While there have been a few attempts at adapting the ‘90s bloody fighter video game phenomenon Mortal Kombat, it hasn’t taken off. The latest reboot/remake of Mortal Kombat doesn’t sanitize the game’s goofy, gory goodness and instead goes for full carnage. This makes it one of the more faithful and decent video game adaptations. Sure, there are some dumb story decisions, pointless filler, and a cast of sprawling magic kung-fu fighting freaks so long that an index card would be handy. But there’s still enjoyment in the simple pleasures of an evil flying demon lady being cut in half by a chainsaw hat.
Cole (Lewis Tan) is a down on his luck fighter trying to provide for his family, until one day he’s attacked by an ice magic ninja, Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). Cole is told by military fighting guy Jax (Mehcad Brooks) to find the military fighting lady Sonya (Jessica McNamee). Sonya tells Cole about Mortal Kombat, a fighting tournament of the defenders of the Earth Realm against the evil demon people of Outworld led by Shang Tsung (Chin Han). Now Cole, Sonya, the snarky and insane criminal Kano (Josh Lawson) find help from the Thunder God Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) who will train them to unlock their magical fighting powers. Yet it all may crashing down because Tsung and his evil horde want to finish them before the tournament starts.
Mortal Kombat is about a cavalcade of mutants and monsters and kung-fu masters fighting each other in the tournament for the fate of the universe but the film never actually gets around to the competition occurring. No tournament and only teasing well known character Johnny Cage at the very end feels like sequel bait. The Kombat storyline has a huge universe to draw from and this film does a good job of picking certain characters but the story is wrapped around the new character Cole which is a significant misstep.
The opening of the movie happily knows enough to kick off right with the ancient origins of the eternal blood feud between Sub-Zero and Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). It’s a dynamic piece of action when the would-be Scorpion fights off a horde of assassins and the final brawl between them is brutal and sets up the stage for a solid revenge flick. Which the movie promptly forgets and starts following around the 21st Century washed up MMA fighter Cole. At least the script knows that Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion is what everyone wants to see so it is smartly delivered as the film’s climatic fight, which is really fantastic. Although Cole is also present in the climatic fight of Sub-Zero and Scorpion’s death feud which seems unnecessary. Sanada delivers his few lines with some otherworldly oomph as Scorpion is hollering “Get over here!” That’s what people like about Mortal Kombat, the movie just needed more.
When the multi-armed monster fighter Goro threatens Cole with “Now I’ll tear out your spine,” it is one time the bad guy is correct because A) spine ripping out is a stable of the Mortal Kombat game series which has been missing from the films B) Cole is an uninteresting weenie. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Young puts some emotional layering into his role as generic good fight guy but he’s still a dull generic good fight guy when the cool stuff is kung-fu demons and lightning Gods. Even Cole’s family is simply there to generate unnecessary sympathy points.
Brooks as Jax gets in some good quips and messy fights, much better than when he was Jimmy Olsen on several years of Supergirl. McNamee as his side-kick kind of just looks annoyed but she has a good final fight with Kano. Lawson’s Kano is actually funny as he calls everything out as being stupid magic nonsense. Asano as the good guy leader and Han as the bad guy leader are basically there to speechify although Raiden does look intimidating and Tsung at least gets to rip one guy’s soul out of his mouth.
The plot features lots of Cole moping about being unable to unlock his superpowers and waiting to get to the extreme combat butchery. When Tsung talks about his Outworld baddies it’s like he’s listing off a starting lineup of evil to the audience, however his goons do look appropriately strange. One of the villains is the half cybernetic Kabal and who has a cool design and his voice provided by Damon Herriman is appropriately nasty. The fight scenes are nicely messy like when Sub-Zero brutally disarms Jax or Kano versus a creeping lizard guy that has a great splatter ending. When the buzzsaw hat guy actually uses the buzzsaw hat and proclaim “Flawless victory” it is gleefully crazy. Cole fighting against the four armed Goro is neat but Goro kind of goes out too easily for such a Mortal Kombat heavy hitter. Aside from the aforementioned Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero, the fights don’t have dramatic heft but the gore is very true to the source.
Mortal Kombat may be the best video game adaptation ever, which isn’t really saying much since most videogame adaptations stink. Also wrapping the narrative around a new lead character is a bit of a stumble. But at least tonally this Kombat nails it when unabashedly leaning into insanely cartoonish messiness.
Director: Simon McQuoid
Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee and Josh Lawson