(It’s Not Supposed to Be) A Divine Comedy
Or Why the Poor Quality of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation Can’t Be Blamed on James Remar
(Whew, that’s a long subtitle!)
Side Note: Yeah, I’m still upset with Jamie over the whole SAG versus AFTRA issue. And I plan to allow myself to have anger/annoyance/whatever bubbling under the surface until the votes are completely counted (sometime after March 30). But that doesn’t stop me from being a fan of his.
So a lot of reviews I’ve seen (and I mean a lot…too many to be reasonable) seem to blame James Remar for the poor quality of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. They don’t take into consideration the performances of all the other actors (especially since the vast majority of them were replaced since the first movie or were making first appearances), they don’t take into consideration the director, the writers or anyone else…they place the blame solely on Jamie’s shoulders. To the point of saying, “Damn you, James Remar…damn you to hell!” in one case. And I don’t get it. Are they that blatantly in love with Christopher Lambert that they are blinded to the faults of the entire movie (and they’re not willing to admit it), or are they seriously a bunch of dumbasses that should be disregarded?
First, let’s take a step back and look at who wrote both movies. (I’m a novelist…of course I’m going to examine the writers first!) It’s the writers’ job to tell the story, to keep the audience interested and wanting more. If there aren’t enough plot twists (or if there are too many, or if they’re obvious), if the dialogue is hackneyed or unrealistic, if there isn’t enough action, the audience is going to hate it. (And apparently hate the actors for using what they’re given. But I digress.)
Take a look at the cast and crew lists for both movies: big surprise…they were written by different people! Kevin Droney was responsible for the first movie, while Lawrence Kasanoff, Joshua Wexler and John Tobias were responsible for the story of the second movie and Brent V. Friedman and Bryce Zabel wrote the screenplay. If anything, MK2 was overwritten…too many chefs stirring the pot, or whatever the phrase is. Even if they couldn’t get Kevin Droney back for the second movie, don’t you think the script would’ve been a whole hell of a lot better with about four less writers? What’s the matter, Time Warner…don’t you trust one person to write for himself?
Second, let’s take a look at the director. The director is responsible for setting the imagery, the tone and the pacing for an entire movie. He (or she!) even controls the writers to some extent, telling them what he’s looking for in the movie, what images he has in mind, that sort of thing. Consider the difference between Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow, for example. They both had war movies up for Best Picture at the 2009 Academy Awards, but their movies were vastly different. Kate goes for a hardcore, emotional feel, really shining her camera on the harsh realities of war; while Q prefers a lighter note, leaning on a bit of comedy and plenty of ass-kicking to keep things going.
The contrast between the work of Paul W.S. Anderson (MK1) and John R. Leonetti (MK2) is also obvious: Paul went for a darker mood, using–guess what–darkness, plenty of growled threats from Shang Tsung and the uncertainty of what Mortal Kombat was all about, while John used a lot of daylight and the messages of friendship, believing in yourself and working together. Kind of like the difference between Kate and Q, isn’t it?
As for the actors, they can only use what they’re given by the writers and the directors. Yes, some actors and actresses are so talented that they can take a poor script and really turn it around, making for a brilliant movie. But most are simply average…they take what they’re given and can’t be expected to save a movie for the life of them.
Let’s look at the dominating figures of each movie: Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and Shao Khan (Brian Thompson). As I mentioned before, Shang Tsung relies manly on growled threats to get his job done. He seems confident in his role as the Emperor’s right-hand man (er…sorcerer) and Cary conveys it not by posturing, parades or presentations, but by holding himself upright and not flinching when the mortals come to challenge him. Brian, on the other hand, has to deal with poor dialogue and flamboyance (written into the script) that is more suited to the days of jousting and courtly love, not killing mortals for the hell of it. Speaking of dumb dialogue (and I blame the writers for not thinking carefully about this), what’s up with referring to the bible? “The earth was created in six days…so, too, shall it be destroyed!” Em…we’re in a world where elemental deities rule over all and a few mortals kicking ass can decided the fate of humanity and you’re referring to the bible? Or are you trying to get us to believe that the Elder Gods created the earth in six days, just like the Christian god, and you conveniently forgot to tell us that? (There are several other things that the writers changed between movies and even from the video games, but I don’t have time to think of them or list them all.)
As for the difference between Christopher Lambert and James Remar, well, I guess it’s just a matter of personal preference. In my opinion, if Raiden is supposed to be a mortal-loving deity who would lay down his powers and divine status for the sake of humanity, he shouldn’t be relying on sarcasm and half-hearted attempts at dry wit. Jamie handled the essence of Raiden far better than Chris, right down to humbling himself at the feet of the Elder Gods. And I’m not saying that because I’m biased: I felt that James Remar was the best Raiden all the way back when I saw MK2 in theaters–twelve years before I fell in love with him.