We all know one of the most difficult things to make in Hollywood is putting together a video game movie that everybody can like, especially those who have a deep connection to play everything the series offers. There are about two or three that come to mind that’s considered “decent” while there’s an easy top 10 to call themselves “abysmal.” Now we have Mortal Kombat to finally see the return of characters we loved for a long time in what’s either going to be full-out entertaining or unexpectantly dull that makes us want to play the game instead.
What’s the Story: MMA fighter Cole Young, accustomed to taking a beating for money, is unaware of his heritage—or why Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero, an otherworldly Cryomancer, to hunt Cole down. Fearing for his family’s safety, Cole goes in search of Sonya Blade at the direction of Jax, a Special Forces Major who bears the same strange dragon marking Cole was born with. Soon, he finds himself at the temple of Lord Raiden, an Elder God and the protector of Earthrealm, who grants sanctuary to those who bear the mark. Here, Cole trains with experienced warriors Liu Kang, Kung Lao and rogue mercenary Kano, as he prepares to stand with Earth’s greatest champions against the enemies of Outworld in a high stakes battle for the universe.
Almost everybody who grew up in the ’90s must’ve played the video games of the same name since it was one of the most violent games to ever play because of its well-known creative fatalities and the legacy it still holds decades later. There were also two movie adaptations: Mortal Kombat (1995) directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997). The original wasn’t a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but a lot of fans have always seen this as a total guilty pleasure, while its sequel is the worst movie to come out of the ’90s, with its terrible acting, boring fight sequences, and some of the most horrific CGI ever put to screen. But this latest live-action reboot has been in development for a long time, and I think the closest thing we had was Mortal Kombat: Rebirth in 2010. Have I ever played the games? Sadly, I haven’t, but I would love to get any recommendations for which one to start with.
But now we have an all-new reboot with first-time director Simon McQuoid behind it, produced by James Wan, and is given an R-rating, which is what everyone needed since the original movies didn’t need to be PG-13. The trailer had me a little excited, but I had to keep the expectations low because the history of translating popular video games into movies never reaches the heights of success. Though when it’s a movie called Mortal Kombat, all I wanted to get from this was to see formidable, bloody fights. And while it promises that, this is probably the best movie we’ve seen based on the games, which isn’t saying a ton. It’ll most likely hit differently from those who played the games and those who didn’t.
Just know this shouldn’t be the movie to set your brain to take it seriously; it’s just about fighting, death, and everything else in between. It seems like McQuoid and the screenplay approach from Greg Russo and Dave Callaham hopes to get this to become the start of a new franchise in carefully use the world-building to have us invested and know how it respects the source material well enough for those who weren’t before. But once it goes into the story, there’s not much to care about. The more you think about it, the more of a setup for what lies ahead and doesn’t necessarily focus on the actual tournament. Have we seen this done before? In some ways, yes, if that means Outworlds wants to kill off the fighters of the Earthrealm who have to save the universe. This offers a fight here and there, but around the second act was when it slows down and gives these heroes a chance to train as they arrived and delivers exposition dumps that are nonetheless uninteresting to remember.
As for the performances, they have their ups and downs. Cole Young is an original character made up for the story which I didn’t mind that much, to begin with. While I’ll give credit to Lewis Tan in making Cole his own, I just didn’t think to find him fascinating enough to be our major character; that goes the same in caring for his family too, or why he keeps having these visions. This also has the classic, established characters from the game like Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and others, but the problem with them interact with each other was that I wasn’t feeling any connection between them since the dialogue came across as wooden and the chance to flesh them out respective got lost. For as much as I didn’t like the cheesy 1995 movie, there was some already teamwork with Liu Kang, Sonya, and Johnny Cage; nothing like this here. But it was better than I knew half the characters in this rather than something like Warcraft where I watched that fantasy, knowing little about who these people were, which is one reason the movie failed to be spectacular.
Two characters stood out from the movie, as expected: Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) and Kano (Josh Lawson). Sub-Zero is already a cool character from the games, but the point hits home here when he uses his freezing powers or when he incorporates them with his fight scenes. And I know little about Kano besides being an Australian fighter from the game, but Josh Lawson’s performance as the foul-mouth and arrogant mercenary and member of the Black Dragon made it seem like he was having a blast with this role, even when he can get annoying occasionally.
The fights are what you come for, and there’s definitely fun to be had with them, though some of them weren’t perfectly edited, lacked many stakes, or didn’t have the best visual effects used. The promise of the fatalities being brutal is worth it for the fans, which is really the reason the R-rating is needed, along with the F-bombs. At least it was entertaining and energetic enough to still keep me locked into the scenes, especially when the third act has those fights for what felt rushed in getting through to the end without making it longer. I found it weird that the best scenes were from the opening ten minutes in this backstory between Scorpian/ Sub-Zero that hooked me quickly and the last fight with them. Despite having little knowledge about the games before watching it, I didn’t have that much of a reaction after it was over and took it for what was aiming for. However, those who will get the references or understand the moves will still give this a chance.
Final Thoughts: Mortal Kombat is made for the hardcore fans of the video game franchise. Still, it’s more of a mixed bag movie that doesn’t have the most engaging story to follow with little surprises, and some characters weren’t interesting. It’s able to be entertaining enough and provide fun for most viewers, though it could’ve been better. There’s no doubt a sequel or more will get made pretty soon if this does well, but I would want it to be more of an improvement.