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Game to Screen: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Updated on July 21, 2015

Foreword

It is fairly clear that this film is an adaptation of the third Mortal Kombat game. I shall refer to the film that this movie is considered a sequel to but this commentary will largely focus on why this universally bad film failed to appropriately adapt from its original work instead of serving as a proper sequel.

Movie Poster

Source

The Film

Released in 1997, the film begins with roughly the same premise as Mortal Kombat 3 (despite having skipped Mortal Kombat 2 altogether). It features a much different cast and far more characters than the original. While both works start out the same with Shao Kahn invading Earthrealm with the help of his resurrected Queen Sindel, most everything changes afterwards. At first, everyone believes Kitana needs to bring out the humanity in her mother but this is a lie shared by everyone, and later in the film the audience discovers that not only is Raiden and Shao Kahn intended to be brothers (despite residing in completely different worlds), but their shared father is the big bad in Mortal Kombat 4. Animalities are also part of the plot and then ignored.

This film did not do well, either financially or critically. In fact, it performed badly enough that the third film was completely cut and to this day, no successful big screen adaptation has ever been made. Like the second Tomb Raider Lara Croft adaptation, this film failed to keep up its popularity set from its first entry.

The Game

Breaking into the arcade game scene in 1995, Mortal Kombat 3 was the second sequel to the original blood-infatuated fighting game. Continuing with the plot of the second game, Shao Kahn is frustrated by trying to conquer Earthrealm and ressurects an evil version of his dead queen on Earthrealm as a loophole to invade his armies. The result kills billions down to the remaining defenders as the humans strike back at Shao Kahn.

While still largely successful, this series tried to change the formula a little with the inclusion of Animalities and more Western urban landscape (as the series was dominated largely by otherwordly realms or Asian locations). With the urban landscape came characters like Stryker, a slightly chubby police officer who was rated at a high tier (thanks to the almighty handgun) was received poorly when faced up against ninjas who freeze people and gods of lightning.

Game Cover

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The Successes of Adaptation

On one hand, the Props
Namely Kitana's fan-blades and Smoke and Cyrax's cybernetic armor. In a film full of crappy props (more on that later), these don't offend the idea and Smoke's appearance isn't half bad in the film. Granted, he's just an enemy with grey armor with a couple of neat caveats, but his fight with Liu Kang is one of the better ones in the film.

On one hand, the Fight Scenes
Some of the fight scenes in the film were passable or even entertaining, if you can believe it. Liu Kang's fight with Smoke (with Kitana using her fan blades against the Outworld goons behind her) was actually a bit of fun and set the tone that Liu Kang needed to train and become stronger in order to fight Shao Kahn (which was kind of a lost point when it came to the fight, but I'll get to that). Smoke looked good and until Sub-Zero showed up, it was entertaining. I also found the first scene where Raiden fights Shao Kahn entertaining as well (it's the only time Raiden actually fights with his powers, let's be honest).

Also, Sonya Blade versus Mileena (even if it was a Mileena without her Tarkatan teeth) in a mud pit was great fun too, for obviously different reasons.

The Recasting of Raiden
While I'm still not a fan of his appearance in the films (what's up with the long white wing?), I prefer James Remar infinitely more than Christopher Lambert. James Remar might not have nailed the character of Raiden himself, but the portrayal could be taken more seriously without Lambert's fake laugh every other line of dialogue.

Trailer for the Film

The Misses of the Adaptation

On the other hand, the Props
For an immediate display, just look at the rubber mask Baraka is wearing. Taking a note from watching CinemaSins cover this video, most of this outfits and costumes would not pass for a cosplay convention. Shao Kahn's mask is boring and plastic (although Shao Kahn is so deliberately human under it it's hard to say which is worse)

On the other hand, the Fight Scenes
Going back to Baraka, it was all one big swinging carnival fight with no distinction being given to Baraka or other Tarkatans. Sheeva was simply disposed of dropping a cage on her, Sub-Zero was beaten by having his head dangle off a ledge (despite consistently doing flips and other action nonsense just seconds before), and Sonya becoming suddenly vulnerable in Kahn and Raiden's fight at the beginning. And of course, there's the infamous Reptile(?) versus mortal Raiden spinning in place after many, many failed kicks.

And I swear, don't even get me started on the supposed 'Animalities' fight.

Animalities
Sorry, couldn't help myself. The Animality in the film (which is the only reason Nightwolf is present for the film) is so that Liu Kang can defeat Shao Kahn, making this feature the single-most important plot point (aside from the lie everyone shared that Kitana and Sindel had to be reunited in love). Fans of the series would assume that Liu Kang would take the form of a dragon, but instead we get some kind of gargoyle presented through CGI possibly worse than the first film. Not only that, but Shao Kahn apparently turns into a disgusting fleshy hydra with the worst kind of shriek in the world. The fight lasts all of a minute and a half before both seemed stunned, which is not how Animalities (a fun alternative to Fatalities in the games) work. Then, the film proceeds as if the Animalities were never a big deal. I'm sorry, what?

Use of Characters
For a fighting game with a variety of colorful characters, you either use them well or you don't use them at all. This film didn't recognize that fact. Stryker and Kabal are written off in a single line. Rain reports them dead and gets killed because he didn't torture them. Sheeva hints towards a rivalry with Motaro and gets crushed by a gate. Baraka is awful, period. Shao Kahn looks absurdly human and his helmet is almost as bad as Baraka's head. Mileena is only remarked to resemble Kitana but nothing else about her background or creation is mentioned (which would have been a much better focus of family issues compared to the Shinnok/SHao Kahn/Raiden deal). Speaking of which, why in the world is Shinnok in this film, and worse, why is he Shao Kahn's and Raiden's dad? Why in the world are those two brothers? Jax is used as the comedic relief after Johnny's neck snaps, but it comes off as flat and Jax is more comedic (in a bad way) than Johnny ever was, which is really weird.

I swear I could go on and on, but in essence it boils down to this: the film is largely cameo appearances and most of the integral characters are re-imagined to fit the script's designs.

The Casting
I'm not saying who played their roles did a bad job (they certainly didn't do a great one but I blame that on the limited script and no character development), but there were very, very few returning faces out of a sea of characters. Robin Shou returned as Liu Kang (if he hadn't, this film would have failed even more spectacularly in my opinion). Talisa Soto reprised her role as Kitana, and that's it. If only these few actors were returning, why bother trying to keep a continuity? Oh, that's right. There was money involved.

Turns out there really wasn't.

A Fan Trailer of the MK Trilogy

Closing Thoughts

I shake my head at this movie. What did it do right? Sure, it was a guilty pleasure of mine when I was six but at that age we really don't understand the concept of good films. The film tries to cram so many characters into the film by simply introducing them (or not, as many characters are never given names) in the form of a fight where they are defeated and never seen again. The family ties in the film forego the already in place Kitana/Mileena/Jade struggle and try to make something different with Kahn, Raiden, and Shinnok. In all honesty, I can't imagine how this script writing went. And this is all without saying just how terrible the actual lines spoken by the characters are.

A lot of people give Paul Anderson a bad name for his Resident Evil series and other films, but in all honesty you can feel his departure from this film like a sucking wound. He catered to his audience in the first film while this film couldn't seem to make up its mind about what it wanted to do.

This film is bad enough I wouldn't recommend it to an easy to please Mortal Kombat fan.

Oh well, on to Mortal Kombat: Legacy.

Game vs Movie

For those of you who played Mortal Kombat 3 and have seen this film, which did you enjoy more?

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Further Reading

Enjoy what you've read here? I've got a list of Game to Screen adaptations I'm currently working on and I promise not all the works are as bad as this one (but many aren't much better).

Also, you can read about the original film in this series made in 1995.

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