Mortal Kombat Review
A film will some killer fatalities in all the worst ways possible.
I have spent an inordinate amount trying to determine the best way to begin this review, and I keep coming back to one simple sentence.
Mortal Kombat is a bad movie.
That single phrase perfectly sums up the film. But seeing as a well-composed review does not consist of just six words, let me elaborate.
Mortal Kombat is the long-awaited adaptation of the beloved video game franchise of the same name. Of course, this isn’t the first attempt at bringing this merry band of misfits to the big screen. In 1995, New Line Cinema produced a financially successful film based on the series that spawned a dumpster fire sequel in 1997. Yes, it is a harsh critique, but Mortal Kombat: Annihilation killed the franchise quicker than a Johnny Cage uppercut to the head. I cannot imagine that’s the kind of fatality fans hoped to see.
Subsequently, many have long clamored for Hollywood to produce a live-action reboot of the franchise that stayed more faithful to the video games than its predecessors. While not a rabid fan of the series, I certainly understand the appeal to the fanbase. You have zany characters, exotic locations, and, of course, grotesque violence. It should be a recipe for success.
Unfortunately, Mortal Kombat fails to deliver on that promise yet again. While the film tries to incorporate hard-hitting action, there isn’t enough throughout, and the rest of its parts don’t add up to an entertaining sum. The result is a film that somehow looks similar to Mortal Kombat without actually feeling like Mortal Kombat.
The film actually starts out promising with a well-choreographed and intense fight between 17th-century ninjas Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Bi-Han (Joe Taslim). The rivalry between these two warriors is by far the most compelling arc of the film, and their opening battle represents a high point for Mortal Kombat. The future Scorpion and Sub-Zero set the stage for everything that follows, letting fans know they are in for hard-hitting action.
It is also around this moment when Hasashi lays slain at the feet of Bi-Han, and his spirit transports to the Neatherrealm where the wheels fall off the Mortal Kombat wagon.
It took a grand total of 10 minutes.
The film jumps to modern times, revealing that Outworld is on the brink of winning its tenth straight Mortal Kombat- an interdimensional deathmatch tournament between Earth and Outworld. However, an ancient prophecy predicts the bloodline of Hasashi will rally Earth’s champions, preventing Outworld from invading Earth. Sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) orders Sub-Zero to hunt down and kill Earth’s remaining champions, preventing Mortal Kombat.
Enter Cole Young (Lewis Tran), one of the last remaining descendants of Hasashi. Cole is a washed-up MMA fighter struggling to regain the success and confidence of his younger days, which is difficult considering his propensity for getting his ass kicked… a lot.
It isn’t long, though, before he finds himself dragged into the Mortal Kombat drama. Luckily for Earth, he isn’t their only champion.
Joining him are military veteran Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), her partner Jax (Mehcad Brooks), and criminal Kano (Josh Lawson). Together, they travel to Lord Raiden’s (Tadanobu Asano) temple for training with fellow champions Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang) in hopes of unlocking their arcana- a unique power special to those who adorn a dragon mark.
Outside of Cole, each of these individuals is well-established within the Mortal Kombat universe. There is a ton of source material to pull from, yet the handling of these beloved characters could not have been any worse. It’s a shame, too. First-time director Simon McQuoid, working from a script penned by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, continuously displayed a firm grasp of the world’s mythos. Yet, they somehow lacked an intimate understanding of each of these characters.
Sonya is an uninteresting mess, backed by a poor performance from McNamee. Jax and Kung Lao are okay in their limited screen time, but there is nothing unique about either. Liu’s arcana may manifest as a fire fist, but it really should have been his tendency to turn a conversation on its head with long-winded exposition. And none of this even begins to dig into the stock image villains Shang Tsung employs at the end of the film solely for our heroes to have someone to murder that won’t impact a sequel.
None of these, though, feel as misplaced as Cole’s inclusion in the film. Callaham and Russo end up spending a lot of time building Cole’s backstory, which ultimately comes at the cost of other characters who are merely around to establish his credibility as one of Earth’s champions.
Focusing on a brand new character proves to be a mistake, and Tran is miscast in the Cole Young role. McQuoid consistently refuses to tap into his physical prowess as a fighter or infuse his natural charm into the character, leading to a lackluster performance.
But hey. At least an Asain actor was cast in the Raiden role this time, even if he is largely absent from the film.
The one standout of the cast is Josh Lawson’s Kano. As the film mucks along in sheer drudgery, Kano’s depravity is a breath of fresh air that elevates the film. Lawson steals every scene with his quick wit and unabashed glee for chaos.
Kano’s levity is desperately needed as the film progresses. The Mortal Kombat games establish a rich world, full of beautiful and fun locations. So naturally, the film brings our ragtag group of heroes to the desert, where they spend most of the movie.
Outworld is a desert wasteland. Raiden’s temple resides on the side of a mountain in the middle of the desert. Hell, Earth’s champions even train in a sandpit. For a film concerned with building this world for future sequels, McQuoid isolates these characters in the most desolate places possible.
But let’s be honest, we all really show up to a Mortal Kombat outing for the killer fatalities. And, for the most part, the film does deliver some gruesome acts of violence. There just isn’t enough action to quench the audience’s thirst.The middle section of the film is particularly hit hard by these issues. The sandpit training sequences are far too reminiscent of a video game walk-through, teaching new players which buttons kicks and hits. Even when the action picks up, McQuoid’s use of jump cuts within the fights themselves prevents the viewer from having a clear view of what is happening- much of which is glossed over anyways in favor of a rushed finale.
The action piece is the one area Mortal Kombat should have succeeded. Its quite possibly the place the movie failed at the most.
As I look back at the totality of Mortal Kombat, I cannot help but feel disappointed. It is truly a symphony of mediocrity, with some serious issues across the board. It has to be a major letdown for a fanbase thirty to see the film industry do justice by this vaunted franchise. In the end, Kano may win, but the audience lost. And that is never a good thing.