Movie Review: ‘Mortal Kombat’

Director: Simon McQuoid

Cast: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludin Lin, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada

Plot: Fighter Cole Young discovers that he has been destined since birth to participate in a deadly martial arts tournament to protect Earth from being invaded by the evil realm of Outworld. He teams up with a small group of champions to prepare for Mortal Kombat.

Review: If you’re wondering if this is the best of the Mortal Kombat movies, then yes. Obviously. I mean, you saw the trailer. I liked the first one as a kitschy bit of fun, as did we all, but it certainly lacked something.

A certain…flavour.

Perhaps it was the blood and gore. It’s the feature that made Mortal Kombat a household name. The original arcade fighter was headline news due to the shocking “fatalities”. It was the first time a mainstream game feature this level of gratuitous violence. It looks pretty silly by today’s standards. They’re equivalent to the 80s slasher movie fad of the 80s. It’s unsurprising how easily guest characters Freddy, Jason and Leatherface fit into the game series. The game made an impact though, there were even laws and regulations for video games instigated because of this game.

This fresh reboot is picking up the almost 30 years of complicated nonsense backstory and dozens of characters. Newcomer director Simon McQuoid opts to boil it down the essentials, that being a bunch of fighters battling against monsters and monster ninjas and superpowered ninjas in a tournament setting to stop an evil dimension from opening a portal to Earth. It’s not so much the premise that makes it feel like lunacy, but the colourful cast of characters who make up the many branched story. Everyday folk get paired up with demons, centaurs, gods, cyborgs and dinosaur people. To introduce us to them all we get movie original character Cole Young (Tan).

Cole cage-fights for cash, but has a long losing streak. When he and his family is attacked by magical ninja Sub-Zero (Taslim), who is targeting him as a descendant of his rival Scorpion (Sanada). He’s rescued by special forces soldier Jax (Brooks), who reveals that their matching dragon shaped birthmarks mark them has champions of Earth and they have to participate in the Mortal Kombat tournament. After meeting with Jax’s partner Sonya Blade (McNamee) and mercenary Kano (Lawson) they strike out for the Temple of Raiden to get to the root of the mystery. Here they discover they have to potential unlock superhuman abilities that can range from generating fire to growing robot parts.

It’s difficult to summarise this film because there’s a fair number of characters to be introduced, so we get quite a bit of information thrown at us quite quickly. The movie works hard to give everything a solid set-up and establish relationships before we get to the violence. An opening prologue showcases a really great fight between Sub-Zero and Scorpion, and all want to keep this energy going. The movie knows this but balances the dramatic aspects of the story pretty well against fight’n. If you want the full line-up of fan favourite characters, then the squad also team with Lord Raiden, Liu Kang and Kung Lao. On the other side are Shang Tsung, Goro, Mileena, Reiko, Nitara, Reptile and Kabal with Sub-Zero being the primary antagonist. If none of those names means anything to you then I’m surprised you read this far. This is going to be a real satisfying experience for franchise fans, but it’s unlikely to be a break-out hit that pulls in a wider audience.

As you’d expect, the fight scenes are where the movie most comes alive. They’re creative, well choreographed and jolly good fun throughout. There’s no restriction on violence, with some of the more gruesome deaths from the games being recreated. There was a clear, vocal audience response to these visceral moments. Outside of the fight scenes the movie isn’t looking as polished, with a couple of continuity gaffs and unintentional jump cuts slipping through the net. Some of the dialogue may have landed in the wrong places as well, with Kano referencing Kung Lao having a “frisbee hat” before having seen it used as such. There’s one or two moments where the dialogue feels odd, but that one stood out the most.

On the subject of Kano, however…this guy gets the film an extra star at least. He’s an absolutely cutup from his first moment on screen to the close. Australian actor Josh Lawson leans heavily into the foul mouthed feral Aussie mercenary. He practically steals every scene he appears in with some impeccably landed F-Bombs. He’s the perfect response to the cheesier moments of the story, undercutting them every step of the way.

Weirdest thing about the movie is that they never get to the tournament. They’ve all broken the rules and beaten the crap out of each by then. They keep talking about it, but it never happens. It’s not a bad thing…just odd. Maybe in the sequel.

If you know what to expect from Mortal Kombat media, and it appeals to you, then give this a look. You’ll have fun.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN