Liu Kang (Robin Shou) wakes up with a start, having just suffered a nightmare about his brother being killed by the villainous sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa); he knows what he has seen to be the truth, and with a heavy heart plans his journey to the Chinese temple where his grandfather is high priest so that he can work out his next move. Meanwhile, there are others who will be gathering there for a tournament organised by Shang, including movie star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) who wishes to dispel the rumours about his lack of prowess, and special forces agent Sonja Blade (Bridgette Wilson)...
The first wave of computer game-based movies saw one of its biggest successes in this adaptation of the Mortal Kombat game, which had become best known for its outrageous levels of bloody violence, that had made it something of a sensation among aficionados. The film, however, was a different matter, as while it was no less fantastical, you were less likely to see the characters get their bodies torn asunder and their heads gorily separated from the rest of them, indeed for much of the running time director Paul W.S. Anderson seemed notably reluctant to start any of them fighting at all.
This meant a lot of exposition and comic interludes, which in one way was nice to see them not take themselves too seriously, but in another made for ninety minutes of pure cheese with zero consequences felt for either the characters or the viewers. As was usual with these movies, you'd be better off forgetting watching them if you wanted the same amount of involvement as from the game, and stick with the console version instead, but at the time there were plenty of kids and those old enough to know better willing to part with their cash for a look at a live action variation of what they played at home or in the arcades.
The plot bore as much scrutiny on the big screen as it did on the small, meaning you could easily consume it as if it were cinematic fast food and cast aside worries about anything other than light stimulation that could be forgotten about within days. Although the power of nostalgia has it that the first Mortal Kombat movie has a certain cachet (the second one doesn't so much, mind you) among those happy to look back on the ephemera of their youth, the fact remained that this was basic stuff, with a "magical" Christopher Lambert adopting a Marge Simpson rasp to take care of the good guys, and Tagawa enthusiastically scowling his way through the bad guy clichés.
What this really wanted to be was the equivalent of those Hong Kong martial arts fantasies that had such a following in the West, but had not really made it through so much to the mainstream. Though there probably weren't many complaints in the boardrooms of New Line when they saw the profits, the results here paled in comparison to what the Far East dreamed up for the same thing elsewhere. Not that there was worth in comparing them too closely, but when one of your adveraries is a ten-foot-tall four-armed animatronic creation that looked desperately unconvincing at the best of times, you did wish for a slicker operation - the CGI wasn't the best either, though perhaps they wanted to make it look just like a game. There were some bright moments, but missteps like having Mrs Pete Sampras go from expert fighter to damsel in distress suggested lazy thinking was going on. Still, nineties nostalgia, eh? Music by George S. Clinton.