Mortal Kombat (1995) dir. Paul W.S. Anderson



In 1996, director Paul Thomas Anderson released his debut feature, Hard Eight, the start of a career which would culminate with some of the most acclaimed American films of the modern era*. But a year prior, another Paul Anderson, a much more divisive one, made his mark on the world of film with the video game adaptation Mortal Kombat. Bursting onto the silver screen like a 13 year old’s fever dream, Mortal Kombat grossed around seven times its budget and let loose onto the world one of the wildest soundtracks of all time. (And honestly, if you don’t think Orbital’s “Halcyon + On + On” isn’t one of the greatest tracks of all time… Well, there’s the door).

Now don’t get me wrong. Some people really, really, really love Paul W.S. Anderson. I mean, just read part of Neil Bahadur’s Letterboxd write up on Anderson’s 2012 film Resident Evil: Retribution“The hyper-conceptualist post-modern masterpiece of the 21st & probably Anderson’s best movie thus far – after Afterlife’s almost wholly formalist work here finally PWSA culminates and progresses an entire body of ideas and politics simmering since Shopping.”

I mean, c’mon! That sounds great. Sadly, I don’t see it. I think Anderson’s movies are a complete mess, sometimes outrageous to the point of entertainment, but other times, like his 2014 film Pompeii, completely stagnant, poorly paced, and impossible to invest in on either the technical or emotional level.

Yet… Mortal Kombat presents Christopher Lambert as an ancient and powerful lightning deity, his long white wig flowing against garish CG landscapes as he booms and rasps reams of expository dialogue. Then there’s a fight scene where a stone with a lizard inside turns into a ninja. And if you don’t shed a tear when Liu Kang communes with the spirit of his brother after besting the dastardly Shang Tsung, you must be some sort of monster.

Mortal Kombat is complete ’90s cheese, rife with surreal CG, and a trite script that attempts to cohere haphazard video game mythology onto a standard narrative. Simply, it is a classic you cannot miss.

(Need I remind you of Orbital’s “Halcyon + On + On”).


* – By apparent coincidence, both of the Pauls Anderson have films screening at midnight tonight– check out Anders Croft’s write-up on Boogie Nights at the Somerville! –ed.

Mortal Kombat
dir. Paul W.S. Anderson
101 mins

Screens Saturday, June 16 @ 11:59 PM at the Coolidge! On 35mm!!

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