When Mortal Kombat II hit the arcades in 1993, it was a massive hit. It took the first game, improved the gameplay, and gave us more of the gore and dark humor we loved. Plus: more fighters, more ninjas, more Fatalities, more finishing moves, more secrets, and better visuals. It solidified the franchise’s hold on pop culture, and even convinced Nintendo that including a little blood and gore in a video game isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Two other things that really helped kick things up a notch were the game’s atmosphere and story. The first Mortal Kombat game felt almost grounded in parts due to its Earth setting. Despite Kano’s eye and Sub-Zero’s ice powers, the otherworldly aspects seemed removed from the plot of the game. We only really got a peek at Outworld-related stuff: the four-armed Goro and the shapeshifting Shang Tsung despite them being part of a much larger army at war with Earth. It’s like how the first Terminator introduced just enough of its future setting so that the sequels could go wild with it.
Mortal Kombat II flipped the script and had the heroes of Earthrealm visit Outworld to take part in a double-or-nothing second tournament. Every stage was some kind of insane landmark from a world of barbaric sorcery. We met freakish locals like Baraka, Mileena, and Kintaro. Even Reptile – once just a green ninja – was revealed to be a literal lizard man. At the end of the adventure was the ominous and shredded Shao Kahn, there to ruin your day and bring closure to what was set up in the first game.
And of course, the commercial for the game made everything seem so damn cool and gritty…
As iconic and dark as Mortal Kombat II was, especially considering how off-the-wall cartoony Mortal Kombat 3 would turn out later, it’s never really received the attention it deserves from the movies. Until now. This week, the animated film Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms becomes the first real movie adaptation of Mortal Kombat II.
Before Battle of the Realms, the closest thing we ever got to a Mortal Kombat II adaptation in theaters was the last 15 minutes of the original Mortal Kombat movie, with Liu Kang and Johnny Cage visiting Outworld to fight Reptile and Shang Tsung. Otherwise, the movies just skip over Mortal Kombat II entirely.
Keep in mind that the first movie came out around the time of Mortal Kombat 3’s release in arcades. The movie already featured concepts from the second game, like Kitana, Jax, Reptile being a reptile, and the cliffhanger shot of Shao Kahn (a 50-foot-tall Shao Kahn, but Shao Kahn nonetheless). By the time New Line Cinema set to work on Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Mortal Kombat 4 was the new hotness of the gaming world, and the studio felt the need to catch up. That meant that the movie needed to forego the second tournament plot line and go straight into the third game’s story of “Shao Kahn invades Earthrealm anyway and now it’s chaos.”
In other words, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was designed to speed the story along and set up Shinnok as the big bad for a sequel that would never happen. Even the Defenders of the Realm animated series, which was an alternate sequel to the first movie, was more about Mortal Kombat 3 than Mortal Kombat II.
Now we have the Mortal Kombat Legends animated movies. The first one, Scorpion’s Revenge, was yet another re-telling of the first game’s tournament, but with some caveats. For one, it was less of a tournament and more of a battle royale situation that simply skipped to the finals after a few hours. Second, it treated series wild card Scorpion as the protagonist and told a lot of the story from his perspective.
Unfortunately, these decisions have turned Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms into a narrative mess. It’s an incredibly busy movie that has too much going on to the point that there are two completely separate storylines happening at the same time that only briefly connect but ultimately converge in a bonkers and completely tacked on finale.
The main story is a bloody and awesome adaptation of Mortal Kombat II. Shao Kahn wages war on Earthrealm and offers Raiden a final Mortal Kombat tournament where, if Outworld loses, they can never try to invoke Mortal Kombat on Earthrealm ever again. Raiden figures that it’s a better option than a lengthy war that will probably outlive Liu Kang and the others.
This time, the format is more of a team vs. team set of one-on-one fights. It’s not a tournament exactly, but it’s close enough and makes narrative sense. It also allows Shao Kahn to take on random Earthrealm heroes and absolutely clown them.
While that’s all cool as hell, the movie tries to remind you that the first installment was about Scorpion. Rather than have Scorpion join in on the Outworld fun, the movie spends a lot time pushing a Scorpion vs. the second Sub-Zero vs. the cyber ninjas vs. Shinnok storyline. It feels like a Godfrey Ho movie in how little connective tissue there is to the two separate plots.
Funny enough, not only does the main plot do a pretty damn good job of adapting Mortal Kombat II, but it even acts as a loose remake of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. There are certain plot points that are revisited, mainly in terms of Liu Kang and Raiden’s relationship. Even the ridiculous finale is basically them trying to make Annihilation’s final battle somewhat less terrible.
One can only hope that we’ll get a kickass adaptation of the second game in the new live-action movie series. Then again, considering the first movie was just a lengthy prologue to the first game, that could take a long, long time.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is out now on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD.