Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) / Action-Fantasy
aka Mortal Kombat 2
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Robin Shou, James Remar, Talisa Soto, Sandra Hess, Brian Thompson, Lynn 'Red' Williams, Reiner Schone, Deron McBee, Musetta Vender, Marjeen Holden, Irina Pantaeva, Ray Park
Director: John R. Leonetti
Screenplay: Brent V. Friedman, Bryce Zabel
This sequel to the surprise hit adaptation of a popular video game, Mortal Kombat, sees John R. Leonetti (The Butterfly Effect 2), cinematographer for the first film, take over the reigns from Paul W.S. Anderson as director, mostly to disappointing results. This special effects dominated sequel spent most of its budget on the visuals, with not much left for basic things like a quality script or even the ability to retain the mostly no-name actors from the first film, with only Robin Shou (Beverly Hills Ninja) and Talisa Soto (License to Kill) reprising their roles. This is a movie that feels like it was gutted in the editing phase, stripping away nearly all attempts at basic exposition, streamlining everything down to a very basic level to give maximum exposure to fighting and computer generated effects.
In this episode, a portal between Outworld and Earth is opened by emperor Shao Kahn (Thompson, Dragonheart), leaving the world's mightiest fighters only six days to vanquish this new threat and close the portal, or lose Earth to the powers of evil. They journey once again to Outworld to fight for humanity's fate, while Raiden (Remar, The Phantom) gives up his immortality to fight the fight one more time.
At the very least, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, deserves a little credit for not completely rehashing the same plot from the first film, even if it largely ignores its conclusion to bring back this generation's same characters. The fight choreography has vastly improved, as has the editing and aforementioned special effects. On a technical level, this sequel had what it took to best its predecessor in every department.
Sadly, this was not to be. The original script by "Mortal Kombat" creator John Tobias and the first movie's producer, Lawrence Kasanoff (along with Joshua Wexler), was ditched in favor of a barebones one by b-movie horror scribe Brent V. Friedman and TV writer Bryce Zabel, who mostly ignore the video game's style in order to make the film a standalone horror-action fantasy. The reason why most who worked on the first film did not return is rumored to be due to inflexibility in script changes, and their fears appear to be justified, as what ends up appearing on screen is shockingly poor, with nothing in the way of character development, plot cohesiveness, or passable dialogue. We're literally dropped into the middle of the action, with dozens of new characters (taken mostly from the video game sequels) introduced with no background information as to who they are. In place of story is a non-stop cavalcade of wire-fu fight scenes rife with CG effects, which impress when compared to those of the original, but in the world of action, offer little we've seen before in better films with bigger budgets.
Most fans of the video game and first film reject this sequel soundly, although the insatiably curious will probably find it interesting on a purely speculative level, seeing more of the characters from the games and how they are "brought to life" in a big screen manner. The film franchise would end with this one, not even taking in half of what the first film did, and with the popularity of the game franchise on the decline, there just wasn't much fan interest left in seeing another entry. Fatality.
-- A script for another Mortal Kombat sequel (unofficially dubbed Mortal Kombat: Devastation) has been talked about and toyed with, reportedly ignoring Annihilation altogether, but as of this writing, it hasn't progressed past the conceptual stages.
©2006 Vince Leo