Mortal Kombat Annihilation
Released 1997
New Line Cinema
Threshold Entertainment
Directed by: John R. Leonetti Running Time: 95 min 1.85:1 Rated: PG-13
Cast : Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, Brian Thompson, Sandra Hess, Lynn Red Williams, Irina Pantaeva, and James Remar
Shao Kahn invades Earth Realm with five generals which any competent writer could easily consolidate down to two or three considering Sheeva and Rain contribute nothing, and Sindel, Motaro, and Ermac contribute next to nothing.
Annihilation is based on Mortal Kombat 3 in which Johnny Cage did not return; however, his name does appear on one of the tombstones in the graveyard stage, so it wasn’t a surprise they killed him off.

Review by Jay Wilson

Mortal Kombat Annihilation makes an irrefutable case that less is more. Shao Kah, the emperor of Outworld, arrives in a fireball and immediately starts talking, “The Earth was created in six days, so too shall it be destroyed! And on the seventh day mankind shall rest in peace!” Now let’s look at the first Mortal Kombat which came out two years prior. That film opens with Shang Tsung wrecking Liu Kang’s brother, and then breaking his spine as he lay prone and vulnerable, then—and only then—did he speak nine words: “Your brother’s soul is mine! You will be next!” Shao Kahn uses twenty-three before he does anything, and those words don’t really say anything. The Earth will be destroyed? How? What are you going to do? Why does it take six days? Notice Shang Tsung painted a very clear picture before he even opened his mouth.

So right away Shao Kahn comes across as an academic politician, artificially inflating his word count while making a vague promise he can’t keep, hoping you forget about it before the six days are up. Then Kahn jumps down, flipping through the air, to confront Raiden face to face which leads to a side-by-side comparison that, again, undermines him. While Brian Thompson (Kahn) is several inches taller than James Remar (Raiden), when shot over Remar’s shoulder, Thompson appears smaller thanks to his position within the frame coupled with a helmet that looks two sizes too big. By contrast, Shang Tsung always towers over Chan (the brother) because Paul Anderson used tilted angles to exaggerate the height difference between the two actors, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Tsung) wore a long coat that made him look bigger while fitting him perfectly.

Shao Kahn and Raiden then square off and trade blows, and yet again, the first film did it better with Shang Tsung barely moving in an abstract, one-sided beat down that actually gets justified with Liu Kang waking up, implying the whole thing could have been a nightmare inspired by the telegram he received before going to sleep. Symbols of strength—great oak trees, immovable walls, anchors—stay in place and weather the storm. Shang Tsung doesn’t move because he doesn’t have to, which establishes him as a dangerous threat to Liu Kang. And while any seasoned audience member will know that the hero will ultimately triumph, we can suspend our disbelief and imagine a scenario where the villain actually wins.

I honestly want to say the He-Man/Skeletor costume from the games looks silly in live action; however, the “bald guy in a medieval shirt” somehow looks worse. This at least is identifiably Shao Kahn.

Then Kahn loses to Raiden, and the movie is over. Raiden just irrefutably proved he can win. Shao Kahn takes a mortal hostage, but so what? What’s to stop Raiden from beating him again? It gets worse because Raiden takes his own hostages—yes, plural—all five Outworld generals. Now Raiden has proven that he can defeat Shao Kahn and all his successors and, by extension, the entire Outworld army (he is the god of thunder, after all.) The idea behind the Mortal Kombat tournament is that Raiden, himself, cannot intervene due to higher powers1; this movie directly states the Outworld Emperor broke the rules, so what’s to stop Raiden from rampaging? But Shao Kahn reminds Raiden that he would never sacrifice a mortal life under any circumstance—which, side note, seems like acceptable collateral considering the alternative is global genocide, but whatever—so Raiden releases the five generals, and then Kahn breaks Johnny Cage’s neck. But I repeat, so what? Kahn just threw away all his leverage. Raiden could 1.) kill all five generals with the snap of his fingers, 2.) kill the entire army of no-name, faceless extras in the blink of an eye, and 3.) Beat Shao Kahn a second time because literally nothing has changed to weaken Raiden. They try to justify it with Raiden getting hit by a fireball as he stands there in shock with the villains retreating to Outworld, but it just reeks of contrivances and artificiality. Humans die all the time, especially in warfare. An immortal deity should know this and not be surprised when it happens.

The yellow ninja and blue ninja return just to fight each other because they didn't do it in the 1995 original. My only objection is that this happens in the same movie with the red ninja, the purple ninja, and three green ninjas, plus the yellow and gray cyber ninjas, and the green, the pink, and blue (black) female ninjas.
Technically, Sindel and Kitana are Edenians; however, it’s a moot point as Edenia merged with Outworld when Shao Kahn conquered it, and the distinction didn’t even start developing in the games until Mortal Kombat 3.
As much as I don't like Sandra Hess as Sonya, she does get to perform the Kiss of Death which Annihilation sets up and executes very well. In a burning laboratory, she grabs a handful of flammable powder, and finishes one of Shao Kahn's exterminators.

Back in Outworld, Annihilation introduces Shinnok, Shao Kahn’s elder-god father, and instead of presenting a mature father-son relationship, director John R. Leonetti paints Kahn like an over-enthused pre-adolescent trying desperately to prove himself to daddy, boasting like a giddy boy and thrusting his fists into the air and then shrinking away and mumbling under his breath when he admits Raiden defeated him. Shang Tsung also answered to a higher power, but watch the scene where he warns Goro of Liu Kang and Kitana. “The emperor will not tolerate failure,” he says, paying mere lip service to his superior. He respects the emperor enough to not overtly provoke him, but notice how he delivers the next line, “and neither will I.” That is the real threat. Shang Tsung doesn’t care about impressing any one because, in truth, he answers to no one. He just bides his time.

Shao Kahn even puppets his father like a child. Shinnok asks if he made Raiden beg for his life, to which Kahn admits he could not be stopped. Shinnok chastises him, “I have no use for excuses!” That exchange gets repeated with Kahn and his generals. “Did you make them (the Earth warriors) beg for their lives?” And when that general explains that he only captured them, Kahn interrupts, “I have no use for excuses!” Ironically, Shang Tsung could literally morph into anyone, taking the form of Johnny Cage’s sensei and Liu Kang’s brother to deceive them, but he never mimicked anyone else’s threats. He made his own. And, again, he backed up those threats by stealing peoples’ souls.

Even Shao Kahn’s plans don’t make any sense. Legions of his soldiers appear on horseback, wielding medieval weapons, which would last approximately thirty seconds versus a single AC-130 Gunship or less than one second if you go straight to Castle Bravo. But even if, for the sake of argument, we say the merging of realms disables all technology—the movie doesn’t really address this but Shinnok is an elder god—Shao Kahn’s plan still doesn’t make sense. For some inexplicable reason, Raiden thinks the resurrection of Kitana’s mother, Sindel, is the key to Kahn’s invasion. How? Mortal Kombat Annihilation never explains. They lifted this straight from the games, but it never made sense there either. It proves to be a red herring, but the problem is red herrings require plausibility to work. What does a dead Outworlder have to do with keeping portals open?

But let’s ignore that too. Raiden takes a plot point straight out of the Friday the 13th's playbook and has his heroes, who are being hunted by extermination squads, split up to overcome their assigned weaknesses, which like the first film, never really develops, and unlike the previous film, actively contradicts itself. Sonya has to learn to rely on her allies while Jax has to learn not to rely on his metal arm implants. “Faith in yourself is all you need.” Interesting, because I saw Jax’s metal arms save him and Sonya from Cyrax’s acidic net; I kinda doubt faith in himself could do that. Also, relying on an ally falls into the same bucket as relying on a tool. The problem isn’t calling upon a person or thing to make yourself more potent/effective—that’s being resourceful—the problem is over-reliance on said person or thing. But nevermind.

In Mortal Kombat Annihilation, cinematic clichés and transparent fan service win out over logic and character consistency every single time. Why have Jade do her job as an assassin when she can strip down to her underwear in a snowy, abstract, dream-like sequence to tempt Liu Kang under the pretense of a test?
The most amazing thing about this scene where two attractive women battle it out in mud is that the mud magically disappears from Mileena’s back for the closeup of her tattoo. Also Sonya’s white tanktop is spotless for the rest of the movie somehow.

When the heroes split up, the bad guys kidnap Kitana. Later scenes show her defenseless in a cage. Shao Kahn can kill her at any time but doesn’t because, “A struggling worm on a hook lands a bigger catch than a dead one.” Keep in mind, the merging of Outworld and Earth Realm will destroy the planet, so Raiden and his warriors will show up regardless of Kitana’s fate, so why not just kill her? He says he does not want her dead, but again, why not? She poses a threat to his conquest, and the movie does not explore any kind of interest the emperor might have in his adoptive daughter. Hypothetically, her presence could pacify an Outworld population loyal to her bloodline, which would put Shao Kahn in a conflicted political position; however, neither Mortal Kombat nor its sequel shows Outworld to have any kind of population.

Liu Kang sets off on a spirit quest to find his inner-animality which requires him to enter a dream state. He wakes up to discover a stranger, Jade, standing over him. Jade is an Outworld assassin who chooses not kill Liu Kang at the most opportune time—all alone, asleep, in the middle of a desert. Why not? If she murders him here, nothing stops her from pretending to rescue, say, Sonya and Jax only to betray them at a critical moment. And if Kahn executes Kitana, that’s two less warriors for her and Sindel to deal with when they spring their trap which, by the way, they immediately retreat from because they are grossly outnumbered. If they’re grossly outnumbered, why did they spring the trap? Why didn’t they wait? Why not continue the charade until the heroes confront Shao Kahn and then stab them in the back there? Why send Sindel and Jade without backup?

With Motaro, Ermac, Rain, Sheeva, Smoke, Scorpion, Cyrax, Mileena, Noob-Saibot, and three Reptiles at his disposal, Shao Kahn has no shortage of minions, meanwhile half of Earth Realm’s warriors don’t bother fighting for their existence. Kitana asks Sub-Zero for help, and after Scorpion kidnaps her, he just leaves, telling Liu Kang not to go after her because, “You alone are not ready for what’s ahead.” Okay, so why don’t you stick around and help like Kitana asked? “I wasn’t helping you. I was helping her.” Okay, I repeat: why don’t you stick around and help Kitana like she asked? Clearly, the filmmakers wanted the cinematic gimmick of panning away from a mysterious figure only for that figure to vanish when they pan back. But this gimmick does not work if the mysterious figure has no reason to leave and roughly six billion reasons to stay including, by the way, his own survival.

For some reason, the movie wastes precious running time on these ridiculous contraptions to transport the heroes across the planet even though Raiden is a literal god who has had a teleport since MK1.
Mortal Kombat 3’s underwhelming animalities make an appearance and look even worse than they do in the game which is not surprising considering the CGI in the first film is easily the weakest aspect of that production.

This nonsense continues with Nightwolf who insults Liu Kang in lieu of an introduction. “I’ve seen better,” he says. Really? The world is ending, and you’re having a dick measuring contest? When Liu Kang points out that he won Mortal Kombat, Nightwolf responds, “Don’t get cocky!” I’m sorry, asshole, where were you while he was saving the world? So, the smug pussy with no accomplishments tells the reigning MK Champion that he needs to pass three tests to defeat Shao Kahn and then doesn’t even bother administering one. Thank you, Captain Useless, for somehow contributing less than Rain because even though the purple ninja literally just showed up and died, at least he didn’t sucker punch one of his allies and leave them alone, unconscious, and at the mercy of an assassin like you did.

In closing, throughout the original movie, Shang Tsung never had a chance to kill Liu Kang or Johnny Cage. He tried, but Raiden intervened and made him play by the rules. And strangely, those rules made Shang Tsung a much stronger and more threatening villain because he gets things done despite his restraints. We never saw him exercise his full power, so we can only imagine what he could have done if given the chance. And even though he failed, he still has the excuse that higher powers held him back. Annihilation goes out of its way to tell the combatants and the audience that this time there are no rules. Everything goes! Shao Kahn is not bound by any restraints! What we see is the best Shao Kahn can muster, and his best is unforgivably pathetic.

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1 At least in the movies. Raiden does, indeed, participate in the first two Mortal Kombat games.