Back in 1992 Midway release an arcade classic: Mortal Kombat. You can play the original arcade game here. Thanks, internet!
The plotline is simple. You enter the game as a player in a sudden death tournament, choosing one of seven characters: Kano, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Raiden, or Lui Kang.
After battling your way up the ladder against the other characters, you face a “mirror match” (where you battle a cloned version of yourself), and then three “endurance matches.” If you make it through these fights, you meet Goro, a four-armed half-dragon, half-human freakazoid monstrosity. Then, in the final battle, you face Shang Tsung, a sorcerer who could shape-shift into any character from the game, who wants to rule Earthrealm, and who wants to steal your soul.
I don’t know if I first encountered Mortal Kombat in a Mazzio’s, Ken’s Pizza, or in another arcade. But it was fun to play, and to watch your friends play as they tried to battle their way to the top of the ladder.
The game was controversial, too, because of the cartoonish blood that gushed everywhere when an opponent was struck, and because of “fatalities,” finishing moves at the end of a fight where your opponent could be totally destroyed.
The first movie inspired by the game released in 1995. The trailer tells you all you need to know. Fantasy inspired action, with all the camp you could ask for, featuring characters you know and love. The trailer will show you that the special effects were terrible, but cutting edge for the time. And the cinematography lined up with the weird alternate reality that is the domain of Mortal Kombat.
Mortal Kombat 2021 is an update. The trailer is violent, and you can look it up if you want to.
I saw it last Saturday. It was everything I expected. The storyline is simple, featuring good guys and bad guys. The heroes experience setbacks before they discover their true potential and hatch a plan to defeat the evil forces that are trying to overtake Earthrealm. The gore was ridiculous in the extreme; fatalities were part of the spectacle. The villains, led by Shang Tsung, sought every advantage, using every crooked means at their disposal.
But I did walk away with a few questions.
If Cole Young really just uncovered his powers, could he have defeated his monstrous opponent, really?
Does Lord Raiden want Earthrealm to be overrun by Outworld? He really doesn’t work hard on our behalf. He also doesn’t have a lot of confidence in our champions.
Are our champions really so foolish as to believe Kano wouldn’t go over to the highest bidder?
If Sonja Blade and Jax really investigated the existence of an otherworldly cosmic tournament, would they set up shop in a trailer in mid-America and put up a pin-and-string map chronicling its history with pieced together scraps in a way reminiscent of a scene from A Beautiful Mind?
And how in the world, when faced with a reptilian assassian never before seen in our plane of existence that could turn invisible weren’t Earthrealm’s defenders a little more freaked out? If something I couldn’t see was melting my domicile with acid and tearing through everything in its path with razor like claws, and I’d never seen anything like that before in my life, I don’t think I’d cooly face it down, step back into a guarded stance, and resolve to defeat it with my bare hands.
Lastly, with the exception of Sub-Zero, I’d also say that Outworld’s villains were a little too easy to defeat.
But I was glad to see a sequel teased at the end of the film, letting everyone know that Johnny Cage would make an appearance in the next installment. And I was glad that the movie was primarily staged around the conflict between Sub-Zero and Scorpion. That was the coolest part of the story, even though it was a subplot.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine this past week about action films and why I love them. He was saying he had a tough time with gratuitous violence, that he just couldn’t do it anymore. I certainly understand that perspective.
As a Christian, my perspective on these films has changed as my faith has matured. I don’t see them the same way that I used to, but I still find themes in these films that appeal to universal films. I believe in right and wrong, good and bad. I think these films address questions of justice. They thrust us into the danger of human existence, and force us to confront life’s fragility. Some victories are due to cunning, others come about by chance. The good guys don’t always win. But when they do, all seems right.
I do think there is such a thing as excessive gore, and I also know that most of the onscreen fight sequences I enjoy are beyond the realm of the possible. Our stamina in a fight doesn’t last forever, even with adrenaline pumping, and guns do need reloading. Bullet wounds aren’t so easy to ignore and press through, despite how well Colonel Troutman trained Rambo to ignore the pain. But I like it when the hero triumphs in the end. I like fight choreography. I like explosions and special effects. I like action.
Is Mortal Kombat a wholesome family film? No way!
Is it a great story? Of course not.
But it delivers on what it advertises: a cosmic tournament, with familiar characters, and heroes we can pull for. The mystical moves of the fighters are portrayed on screen. Those who like the franchise because of the more brutal elements of combat get what they want.
And the good guys win in the end.
I finished Hampton Sides’s Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West. Once I hit the midway point I couldn’t put it down.
I then shifted my focus to Blight’s Frederick Douglass, which is also picking up. And I added two other books to my stack. The first is by Forrest E. Baird, How Do We Reason? An Introduction to Logic. This book is part of IVP Academic’s “Questions in Christian Philosophy” series. The second is Michael W. Austin’s God and Guns in America.
Sights and Sounds
I already mentioned Mortal Kombat. But I’ve watched a lot of other stuff in the past two weeks: a documentary about Jean-Michel Basquiat, two movies featuring psychoanlyst and philsopher Slavoj Zizek (one and two), the action film The Man From Nowhere, and a documentary about the 1968 debate series featuring Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal.
This week I shared about finishing well and finding rest, an insight from Austin Kleon on dormancy, a link to a podcast where a friend spoke about Baylor’s mascot program, and the origin of “the big apple.”
Before I go, standard copy.
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P. S. - Sharpie and pastels. Drew this for Molly.