Paul WS Anderson’s Mortal Kombat broke the video game movie curse
If there’s one thing that has remained steadfast in Hollywood‘s approach to video game adaptation, it’s that the industry has a terrible reputation for doing it. Extract from the industrial landscape of hell, 1993 Super Mario Bros. to the general madness of 2016 Assassin’s Creed, the prevailing feeling is that video games have never been successful on the big screen. So whenever a buzzing new adaptation comes along, like with Friday’s release of Mortal combat, the same question inevitably arises: is it the project that will finally to break the curse of video game film?
That the speech rears its head again seems appropriate, given that the director of the original Mortal combat The adaptation released 26 years ago has spent most of its career dispelling the notion that all video game movies have disappointed. Paul WS Anderson has a strange reputation in Hollywood: he is a genre writer whose films, while financially successful on a consistent basis, are widely criticized by critics. (Each of his films has a “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes; even Michael Bay doesn’t have that much flack.)
But Anderson’s many naysayers fail to see the lasting appeal of his films: he is a knowingly schlocky director whose greatest strength is in creating an atmosphere with sharp visual storytelling and action-packed action sequences. direct elimination. In other words, its sensibilities are a perfect match for adapting video games, many of which are defined by stunning immersive environments just as much as character-driven narratives. For more than two decades, Anderson not only transcended the curse of video game movies, but cemented his somewhat unheard of status as the master of these big-screen adaptations. It’s about time this schlock god got the respect he deserves.
After his directorial debut in 1994 Purchases, the British indie crime drama that introduced the world to emerging star (and sexy future pontiff) Jude Law, Anderson received the reigns of Mortal combat. Freely pulling from the arcade fighting games of the same name, the film sees a handful of humans competing in a tournament against wizard Shang Tsung and his otherworldly minions from another realm called Outworld. If the Outworld fighters are victorious in the Mortal Kombat tournament, the kingdom and its evil emperor will conquer the planet, as these things usually happen.
What separated Mortal combat other fighting games of his ilk was his ridiculous ultraviolence, brought out by specific characters death which are undeniably fun to perform in a sort of 12 year old Red Bull hopped on too. Anderson Mortal combat had to adhere to a PG-13 rating – all the better for reaching its target audience of teenagers playing arcade games – which allowed the film to largely maintain the silly and shameless spirit of its material source. It would be generous to say that Anderson’s film has a plot; most of the time he jumps from one still room to another of different characters competing against each other, much like choosing a battle arena at the start of the game. But look at something called Mortal combat and to expect a complex plot is a losing battle: the film’s selling point begins and ends with its fight scenes. On that front, Anderson absolutely delivered.
During the years 1999 The matrix was praised for using wire (a staple of Hong Kong cinema considered new to mainstream Western audiences at the time) in his action sequences, Mortal combat punch them (literally) using the same techniques. This is not to suggest Mortal combat is in the same league as an all-timer like The matrix“I’m not trying to get yelled at on the internet – but Anderson’s film is more influential than you think. This appreciation should extend to the rest of the film, which balanced out more awkward aspects of its source material without alienating a larger audience. (The same can’t be said for his legendary bad sequel, Annihilation.)
The commercial success of Mortal combat, which grossed over $ 100 million and was the no. 1 North American box office film for three weeks, got Anderson to work with higher budgets on Event horizon (1997) and Soldier (1998), both of which are said to have cost $ 60 million. But with the movies that seriously bomb at the box office –Event horizon is still a batshit masterpiece, however! – the director worked with about half that budget when he returned to the fruitful well of video game adaptations in 2002. This time Anderson turned to horror and tackled resident Evil.
Rather than adhere to the source material tightly – as a discontinued adaptation of iconic horror filmmaker George Romero would have done, which is a hell of a What if? – Anderson introduced a new protagonist named Alice, played by his future wife, Milla Jovovich. We first meet Alice as she suffers from amnesia, as she joins a group of commandos investigating why artificial intelligence at a secret underground research facility has buckled down and killed. its inhabitants. Descending the figurative rabbit hole of the unmistakably infamous Umbrella Corporation – the Alice in Wonderland the hints aren’t hard to miss – it quickly becomes clear that the people there are still alive, in a way. They are just insane shells with a sudden urge for human flesh.
the resident Evil The film franchise would spawn five sequels, all written by Anderson, who also directed the first, fourth, fifth and sixth installments. The films gradually gained momentum as the virus responsible for transforming humans into zombies spread around the world: the second film explained how the epidemic had affected a large city, the third saw the mankind reduced to surviving in a Mad Max–Esque apocalyptic fallow land, and so on. The only constant in all six films is Alice, which Anderson puts through a glove with action sequences that feed into each other, creating the feeling of game-level progression. It is also normal for the films to usually start with regular zombies and end with some sort of final boss that’s much harder to defeat, like the giant Licker in the Criminally Underrated. Resident Evil: Retribution.
The films collectively grossed over $ 1 billion at the box office, but Anderson’s six-part series still seems to have fallen under the radar in the era of superheroes. But the resident Evil The franchise brought a different flavor to blockbuster movie making – rather than the connected dots of a carefully mapped cinematic universe, Anderson’s franchise had a luscious, simplistic quality that always felt like things were made up. As things progress. (It’s hard to imagine reviving, like, half of his cast as clones has always been part of the plan.) The fact that resident Evil never totally derailed, despite what its critical reception would suggest, is a testament to the fact that films walk a fine line between trashy fun and recklessness.
In 2020, Anderson adapted his third video game series for the big screen with Capcom’s Monster hunter, and with Jovovich once again for the ride, the director has solidified himself as one of Hollywood’s top Wife Guys. (All kidding aside, she’s a real action star, so why shouldn’t he?) Monster hunter takes place in another dimension, which is rather inconveniently populated by a host of massive and terrifying creatures. Jovovich plays Artemis, a ranger whose team is sucked into the alternate universe by a sandstorm of cosmic proportions. Filming took place in remote locations in South Africa and Namibia, and Anderson let the surreal desert landscapes do the job of creating the feeling of another world, while the game’s impeccably crafted monsters took care of the rest.
Monster hunter feels like what you’d get if the Warner Bros. MonsterVerse took down the human conflicts that have long been considered the franchise’s Achilles heel and just let the creatures cook. Human interactions in the film are admirably rare; After Artemis’ team is wiped out, they are mostly in the company of a character known only as Hunter (Tony Jaa), an inhabitant of that parallel dimension who obviously doesn’t speak English. They communicate primarily through gestures – and exclusively in the service of trying to shred giant monsters with cool-looking axes, crossbows, and swords – a director’s pick that describes in more detail. Monster hunterthe abrupt and enticing priorities of the crowd. (There’s also a human-sized anthropomorphic cat disguised as a pirate, if you’re into that sort of thing.) It’s a great big monster movie best enjoyed on the biggest screen possible.
So it’s a shame that so many viewers were denied the chance to watch Monster hunter as Anderson surely wanted. The film was released in December 2020, when major North American markets like Los Angeles and New York had not reopened theaters; the international deployment did not go better, the Chinese cinemas Monster hunter on a controversial line of improvised dialogue with a historically racist connotation. Although the film ends with the intention of creating a sequel, Monster hunter appears to be a one-off blockbuster, and in business and critical performance another potential franchise based on a video game series that failed to launch.
But at the same time Monster hunter might not have the same cinematic imprint of the lucrative sneak resident Evil franchise or the 90s version of Mortal combat, who has since been re-evaluated as a campy cult classic, Anderson remains Hollywood’s go-to director for video game adaptation. Anderson has rarely found himself appreciated in critical circles unless his films are re-evaluated years after the fact – again: Event horizon is amazing and it’s about time more people realized it – and maybe that makes him the perfect filmmaker for the task. After all, when the artistic merit of video games is regularly questioned, there is no better choice to give some legitimacy to their adaptations on the big screen than an author whose schlocky greatness is constantly underestimated and misunderstood.