Title: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Year of Release: 1997
Date Viewed: January 31st, 2012
MPAA Rating: PG-13
If there's one thing that Mortal Kombat: Annihilation does absolutely right (and that's not really an "if"), it's living up to the pace of action that videogame players associate with the Kombat franchise. There are fight scenes. Lots of them. But someone failed to inform the producers that the fights are supposed to serve a purpose. Underneath all the violence lies a rich backstory driven by passionate creativity from the game developers. The backstory had to take a backseat in order to make room for fast button mechanics. That means being kept buried from the public eyes save for the loyal fans who cared enough to find it. Obviously, none of those fans took part in the production of this follow-up to 1995's surprisingly fun Mortal Kombat film adaptation. The man largely responsible for the original film's critical praise, Paul W.S. Anderson, was replaced by Anderson's cinematographer whose resume suggests that he knows very well how to shoot a scene but not film a scene. Scenarios like this only reaffirm my thesis that major studios do not take videogames seriously. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is one from an abundance of cash grabs from a built-in audience that ultimately condescends those very people.
With the exception of Liu Kang (Robin Shou) and Kitana (Talisa Soto), all the surviving characters from the previous film have been re-casted. While I've never been one to write off sequels because of partial or total cast replacement, the absent faces are sorely missed here because of the actors' natural traits that I have grown to appreciate. Raiden's intimidating aura has been watered down (especially when he gets that infamous haircut). Sonya's feistiness is weaker and Cage's charisma is completely missing. To be clear, the new actors didn't hand in particularly bad performances. They simply held too many inconsistencies from the old gang to carry over adequate character continuity.
Turns out however that the revamped cast was the least of the film's problems. There are barely any traces of a coherent plot. The film opens with a brief recap of the previous movie's events and then resumes at the cliffhanger finale. A new menace is threatening Earthrealm even though the Mortal Kombat tournament victory was supposed to protect the human race's existence for another millennium. The reason behind this? "What can be closed can be opened again," says Raiden. That's about as deep as the story gets.
Sonya is sent to locate and team up with her military partner Jax without any explanation for why he was hanging out at a science lab in the middle of nowhere, how Sonja knew he was there, why he upgraded his body with artificial arms or why he's even important in the first place. Best to get settled with this idea because there's a tiring pattern of characters showing up for no apparent reason. Clearly someone in charge was afraid to go longer than five minutes without a fight scene. Hence why we're treated to watching random supporting characters arriving out of nowhere to fight the random hero in tune with the techno music soundtrack. It's assumed that everyone watching this movie has the attention span of a five year-old.
Judging Annihilation from a pure visual standpoint would yield the only passable scorecard. The fight scenes range from moderately amusing (Sub-Zero versus Smoke) to laughable (Battle of the Animalities) with a few unintentionally hilarious ones thrown in for good measure (Jax versus Motaro.) The only thing I was consistently impressed with was the set design which looked like it was directly inspired by the videogame's ingenious environments.
The dialogue is atrocious. The timing is even worse. At one point, Sub-Zero lectures Liu Kang about how dangerous it is to embark on the quest completely alone. He then immediately leaves him completely alone.
The build-up to Liu Kang's final battle with Shao Kahn includes this gem. "I want to fight Kahn but I don't know if I'm ready." We're left to only take him at his word thanks to the script's negligence to provide any non-expositional evidence to the character's fears and internal conflicts. Doing that required deleting some random nonsensical fight scenes. So that was obviously out of the question. It takes a certain talent to get someone like me to complain about over-dependency on action sequences considering how I'm probably one of the most generous bloggers that the summer blockbuster formula will ever see.
The movie's tagline warns us to "Destroy All Expectations." Enough said.