Video game films are, by and large, crap. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of cinema is aware of this. To that point, even the ones considered to be the better examples of the genre are still rather middling. The original Mortal Kombat can charitably be called that, so this new version isn’t exactly treading over hallowed ground. So, it’s to my surprise that this movie…isn’t bad. There’s fun to be had with this deeply silly, overly violent, and paper thin action flick. With expectations kept thoroughly in check, it’s even enjoyable on some levels. Especially if you have an HBO Max subscription, the price is right.
Mortal Kombat know what it is, that’s for sure. It’s catering to fans of the game franchise who always wished that the bloody carnage of the fighting series was translated more directly on the big screen. As fan service goes, it’s well executed (no pun intended). Of course, that comes with its own issues, but in terms of satisfying fans, it’s not a stretch to anticipate that this will do the trick.
The plot is a major weak point, in that it’s overly complicated while being deeply stupid. We’re given a prologue where Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) seeks to eliminate the bloodline of Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). He achieves that goes, or so he thinks, as a daughter is left alive, taken and cared for by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano). Centuries later, that descendant is Chicago fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan). Cole is unaware, until now, that he’s got the mark that signals he’s one of Earth’s champions in the game of, you guessed it…Mortal Kombat.
Dispatched to Earth by Chang Tsun (Chin Han), Bi-Han, now going by Sub-Zero, is going to kill Cole and the other champions, winning the tournament for their realm. However, Cole is alerted to this by Jax (Mehcad Brooks), who links them up with Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee). Together, along with others like Kano (Josh Lawson) and Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), they begin training for the epic fight to come.
The acting, much like the plotting, is nothing to write home about. Lewis Tan is a forgettable lead, but he fares the best of the bunch. Everyone plays their roles very broadly and on the nose, befitting a lower budgeted production. That might have had charm in more of a B-movie, but the atmosphere here is would-be blockbuster, so it’s noticeable, and not in a good way. Again though, does anyone expect this film to have high caliber acting in it?
Director Simon McQuoid knows that he’s there to make the fights pop, and they truly do. Whereas the screenplay by Dave Callaham, Greg Russo, and Oren Uziel is rough stuff, the visuals are effectively gross. The less logic or story involved, the better Mortal Kombat fares. The rules of the tournament are almost impossible to figure out, but no one here really cares about that. They’re all vying to make you feel like you’re watching the game come to life. In that regard, it succeeds more than it fails.
Mortal Kombat is among the best video game adaptations to date, but what does that truly mean? If you like the games, watching many of the classic characters come to life in this way will prove satisfying. If you’re not a fan of theirs, or unaware, this will probably seem deeply stupid. The truth is somewhere in between. The film isn’t quite worthy of a recommendation, but it’s better than expected. Where you fall on the Mortal Kombat spectrum probably dictates if the movie is worth your time.