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Mortal Kombat really did have the best game-based movie

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My wife's a big Mortal Kombat fan, and so it's been a pretty Kombat-heavy week over here. Not only is the game being played almost constantly, we've also been celebrating by watching the Mortal Kombat movie, which fans will recognize as having the unofficial title, "Battle For Man Island."

The film has long been considered a joke, but the more I watch it, the more I feel I have to respect it. No, it's not a great film, barely able to compete with even the silliest kung-fu movie, but it is a great videogame-based movie.

In fact, it's the best one out there, as far as I'm concerned. If you disagree, feel free to say so in the comments and name your own favorite, but hear me out as I make my case. 

To the best of my knowledge, Mortal Kombat is certainly the most faithful of the game-based movies. Even Silent Hill, which Konami itself had heavily influenced, took significant liberties with the game's original premise and eventually crafted a plot that embellished huge chunks of nonsense. Then you get movies like Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter, pretty much connected to the source material in name only. 

Meanwhile, the essence of Mortal Kombat is impressively preserved in the film. It tells the story of Raiden and Shang Tsung, representatives of EarthRealm and the NetherRealm respectively, as they hold a fighting tournament for control of the world. It's quite unlike the majority of game-based films, which decide to make huge changes to a game's story in order to make them have a greater market appeal or -- in the case of Uwe Boll -- tell an all-new narrative of the director's design, using a game's name only to secure better funding.

Unlike most game films, the characters are almost entirely preserved and share the same backstory as their interactive counterparts. Sonya Blade is a Special Forces agent looking to take down the villainous Kano. Johnny Cage is a martial arts movie star who enters the tournament to prove that his stunts aren't special effects. Oh, and Reptile is totally a reptile ... albeit a reptile that possesses statues in order to become a ninja ... 

I never said all the characters were perfectly represented. 

Indeed, a few liberties are taken -- Scorpion and Sub-zero have none of their classic enmity (Shang Tsung only mentions it in passing, while they inexplicably work together), Kano is an employee of the villains rather than a thief looking to steal Tsung's loot, and Raiden is suddenly French with a penchant for laughing like a sex offender. Nevertheless, the artistic license is minimal and Mortal Kombat remains surprisingly faithful to the source material. 

This is carried on through to the costumes. Sure, Street Fighter ended with every character looking like their game counterpart, but most of the movie features characters in rather mundane attire, only getting into their final costumes through increasingly convoluted means. Most licensed movies feature grittier, more realistic versions of costumes -- X-Men being a prime example with its lack of spandex and grey-to-black color palette. Mortal Kombat shits on your realism by having ninjas in bright yellow clothes and hairy Brits with metal faces. Again, a few characters have been changed, with Kitana and Shang Tsung getting a more sensible makeovers, but for the most part it's very easy to tell who everyone's meant to be. 

It's also worth noting that the fight scenes are actually decent. With the exception of Sub-zero, who goes down like a bitch, the fight sequences are memorable and quite cool. Johnny Cage vs. Scorpion is silly, yet fun to watch, and the Liu Kang vs. Reptile battle is a genuinely solid bout. Also, Johnny Cage gets to pull the famous nut-punch on Goro, which is good for obvious reasons. 

Of course, it wouldn't be a good game movie without plenty of stupidity and actors that ham up their lines. The problem with most game movies nowadays is that, despite being crap, they still try to be serious and refuse to have fun with the property. Mortal Kombat may be the most faithful game-based movie, but it's still utterly ludicrous and I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's over-acting as Shang Tsung may not rival Raul Julia's M. Bison, but he's still deliciously over the top. Christopher Lambert's Raiden is total crap, but that's all part of the charm. Meanwhile, Ed Boon scores points for not only providing the official voice of Scorpion, but also in making a character that can almost only say sentences that play on his "Get Over Here" phrase -- with "Welcome" and "Get Down Here" being his only other lines, delivered with comical stupidity. 

One can also laugh at the fact that Shang Tsung's island is populated almost entirely by half-naked, greased up, anonymous young men, and that the surrounding architecture seems to exclusively consist of statues depicting even more half-naked men, leading one to conclude that Mortal Kombat is set on the legendary Man Island. 

Oh, and you have to love the worst-than-Reboot CGI animation, and the bangin' 90s soundtrack. Truly, Mortal Kombat is a film of its time!

I think a huge part of its success as a licensed film lies in the fact that, of all the game properties out there, Mortal Kombat must rank in the lower echelons in terms of titles that deserve to be films. Mortal Kombat's narrative has always been disposable at best and borderline retarded at worst. However, due to this very fact, Mortal Kombat works as a so-bad-it's-good film.

You get a movie like Silent Hill or even Resident Evil, where there's a strong enough narrative to be ruined, and you end up with a sub-par experience that only pisses off the fanbase. With Mortal Kombat, there wasn't really anything, narratively, to be trashed. It was already a trainwreck of B-movie stupidity, and that only works in its favor when the time comes to make a movie. The producers wisely stuck to the game's own premise without meddling too much, and nothing of value was lost.

Sure, Mortal Kombat is a stupid film, but as far as game-based movies go, it's the best one out there. Like many idiotic nineties movies, its primary appeal is how laughable it is, best suited to viewing with friends in an ironic capacity. Nevertheless, under the silliness and cheese, there lies a film with genuine heart and an actual respect for the source material.

The likes of Super Mario, Double Dragon, and BloodRayne just went wherever the Hell they wanted, treating their respective videogame references more as unwanted obligations than legitimate attempts to preserve the intellectual property. Mortal Kombat, meanwhile, embraced the fact that it was a game movie, and didn't care how inane it looked to have a yellow ninja who could shoot chains out of his hand. They didn't even bother trying to come up with a grounded, realistic explanation for it. They just had a yellow ninja shooting semi-sentient hand-ropes.

Because screw it, this is Mortal Kombat!

[Publisher's Note:  Here's an old counterpoint, Jim!]

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Jim Sterling
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Filed under... #Destructoid Originals #Fighting Games #Mortal Kombat #Movies #Top Stories

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