Should I Watch..? 'Mortal Kombat: Annihilation'
What's the big deal?
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is an action martial-arts film released in 1997 and is the direct sequel to the 1995 surprise hit film Mortal Kombat. Like the first film, the movie is loosely based on the Mortal Kombat series of video games (specifically the third game) and sees a band of warriors fighting the invading forces of Shao Khan as he attempts to rule the Earth. Although it is a sequel, only two of the original cast - Robin Shou and former Bond girl Talisa Soto - reprised their roles while the rest of the cast included James Remar, Brian Thompson, Sandra Hess, Lynn "Red" Williams and Irina Pantaeva. Although the film topped the US box office in its first week, the film only managed to make just over $51 million worldwide and received near-universal condemnation from critics. While the first film was seen as a guilty pleasure, the sequel was berated for its poor effects and lack of story. Series co-creator Ed Boon once described this movie as the worst moment in the history of the franchise.
What's it about?
Having literally just saved the Earth in the last movie, the evil emperor of Outworld Shao Khan opens a portal to Earth and unleashes his warriors on our heroes. Khan informs them that Earth shall be absorbed into Outworld in six days and quickly kills Johnny Cage, forcing our heroes onto the back foot. Liu Kang joins forces with Kitana and sets off to find a mysterious Native American shaman named Nightfoot who apparently holds the key to defeating Shao Khan. Meanwhile, Sonya Blade teams up with her old buddy Jax and his cybernetically-enhanced arms and they focus on trying to defend the Earth from Khan's forces.
Raiden is approached by the Elder Gods and sacrifices his immortality in order to join the fight against Outworld and Kitana is kidnapped by Scorpion and is horrified to find her long-dead mother Sindel resurrected and fighting alongside Khan. As the deadline gets ever nearer and the odds stacked ever higher against them, can the mortals band together and defeat Shao Khan before Earth is completely lost or will Khan have the last laugh?
Lynn "Red" Williams
John R. Leonetti
Brent V. Friedman & Bryce Zabel *
Release Date (UK)
13th February, 1998
Action, Fantasy, Thriller
What's to like?
I know that one has to remain objective during a review such as this but for the first time, I'm actually struggling to think of anything to praise Mortal Kombat: Annihilation for besides spelling the word 'annihilation' properly. I suppose that the film matches the warp-speed pace the first film installed, offering fight scenes to the viewer at such a pace that I thought they were going out of fashion. It also has to be said that some of the characters look like their digital originals but seeing as Mortal Kombat was a 16-bit beat-em-up, this isn't saying much. Scorpion, Reptile and Sub Zero are essentially the same character but in different colours and with slightly different moves.
The film also feels as though it's trying to cram in more references to the game than the first film managed. The fight scenes have more recognisable content from the game than before with Fatality moves included and even a couple of extras, that I won't spoil for you here. Absolute die-hard fans of the game might appreciate this but for most people like me who lost interest, it feels like a collection of half-baked ideas and rip-offs thrown into one ungodly mess of a movie.
- Ray Park - who would go on to play Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace - got his first job in the movies as a stunt double for this film.
- New Line Cinema had plans for a third movie for a number of years, wishing to atone for this film's negative reaction. It would have seen Johnny Cage resurrected and fighting alongside the usual characters against Quan Chi and a returning Shang Tsung. However, Hurrican Katrina destroyed most of the sets and the film rights went to Warner Bros. so it never happened.
- Keith Cooke, who played Reptile in Mortal Kombat, also returns but as a different character. Here, he plays the role of Sub-Zero instead. Every other part in the film was recast.
What's not to like?
Those aforementioned fans of the game will still find their loyalty to the franchise severely tested by this trashy no-brainer. The fight is mostly made up of fight scenes and plot development is kept to an absolute minimum - I couldn't figure out what Sonya and Jax were doing on their own separate storyline other than to pad the movie out. The goofy charm of the first film has been replaced with B-movie cheesiness and utterly woeful dialogue. Even Brian Thompson, who everyone knows can play a baddie in his sleep, struggles with lines like "The Earth was created in six days, so too shall it be destroyed. And on the seventh day, Mankind will rest... in peace!"
The effects are even worse than before with hideously animated creatures popping up that are so bad, Ray Harryhausen is still hitting 3000 rpm in his coffin. The cast are universally awful - Remar's Raiden makes Lambert's performance look charismatic while B-movie queen Hess is in her element here, scrapping with baddies in a tight white vest and green shorts. One of the worst things about Mortal Kombat: Annihilation in the near-constant lack of thought. Why do the baddies look ridiculous and unthreatening in their costumes? Why is Shao Khan not played by someone with the right ethnicity? Why does a virtually non-existent plot still have plot-holes like the redundant six-day countdown, which is forgotten about after the opening scenes? Why am I giving this more thought than the film-makers when I'm not being paid to do so?
The simple truth is that it thought it could get away with it. The first film is hardly a classic but it was moderately successful at the box office - no doubt, something foremost in the film-makers minds. But by cutting corners, recasting almost everybody in the first film, disregarding any sense of cohesion and having a horrible that-will-do attitude to production combined with the headache-inducing soundtrack and inept direction, they have produced arguably one of the very worst videogame adaptations of all time. And considering the other films that could qualify for that dubious honour, that's a bold statement.
Should I watch it?
Only extremely forgiving fans of the franchise would get anything out of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation which is one of the cheapest and uninterested martial-arts films I've ever seen. The cast are uninspired, the action is repetitive and boring, the plot was written in crayon and the finished product lacks any of the spit-and-polish of the first film. This is trumped in every way by the first film, which also had its faults but at least it managed to be fun. This abysmal sequel is anything but.
Great For: forgiving fans of the franchise, making people leave the vicinity
Not So Great For: entertainment purposes, martial-arts fans, anyone with an IQ above 60
What else should I watch?
Video-game adaptations have been box-office poison ever since Bob Hoskins flushed his career down the toilet in 1993's Super Mario Bros. It doesn't matter if they are big budgeted blockbusters like Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time or another Uwe Boll paycheck like Alone In The Dark, there hasn't been a single film yet to break the supposed curse of the videogame adaptation. Safe to say, it wasn't under any threat from this film.
Having said that, there is some goodwill surrounding Mortal Kombat, which made a surprisingly reasonable $122 million at the box office. Yes, it has lousy effects and an ineffective cast but it seemed to resonate with the "hung-over lads" audience. Crucially, it also beat another much-anticipated videogame adaptation - Street Fighter was a comically bad adaptation of Mortal Kombat's video-game arch-nemesis Street Fighter II featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kylie Minogue and Raul Julia in his last film appearance. It would be a tragic end to a much respected career.
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© 2015 Benjamin Cox