reason director Leonetti felt he could make work, though for something which has such importance put upon it, it ultimately comes to around two minutes of footage of a couple of bargain bin CGI dragons fighting each other during the showdown between Liu Kang and Shao Kahn, which is an awkward looking fight to begin with, so to have them mutate into dragons, only takes the audience further away from the fight rather than salvaging it, as could have been done with a more capable director.
Despite the popularity and success of the first film nearly all of the roles with the exception Liu Kang and Kitana were recast for this film, thanks largely due to scheduling issues with the original cast as both Bridgette Wilson (Sonya) and Christopher Lambert (Raiden) were attached to other films, much like Chris Cassamassa (Scorpion) who was doing stunt work for “Batman & Robin”. The only exception being Linden Ashby, who turned down the opportunity to reprise his memorable performance as Johnny Cage, after he read the script, which is hard to blame him for especially if was the same as the film seen here. Still what is more surprising is that all the actors being brought in were more Z list than the majority of the original actors.
The main problem the film suffers from is the same as “Street Fighter” by misguidedly trying to please the fan base, by cramming in as many of their favorite characters as possible, but then suddenly finding that it has nothing for them to do, while no doubt further ticking off the Johnny Cage fan’s by killing him off in the first ten minutes. The original film based itself on the original game which arguably had a small roster of characters to feature which made it easier, but by drawing inspiration from MK2 & 3 it really tries to bite off more than it can chew by trying to feature so many characters, so not only do we have a lot of characters not doing much apart from standing around and generally bragging about their abilities, which rarely get showcased something especially true with the character of Sheeva, who was originally supposed to fight Raiden and Liu Kang at the same time, but due to complexities of bringing her character to the screen with the extensive use of prosthetic's and CGI, the scene was replaced with her almost comical death scene. Even worse we also get characters such as Melina suddenly appearing with no introduction and killed off with even less notice. As a result the film could have certainly benefited from just taking the more popular characters and concentrated on doing them well, after all who really cares about seeing characters like Nightwolf and Sindel?? Even more randomly Sub Zero and Scorpion both return, even though they both died in the first film and while their appearance is certainly still welcome (unlike those stupid robots) and they have a decent fight scene, their reapperence rests largely on your acceptance that Sub Zero is actually the brother of the original Sub Zero, a idea only made the less laughable by his sudden ability to fly, while Scorpion’s reappearance is left for the audience to figure out as no explanation is certainly given here.
The sole saving grace of this whole non-event is with the fight scenes, which although they don’t come close to those seen in the original film, we do get a few half decent fight scenes, including a titillating mud pit showdown between Sonya and Melina, which despite Sonya being completely covered in mud by the end of the fight, it has mysteriously disappeared by the next scene as we see what would seem to be a freshly showered Sonya. Still Hess does well in portraying the character while even cheekily getting to pull off Sonya’s “Kiss of Death” fatality. The fight scenes however are heavily affected by the martial arts abilities of the actors who happen to be playing those characters, so ironically as a result of this characters such as Sub-zero and Scorpion who are played mainly by fight trained stuntmen have great fight scenes, while Robin Shou doesn’t get the same showcase for his abilities as he did before largely thanks to Brian Thompson having seemingly zero martial arts ability, despite his resume listing that he has a black belt in Hapkido, though his characters insistence on constantly doing forward flips is almost comical.
“Mortal Kombat : Annihilation” is not just a flawed film, it’s a film lacking any kind of direction and one which makes no attempt to take advantage of the world already established in the first film, while questionable use of budget makes it hard to see what they spent the money on, especially when the acting and script are so awful, while the sole thing which stops this from being sent straight to Video Game Movie hell, along with the likes of “Double Dragon” and “King of the Fighters” are the few good fight scenes we get, which while they ultimately might not cover for the mountain of issues this film has, at least proving enough of a distraction to keep your attention to the end credits. Sadly the planned follow up to this film, which allegedly would not only bring back the original cast, but also make up for cover for the damage caused to the franchise by this film would be closed down, when sets were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
While other attempts to reboot the franchise would follow in this films wake, we still await another movie, with the fate of the series would now seemingly rest in the hands of Kevin Tancharoen, who has so far proven to the unlikely saviour since releasing his test film “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth” which gave the series a real life edge, which lead to the web series “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” whose huge success has now lead to him being given the gig of reviving the film franchise in what is expected to be a much needed reboot, much like the recent one which the games themselves were given, though details are still minimal we can only hope that it takes this film as an example of what not to do with the franchise.