With video game movies getting a slightly better reputation in recent years, it makes sense to revisit the classic game franchise that also helped usher in “video game movies” as a genre. The newest big budget reboot of a classic video game comes to us in the form of Mortal Kombat, a film that succeeds in what it sets out to accomplish, but also stumbles over itself in other areas.
This new retelling of Mortal Kombat follows down-on-his-luck MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Cole, born with a mysterious birthmark that looks an awful lot like the Mortal Kombat symbol, is recruited to protect the earthrealm from the enemies of the outworld. Cole is the audience surrogate, an original character made for the film, and despite Lewis Tan’s likable presence, the character is a complete blank. Of the vast array of characters in the Kombat lore, the decision to make this character the lead of the film is a baffling one.
While all the expected characters including Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Jax (Mechad Brooks), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), Kano (Josh Lawson — stealing the show here) and Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), the two characters given the most gravitas are both Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (The Raid‘s Joe Taslim). The film opens with a harrowing opening sequences showing the tragic backstory of Scorpion and his bitter feud with Sub-Zero. Joe Taslim’s unrivaled physicality is an effect of its own, making him the perfect fit for the classic villain. The brief moments of screen time between Sub-Zero and Scorpion are unquestionably the films primary highlight, with Josh Lawson’s spirited portrayal of Kano being another.
First-time filmmaker Simon McQuoid understands the rich mythology behind the franchise and he blends the fantastical elements along with the brutal violence, and even hints of Raimi-esque horror with sufficient skill. He even nails the specific framing of the fight sequences from the game. While some sequences falter due to over-editing, a majority of the battles in Mortal Kombat more than live up to their potential. Die-hard fans are going to love the abundance of splattery carnage soaked throughout the film.
Despite some occasional over-editing, the fight sequences are a total blast. Living up to its reputation, Mortal Kombat more than earns its R rating with all the splattery carnage you’d hope for. The fatalities are as nasty as you can get in a mainstream studio film, with some genuinely awe-inspiring bouts of gore flung at the camera like a child discovering a new toy.
McQuoid shows no shortage of expertise when it comes to the staging of the film many action sequences, but traditional dramatic moments feel less accomplished. Basic blocking feels unnatural and the film lacks and any distinct visual panache. The writing doesn’t help much either with some bland exposition and cornball one-liners — did you think this movie wouldn’t find a way to jam in classic lines such as “finish him”, “get over here” and “flawless victory”?
McQuoid delivers on fan service first and foremost, but it all ads to the cheesy fun of the film. Benjamin Wallfisch’s rousing score kicks in at all the right moments; especially when that sweet, sweet classic theme comes blasting in. Mortal Kombat won’t do much to move the needle on video game movies and whether there are any great ones, but it delivers most on what you want from a film called Mortal Kombat. Fans will have moments of pure glee, and casual filmgoers will find enough here to stay consistently entertained.