Ever since it was first emblazoned with a BBFC 18 certificate, Mortal Kombat always seemed destined for the movies. All that savagery – spines pulled out, hearts torn from chests, and bodies bursting into flames, leaving behind charred pixel-boned skeletons – seemed like something plucked from the vortex of the video nasties. When it did burst onto the big screen, in 1995, it was a strange creature. For one thing, it wasn’t an 18 certificate; it was a 15, and the spines, hearts, and bones remained – for the most part – in their rightful places. Nonetheless, its charms live in a more mysterious place than the games: an odd mixture of camp, earnestness, dancelike choreography, and overacting of the most ripe and rarefied breed.
News of the recent reboot – which is entering pre-production after languishing in limbo – has likely hastened fans into a frenzy of excitement, and I'm almost ready to join them. But I do have a few hesitant hopes for the new film, all rooted in my love of the original. The following are a few touches that would make the reboot an homage not just to a great game series but to a movie adaptation that, while far from great, is the best video game film adaption around – and I won’t hear anything about this Pikachu silliness.
Get Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
While making the original film, Paul W.S. Anderson decided to go for a younger-looking Shang Tsung in order to avoid the extensive makeup needed to make Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as wizened and withered as his character is in the games. Now, with Tagawa turning 70 this September, he wouldn’t need to be aged up as much. It would be a great casting nod back to the first film, and Tagawa was the definitive Shang Tsung – all sneers and snarls, with the menacing air of a snake. So much that he has reprised his role in Mortal Kombat 11, which would make his appearance in the reboot even more timely and fresh. I can imagine Tagawa phoning the new film’s director, Simon McQuoid, and sealing the deal: ‘This role is mine!’
Embrace outrageous wirework
One thing the first film had – and there were lots of things it didn’t have – was wirework, and it had it in outrageous excess. There were entire fights which, if memory serves, were comprised mostly of aerial somersaults. A roundhouse kick to the head would result in actors spinning skywards; one such example sent the film’s hero sailing through the air with enough force that he smashed through a brick wall. Utterly mental wirework brought its own kind of ageless magic, and seeing it now (we recently covered it on our video game film podcast, FMV) makes it seem more like a ludicrous dream. Too few films embrace the notion that forward flips improve any and all movement, at all times.
If wirework is strangely ageless, then animatronics are agelessly strange. All these years later, after the abominable CG effects haven’t grown old so much as curdled, Goro – Prince Goro to you – still looks passable. Practical effects are a rare treat, especially those from the ‘90s, and they lend an uncanny sort of charm to a film. The sight of Goro’s face still inspires fear now – perhaps not the specific kind of fear the filmmakers intended but fear nonetheless – and for the reboot to embrace animatronics would be a treat. Apparently, Goro had to be operated by 13 to 16 people, and he broke down on set a lot, so I may be willing to forgive the reboot should it opt for CGI. Then again, surely animatronics have come on some way in the last 25 years?
Copy Enter the Dragon, again
The brilliant thing about the first Mortal Kombat was its simplicity. Load of fighters, mad old creep, ancient boat, ancient island, ancient tournament, fighting. It was a formula that worked like a charm in the ‘90s, for Mortal Kombat, and it’s a formula that worked in the ‘70s, for Enter the Dragon. For a reboot, you have to establish the characters and the rules; you have to afford yourself ample grounds to host a series of fights; and you can’t have the police or the social services intervening in said fights. The island is a must, and the reboot gets bonus points for ferrying its warriors to said island on a decrepit old boat with a dragon on its prow.
Don’t make Scorpion’s spear stupid
Organic is good – organic eggs, organic milk, etc. – but not when it comes to spears. In the first film, Anderson made the mistake of turning the spear into a bizarre part of Scorpion's anatomy: a shrieking snake, bursting through his hand and coiling through the air. Coupled with the terrible CGI effects, it turned a sinister villain into a person that stood there with his arm held out, waiting for a snake to do his bidding. The reboot should take the same approach as the video games and have an old-fashioned spear, fixed to a chain – and maybe even have him swing it around above his head. The organic spear is something that the reboot should definitely not pay homage to, take into account, or think about ever again.
You should embrace terrible CG effects, but only for Reptile
I feel as though this one speaks for itself. It would be a majestic homage to a beautiful piece of cinema.