For a while back there, Paul W. Anderson’s hyper active video game adaptation Mortal Kombat was the gold standard for a genre pummeled by the likes of arcade dumpster fires like Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros. All it took was some accurate characterization, a couple of nifty fights and a theme that got your fists pumping despite the fact that it was fucking techno and BOOM, any resistance met with a swift fatality. Things haven’t gotten that much better since then with countless other attempts to realise other button bashing adventures has mostly crashed and burned; but the most impressive nose dive had to be that of Mortal Kombat’s own sequel, a film so bad that not only can it test it’s might against any other flop in the same genre, it has a legitimate shot at being one of the worst movies of all time. I give you: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
Picking up mere moments after Liu Kang managed to save the world by travelling to a mystical realm called Outworld and winning the grammatically challenged Mortal Kombat, the survivors are stunned when their celebrations are interrupted by a full-fledged invasion by jacked-up Emperor Shao-Kahn. Why everyone seems genuinely perplexed by the fact that a man who goes around wearing a spiked shoulder pads and a skull mask had absolutely no intention of following the rules I’m not exactly sure, but Liu Kang, Kitana, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage and their “coach” Raiden the God Of Lightning are caught unawares by the sneak attack of Kahn’s misshapen generals. Kitana in particular is shocked by the return of her dead mother who now dresses like a white Tina Turner and has devoted herself to evil and Johnny Cage is rudely slaughtered in the attack. As our heroes retreat to formulate a plan (chances are it’ll primarily involve punching…), they split to achieve various goals: Liu and Kitana head off to search for ripped native american shaman Nightwolf in order for Liu to learn how to channel his “Animality” to shift into another form – although I don’t think that a dragon is technically an animal but there we go… Meanwhile Sonya tracks down her Special Forces buddy Jax who has decided to combat his lack of confidence by having bionic implants attached to his arms (jeez – just see a therapist, dude…) and Raiden visits the Elder Gods to find out what loophole Shao Kahn wrangled to pull this earth conquering bullshit off.
As other characters from the Mortal Kombat world making increasingly random appearances whether the plot requires them too or not (plus I’m pretty sure Scorpion’s dead, right?), earth’s flightiest heroes squabble, complain and bang on and on about not being ready to save the earth, but with the final konflict koming round the korner (sorry… just kaught a kase of the Mortal Kombat K’s), everyone had better sort out their personal crap before our realm becomes Outworld’s retirement village…
The first movie was refreshingly honest about what it was; ie. a trashy tournament movie much like Enter The Dragon or Bloodsport that had a fantasy setting for the characters to dole out some hardcore concussions. Wisely keeping things simple and skillfully avoiding complicating matters with unnecessary clutter like nuanced characterization or a mature plot, Mortal Kombat devoted it’s run time exclusively to keeping shit fast and keeping shit cool – Annihilation on the other hand takes it’s cue from the third video game in the series which means the film flings in as many fights and new characters as it can whether it makes sense or not. Usually not.
Numerous times some weirdo will show up mid-fight, swap some dialogue with one of our bewildered leads and then promptly fuck off never to be seen again. For example, you think an entire sub-plot featuring Sub Zero’s brother (also named Sub Zero) is going to kick off, but no – he’s literally only passing through and he’s seemingly immune to the world-ending events that got everyone so wound up. What, we’ve got to deal with this shit but Sub Zero doesn’t? What, does he think he’s better than me? His spare time is more important than mine? Frosty prick… Anyway, the actors genuinely look like they have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on at all times and the fact that their spending the majority of their screen time in front of deeply unconvincing green screen certainly doesn’t help. Their obvious confusion is catching, virtually seeping out of the screen like a noxious gas that makes the why’s and wherefore’s of the story incomprehensible simply because you’ve lost interest before the film’s barely started. Watching the leads fight against the script as bravely as they fight their-on screen foes leads to some performances that vary wildly in ways that are entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Slab-faced, career villain Brian Thompson chooses to slice the ham as bore-lord, war-lord Shao Kahn curiously delivers each line with such gusto it feels like he’s constantly on the verge of orgasming while James Remar takes Christoher Lambert’s place under Raiden’s flowing, white locks. But instead of treating the role as Lambert did (ie. a bit of a laugh), Remar seems to think sucking any bit of charisma out of the role is the way to go and instead looks like an elderly, hatchet faced wiccan/school dinner lady in his platinum wig. Still, it’s a better look than the one he adopts when he turns mortal midway through the film where he struts around with a blonde buzz-cut like he’s an East German DJ…
The fights are energetic but don’t actually go anywhere and feels more like your watching a live stunt show that someone just happened to have filmed than an epic struggle that affects the whole of humanity. Although I’m not entirely sure if having the fight between Sonya Blade and Mileena devolve into a mud wrestling match was the way to go… The special effects are worse and containing the word “special” when describing them is a good way to get an angry phone call from trading standards – but inbetween the headache inducing action, there’s some stunningly bad line readings to fire off some good old unintentional laughter. An exchange between Kitana and her malevolent mother Sindel has even cropped up in numerous “worst ever” compilations, earning it’s place a thousand fold by being irredeemably dreadful on multiple levels. Ex-Bond girl Talisa Soto gazes upon her resurrected parent (who easily looks the same age) and gasps “Mother! You’re alive!” – “Too bad YOU… will DIE!” is the brow furrowing response, but your confused protests are immediately drowned out by her peals of hysterical villain laughter.
The absolute mecca of video game based bowl movements, it’s stunning that anyone still had a career after this, let alone it’s director; but as he went on to helm the first Annabelle movie I guess that the in-film characters aren’t the only ones to score an extra life.
“GET OVER HERE!” is the token quote from blade flinging fan favorite Scorpion.