Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Rated: PG-13 :: Released: 21 November 1997
Director: John R. Leonetti :: Starring: Robin Shou, James Remar, Sandra Hess and Brian Thompson
By James D. Deaux IV
12 December 2006 — The drop-off in quality from the first Mortal Kombat movie to its sequel is comparable to the difference in taste between a fresh Maine lobster and a rotting anchovy. That isn't to say that Mortal Kombat the movie was a five-star classic, because it wasn't. Far from it, in fact. It's just that the differential is truly that astronomical. Mortal Kombat actually had surprising accuracy and parallelism to the original MK video game storyline. All of the characters from the initial game were there: Liu Kang, Sonya, Johnny Cage, Scorpion, Sub-Zero and so many more. Princess Kitana was an unexpected, but acceptable addition given her limited and meaningful role. The special effects were pretty good, as were the fight scenes. Even the sets were surprisingly cool. The movie may have had its silly moments, but it thrived because all of the characters had a definitive purpose. And, with the exceptions of Sub-Zero and maybe Reptile, the character development was pulled off nicely. Plus, the casting was nearly flawless, especially in the cases of Raiden (Christopher Lambert), Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Kano (Trevor Goddard), Sonya (Bridgette Wilson) and Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby). The best compliment I think I can give it was that it was a movie that didn't insult the audience's intelligence and was worth the price of admission, especially if you are a fan of the video games.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, on the other hand, was the very antithesis to the original movie.
Annihilation was a supreme clusterfuck from start to finish. The movie was supposedly this: Shao Kahn, the despotic leader of Outworld, illegally opens a portal to Earthrealm in order to conquer it after his forces tasted bitter defeat in the latest Mortal Kombat tournament. If the Earthrealm heroes cannot defeat Kahn in six days, then he will destroy it on the seventh. From the very beginning of the film, which was made to pick up immediately after the first one ended, nothing made even the slightest bit of sense. Roles were recast (not that I blame the actors who fled the sinking ship). Previously crucial characters were butchered. Others were killed off in miserable, insignificant moments. The acting was horrendous. The dialogue was childish, pedestrian and outright nauseating. The special effects were laughable at best. In the place where there should have been that little thing called a plot, there were endless fight scenes. And not a single one of those fight scenes could be described as anything better than "utter, contemptible crap." There was virtually nothing in this movie that resembled the unexpectedly solid work from the first; moreover, it basically destroyed any kind of momentum the MK franchise might have had at the time.
Right from the get-go, I could tell that this movie was absolutely doomed. The writers decided to kill off one of the main characters from the first movie, Johnny Cage (no longer played by Linden Ashby), not even two minutes into this one. Shao Kahn just snaps his neck while the other heroes watch — this, despite the fact that Cage beat the hell out of Goro, the four-armed behemoth warrior, hours earlier. This was really just a microcosm of the utterly absurd decisions made by the writers when making the movie. Cage was the first of at least four major characters to have been alternately cast for the sequel (the others being Sonya, Raiden and Jax); and none of them were any good, either. Shocking, I know. If that weren't bad enough, I had to listen to the new-and-unimproved Sonya carp on about Cage every waking second of this mercilessly long crapfest. It seemed like every other scene, Sonya would whine about Kahn killing Cage or just complain about anything else she could think of: "No one told me why Johnny had to die."
But it gets better. When her partner, Jax, is trying to get some kind of explanation as to what in the bluest of blue Hells is happening, Sonya mostly ignores him and replies with blank responses that don't even come close to answering his surprisingly logical queries. Then, when he gets frustrated at her annoying indifference, she has the audacity to yell, "You don't understand me!"
From what I gather from that outburst, Sonya is now supposed to be a 16-year-old cheerleader yelling at her father for not buying her a Corvette. About 20 minutes in, Sub-Zero's younger brother, Sub-Zero (creative), comes into the scrimmage to assist ostensibly the only two characters that still retained the services of their original actors (Liu Kang and Kitana) in defeating Smoke. Smoke is nothing more than a robot ninja that shoots papier-mâché missiles out of his chest. Shortly thereafter, we see Scorpion, who is somehow alive again even after being killed by, you guessed it, Johnny Cage in the last movie. Are you starting to get the sense that Cage was important to the storyline? There is no explanation given as to why Scorpion is alive again, let alone why he (who is supposedly a loner, a wild card) is helping Kahn. Now, as a fan of the games, I know how he can still be alive; but how would someone who knows nothing of the games be expected to know that? Anyway, despite the heroes' apathetic efforts and my yearning and ranting for any kind of modus operandi for Scorpion, he kidnaps Kitana and is never seen again. I only have one word to say to that entire scene: fail.
The second reason the movie was destined to flop is that they made Liu Kang, the main protagonist, a totally clueless moron for absolutely no reason:
Kitana: Listen to me. Liu is our only hope.
Liu Kang: I want to fight Khan... but I don't know if I'm ready.
What?! You just blasted a nearly immortal sorcerer into a pit of spikes with a fireball six hours ago, and now you don't know if you're capable of defeating some loudmouthed halfwit in a skull mask with a big mallet? Seriously, can someone explain to me how Shao Kahn, who looks more like a stupidly gimmicked pro wrestler from the early 1990's than an otherworldly warlord, is supposed to be more imposing than a soul-stealing sorcerer who knows literally every martial art ever? Anyway, the point is, Kang went through hell in the first movie getting condescended by almost everyone, having acid spit in his face, nearly being frozen to death and putting up with all kinds of unpleasant goons being sent after him by Shang Tsung (the aforementioned sorcerer). And he surmounted all of it. In the end, he triumphed over Shang Tsung, killing him, and avenged his brother's earlier brutal death at Tsung's hands. The acting wasn't spectacular, but it was believable and you could see that Liu Kang's character matured and gained a boatload of self-assurance and peace of mind. Plus, the fight scenes were wickedly cool. In Annihilation, he was back to square one — no self-confidence, naïve, green, lacking in inner strength and falling for traps that even Elmer Fudd would scoff at. This begs the question: why? Did he just suddenly forget everything he learned in the first movie in 15 minutes? Is the excessively talkative Shao Kahn that scary? It's preposterous.
The most glaring problem with this movie, however, is that the writers basically took nearly every single character from every Mortal Kombat game and just threw them in the fray for no discernable reason. Case in point: Rain, who was one of those many spiffy new cookie cutter ninjas with a new color (dark pink in his case), was killed by Shao Kahn roughly 15 minutes into the movie because he pissed Kahn off by having a logical thought process. Why was he even in the movie if that was going to happen? Waste of time. This, not too surprisingly, would become a trend for the rest of the movie. In other useless ninja news, Ermac (the red ninja) was included in this movie to be Sonya's nondescript feud-of-the-finale, and Noob Saibot (the original Sub-Zero) came out of him. How? Beats me. Those two have absolutely no overlapping storyline in MK lore anywhere, let alone being one and the same person (used loosely, all things considered), so where they came up with that is beyond me.
Speaking of ninjas, Jade and Mileena were also included in the script. (Remember, everyone gets to join in on the orgy of absurdity.) Jade served only one purpose in this movie: to be the seductive harpy who pretends to assist Liu Kang but is really there to stall, confuse, grope and otherwise wound him. That's really it. I suppose in hindsight I shouldn't be surprised considering that, in the games, Jade never amounted to anything more than a faster version of Mileena with a bo staff. On the subject of the purple ninja clone, Mileena, why was she in a five-minute mud fight with Sonya? What secret past did they have to flesh out? Oh, right: women + fighting + mud = sexy. That's all I have to say, I suppose. What's especially funny about this is that after the mud fight, in the very next camera pan Sonya's clothes are spotless. Continuity be damned! Later, Shao Kahn kills Jade off (by feeding her to an egregiously goofy looking CGI creature) for failing at her job, like Rain did at his job before. What does this mean? Well, essentially, Kahn is killing off all of his generals / soldiers before Earth's heroes can even fight most of them. So, let me see if I have this correct: Kahn's ultimatum is that Earth's heroes have only six days to reach him and defeat him, but he repeatedly kills off those who would help him accomplish his goal of world domination? Okay. Just making sure we're on the same page here. But hey, there are other bad guys who die without even pissing off Kahn or via a fight. In one scene, Sheeva, a Shokan warrior like Goro and another general among Kahn's seemingly infinite supply of them, randomly runs in to fight Liu Kang and Kitana, and instantaneously gets crushed by a cage. I will admit right now that I laughed for five solid minutes after seeing that. It doesn't get any more hysterically random than that.
Let's move on to the previously mentioned Jax, a Special Forces major and ally of Sonya. Erstwhile fans of the second Mortal Kombat game will remember he is the big black guy with the beefy cybernetic arms. Little known former actor Greg McKinney played him in the first movie, but in this one... an American Gladiator plays him. That's right, they cast a couple of American Gladiators to play two key roles in this movie (the other being Motaro, the centaur general). Acting ability be damned! Jax has some of the worst lines in this movie, which says quite a bit considering how overwhelmingly dreadful the entire script is. He is also the center of probably the single stupidest moment in this entire movie, which, when you think about it, is astonishing. It's hard as hell to pick out one single thing in a movie teeming with senselessness to be the worst of the worst. But Jax did it. You see, Jax gets cybernetic implant arms to help him fight against the extradimensional invaders. However, when Raiden first meets Jax, he implies that those very implants are holding him back and he patronizes him for getting them. Later, during the final scene of the movie where Sonya, Jax and Liu Kang have to fight their respective nemeses, Jax finds himself losing badly to the aforementioned Motaro. (The Gladiators do battle in cheesy movies and cheesy pseudo-reality TV shows! Irony Or not.) So, in a moment of utter lunacy, he rips the cybernetic implants off of his arms. There are so many things wrong with this it's mind-boggling. First of all, those were supposed to be implants; his organic arms should be no more. So, if he rips them off, he should have no arms. However, even if they were just grafted onto his organic arms, wouldn't ripping cybernetically melded parts off of your skin hurt like the pain of a thousand Hells? And wouldn't there be a lot of blood where chunks of skin and muscle were torn from the arm because they were still grafted or welded onto the metal parts? Apparently not, because when he rips them off (RE: slips them off like a T-shirt sleeve), you can tell that they're just plastic and were probably fashioned from protective football gear. So, perhaps I didn't need to waste all of my pesky logic on all of that anyway. But then, the climax of this psychotic absurdity occurs: Jax proceeds to beat the ever-loving crap out of Motaro. He couldn't beat this half-ton creature with humongous "metal" arms, but he can with his normal organic arms, which somehow still function even after all of the surgery done to them? The power of positive thinking, eh?
In the midst of all this, we find out that Kahn and Raiden (now played by James Remar and sporting a crew cut for some reason) are brothers, and Shinnok, the fallen Elder God, is their father.
Shao Kahn: You should have killed me... when you had the chance... brother.
Raiden: My brother died a long time ago. His heart, anyway.
Aw, cry for me some more, Captain Emo. Look, I know I can do some silly stuff when I'm drunk, but the writers of this script must have been drinking antifreeze when they were coming up with this stuff. Raiden apparently has some form of telepathy in this movie because he repeatedly tells the heroes to do this and that, and somehow the heroes know exactly what he's talking about and where to meet up without any kind of explanation of how to get there or how to survive. (Well, all except for Liu Kang because, as you should remember, he's a nincompoop here.) Shinnok has assisted his son (cough), Kahn, in illegally opening up this portal to Earthrealm, and meanwhile, the Elder Gods — the ones who are supposed to forbid these kinds of things and see to it that they don't happen — just let it happen anyway. Better (or worse) yet, when Raiden later questions them as to why they blatantly allowed this otherworldly nonsense to happen, they dance around the inquiries and tell him stuff he either already knows, or they just insult him. Fantastic! What aggravates me the most about Shinnok in this film is that he does absolutely nothing. He just stands around and lets things go as they will, occasionally interjecting an empty threat or exclamation here and there. In the MK video games, Shinnok is a fallen god who defeated Lucifer and took over Hell. This guy is powerful enough to level the Himalayas with a yawn. But you wouldn't know it by watching his apathetic counterpart in Annihilation. The only memorable thing that happens to him is that the idols of indolence, the Elder Gods, execute him at the end of the movie. Which is funny in and of itself because he can't die. He's immortal. But speaking of underutilized villains, what about Shang Tsung? I mean, if you're going to just throw everyone and their ninja brother into the script, why not resurrect Tsung? They only did that about 857 times in the games, so why not here?
All throughout this unbearably long movie, you get to listen to some pretty damn bad dialogue to go along with the nonexistent plot. I have already given several examples of the movie's ceaseless, awful discourse. Off the top of my head, here is another classic — this one from Sindel, mother of Kitana and supposedly resurrected (and brainwashed?) bride of Shao Kahn.
Kitana: Mother... you're alive!
Sindel: Too bad you... ... … will die! MUAHAHAHA!!!
It's like laughter taken out of a Silver Age comic book or black and white horror movie, only less believable. I suppose this also means that Shao Kahn is a necrophiliac. There's also Nightwolf, an Indian guy who is supposed to help train Liu Kang. (Again, I can't beat this into your brain enough: Liu is completely helpless now and needs everyone in the universe to help train him all over again. Including you.) Nightwolf transforms into a wolf to show Kang how you can get in touch with your inner animal. Apparently, this is supposed to help Kang defeat Shao Kahn somehow. Question: What if Kang's inner animal was a sea urchin... or an earwig? Somehow I don't think those would be useful in a fight that will determine the fate of the world. Right off the bat, here is another example among the seemingly endless, brainless Annihilation one-liners:
Nightwolf: Cool, huh? It's my Animality.
Yeah... way to sound serious there, man. You must have made your Indian nation so proud having been in this half-star classic.
Jade, as I implied before, betrays Liu Kang, and this is what Kang has to say at the time:
Liu Kang: First you betray me, and now you laugh?
What exactly did you expect her to do, Liu? Hug you and apologize?
Unfortunately, the sets and special effects weren't much better than the dialogue. I already spoke about Jax's metal (read: ornate plastic) arms and their amazing ability to be torn off of skin cleanly. But then there was also the recycling of scenes. For instance, when you go back and watch Shao Kahn smack Rain into a fire pit, you can clearly tell that it is the same shot they use later to film Baraka's fiery death. I suppose $30 million can't hire a decent editor (or anything else). Before I go any further, it should be noted that during Annihilation fight scene #82567, Baraka tries to strangle Liu Kang to death. This creature has three-foot blades which can slide in and out of his arms... yet he's trying to strangle a guy. Do not think about that for very long or your brain will implode. Anyway, whether this scene recycling was due to budget problems or laziness, I have no clue — and I don't particularly care, either. (Mainly because I was still laughing from that attempted strangling.) The sets are either horribly bland and uninspired, or they are overly flamboyant and visibly faker than your garden-variety porn star's chest. There is no middle ground. Either way, there is generally no logic to how or why they look the way they do. Best example? There is a massive series of transportation tunnels beneath the surface for no apparent reason. And the way you travel through these tunnels is in a giant bowling ball-like thing where you and a partner have to stand three inches apart as if you were both superimposed in a gyroscope as you rock back and forth to get the things moving.
Then, in the last fight scene (which really just means the last scene altogether), Liu Kang just magically gets all of his courage back to battle Kahn. So, Liu Kang (as Big Green Dragon) fights Shao Kahn (as Big Yellow Hydra) and they proceed to meander into one of the goofiest fight scenes in cinematic history. The computer graphics of this fight are just unspeakably bad. Unfortunately, Jax ruined what microscopically small amount of morbid pleasure I got out of laughing at this nonsense by playing the "stereotypical black guy" card to the max: "Now I done seen everything."
Please stop the pain. Please? (Hmm, maybe that's what I'll name these movie reviews from now on: "Please Stop the Pain".) In retrospect, I think if you can sit through this movie for all 90-plus minutes, you'll done see everything there is to know about how to make a $30 million piece of garbage. In the end, Liu Kang (as normal-looking Chinese guy) defeats Shao Kahn (as vociferous S&M porn star wannabe) and the day is saved. Yawn.
Absolutely nothing in this movie made any sense whatsoever, primarily because there was no plot. It was total disarray: nonstop fight scenes with a mangled throng of literally dozens of characters with no rhyme or reason for being there. I wanted to make this review longer and more linear because that is the method I use to criticize a bad movie: beginning to end, dissecting it inch by grueling, mind-numbing inch. How am I supposed to do that when there is no plot to follow? Personally, I think a better title for this movie would have been Ninety-Nine Ninjas. This movie can't even be considered a comedy because it (along with Mortal Kombat 4) nearly destroyed the franchise forever. Given how big a fan I am of many of the MK games, I think that is far from funny. Rumors of a third movie have been circulating for years now, and the latest "news" is that the most recent script was scrapped in favor of producing a prequel. The whole situation is one disaster after another. If that movie ever comes to fruition, I'll be outright shocked. Truly, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was the saddest possible way for the franchise to exit the moviemaking market.
Final Grade: 3 / 100 — if only because Bloodrayne was somehow worse than this movie. Plus, I have to give a couple of unintentional humor points for Sheeva's death.