“Mortal Kombat” is a cheesy, gore-filled mess of a story. And I want more.
The movie as a standalone product is pretty rough, but by channeling the lore and nostalgia behind the classic video game from way back in 1992, the reboot becomes an enjoyable blast from the past.
If you played the original video game, you’ll recognize almost all of your favorite characters from the first installment of the still-running franchise: Scorpion, Sub Zero, Liu Kang — the list goes on. Sadly, the noteworthy exception here is Johnny Cage. Yes, you read that correctly. Hollywood star Johnny Cage, one of the more popular characters from the game, is not in this movie. But don’t worry, he’s teased for the sequel.
The outrageousness of the story is as follows: The evil Sub Zero and company have been sent by Shang Tsung to hunt down and kill earth’s greatest warriors before they can make their way to fight in the Mortal Kombat tournament. The enemies of the Outworld have defeated Earthrealm for the last nine tournaments, and one more loss will allow the bad guys to take over Earth. Sure, it’s cheating, but Tsung wants the good guys dead before the 10th tournament so they essentially have to forfeit.
In a nutshell, he’s the Tonya Harding of Outworld.
The fear factor here is that given time, earth’s warriors might learn to use their arcana — essentially super powers unique to each fighter. Liu Kang can summon fireballs, whereas Sub Zero can create and use ice to his advantage. Basically, the stuff that made fighting in the game so much fun.
If you’re not familiar with the games, you’ll likely be wondering what the heck you’re watching. “Mortal Kombat” is clearly a movie made for fans of the franchise. It doesn’t want to waste time trying to explain things. Not when there are an array of characters and vintage lines from the games (“Get over here!”) to include. And of course, the brutal kills. These “fatalities” are sprinkled in, offering plenty of disembowelment, head explosions, and equally over-the-top killings. Don’t let kids watch.
Kano (Josh Lawson) is a treat, providing comic relief to lighten the mood. However, each character gets minimal development. Nearly everyone else simply shows up as the music crescendos, states their name, and starts fighting. They’re all bearable, aside from Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee). Even in a movie this corny, she comes across as cringeworthy. It makes me miss Bridgette Wilson, who poorly played Blade in the 1995 movie. Did you know she is married to tennis legend Pete Sampras? I digress.
Aside from Blade, this movie is better than the 1995 attempt. Not by a ton, mind you. It’s equally as bad in a lot of ways. But fight scenes in 2021 should be worlds better, and they definitely are in this rendition. The visuals look great.
The most interesting decision made by the writers is to dive into the story through the point of view of a new character, Cole Young (Lewis Tan). He is a crappy MMA fighter whose bloodline traces back to Scorpion.
Focusing on a new character who wasn’t in the video game is a good way to make loyal fans revolt, but Young doesn’t overstep in his role. The original cast of killers still shine brightest. It’s not for lack of trying. When the late-blooming Young finally figures out his arcana, it’s super underwhelming compared to his comrades. He gets body armor that sometimes absorbs the kinetic energy of his enemy’s blows, allowing him to bottle it up and explode with it (think Black Panther’s suit). But it seems like it doesn’t work half the time, and his special weapons that appear are a traditional and a bladed tonfa, or a police baton.
Give me fireballs over batons any day.
“Mortal Kombat” is worth a watch for fans of the franchise, but likely not for everyone else. If it makes a fan out of you, that’s great! Rumor has it they’re going to pump out a lot more movies following this opening chapter.
Considering the latest video game in the franchise was all the way up to Mortal Kombat 11, screenwriters have some work to do.
“Mortal Kombat” can be streamed on HBO Max.