A look back at the fast, loud and feverish action collage video game crossover that was Mortal Kombat II: Annihilation (1997).
The Wikipedia page for Mortal Kombat: Annihilation used to categorize it as a science fantasy martial arts action film. This is an awesome genre classification, and it already provides a hint that we’re in for an extraordinary experience. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation belonged to the first generation of video game adaptations, together with its predecessor Mortal Kombat, as well as Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, and Double Dragon.
None of these are exactly considered masterpieces, but they were the first of their kind, so it’s understandable that a success formula yet had to be worked out. It seems many studio producers are still searching for it, considering the quality of movies based on video games that even today’s audiences are regularly exposed to.
UAMC Reviews Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
The first Mortal Kombat was a solid fantasy/martial arts flick, that introduced us to the characters of the game and had them thrash each other. It also fared not too bad at the box office, and so the inevitable sequel was made. After defeating the evil warlock Shang Tsung in the first movie, the group of martial arts warriors around Liu Kang and Lord Raiden are confronted with the another otherworldly tyrant. Shao Kahn has big plans to annihilate the world, and so it’s time for the next Mortal Kombat.
Almost every aspect of the movie could be considered fairly abysmal if you them look at them isolated and apply the usual standards of movie critics. The list includes the dialogues, the acting, set decoration, story and special effects, pretty much everything. The most peculiar feature about the movie is that if you put all the bad pieces together, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation becomes a feverish collage that takes on an almost surreal form if you can open yourself up for it.
The film has a vibe that is just as goofy and cheesy as that of classic action games, which themselves seemed to have borrowed much of their attitude from 1980s action movies. Whatever happens in the plot department feels like interlude screens between levels, and the characters also move and talk like they’re trapped in an old-school video game. The costumes may seem ridiculous by today’s standards, but if you compare them with what the characters in the original games were dressed like, it’s pretty much spot on! So when looking at it from this particular angle, everything fits nicely together, I think.
The visuals of the film are pure chaos. Sets, costume design and special effects are done in lurid colors, reminding me of a video game that just entered the VGA era, and wanted to proudly display it’s utilization of the full 256-color palette. The film also uses a charming mixture of cheap special effects that include matte backgrounds, miniatures, and terrible CGI that can never be unseen.
Those Characters, Sets and CGI tho…
Some sets are looking really cool, and feel like a strange blend of motives from Mad Max, Conan The Barbarian, and Dante’s Inferno. Other sets seem to be built from an amount of paper maché that I haven’t seen since the cheap Italian Fantasy films of the 1980s (I don’t really have a better comparison than this).
When we look at the actors and their characters, I think everyone in Team Raiden does their job well enough considering what they were given to work with. Team Shao Kahn, however, goes all in on unbridled overacting with delightfully sadistic attitudes and plenty of sardonic laughter. Brian Thompson is the epicenter of insanity in this film as Shao Kahn.
Blessed with a physiognomy that landed him almost exclusively bad guy roles in his career, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is one of his finest moments, and he goes completely nuts in almost every scene. For the most part, he skulks around in his lair carrying a weapon that looks like an oversized Croquet mallet, with which he knocks whoever talks back to him into the fire pits.
But, How Ultimate is it?
So what about the action? The first Mortal Kombat received a PG-13 rating despite being based on of the most violent games of its time, and the second film also does not show a single drop of blood. A consequence of this choice is that the action in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is fairly harmless, and the style of the action scenes is more reminiscent of the old Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers films than of a serious martial arts flick.
Nevertheless, the fight sequences are pretty solid. They are delivered almost non-stop as the script throws one evil character after another at Liu Kang and his friends, who usually quickly dispose of them. Add to that cheap CGI monsters, explosions and a frantic Techno/Heavy Metal soundtrack, and we got ourselves a gleeful roller coaster ride.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is a bizarre movie that is strangely captivating for all the wrong reasons. I think it’s the most memorable of all three live-action films of the franchise that have been released so far, and takes it’s rightful place in the unofficial trilogy of wackiest films based on fighting games next to Street Fighter and Dead Or Alive. It’s fast, it’s loud, and completely out of control. So just lean back and enjoy the madness!