Way back in the day, I parked my nerdy ass in front of a downtown theatre and counted down the minutes to Mortal Kombat’s first screening. This series has held a special place in my heart for decades. Trust me when I tell you that Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat reboot is one of my most anticipated films this year.
It took every ounce of my willpower to avoid even the slightest Mortal Kombat spoiler leading up to release day: no trailers, set photos, and no casting news. When I finally sat down to watch my press screener, I was pumped and had no idea what to expect.
Now after experiencing the movie, I must be blunt. Mortal Kombat blew my mind, but… and this is a huge but, not always for the right reasons.
Mortal Kombat is based on the legendary video game series which rocked gamers’ worlds in 1992. The game’s plot sees an evil inter-dimensional warlord named Shang Tsung (played here by Chin Han) attempt to conquer our world. To claim the Earthrealm, Shang Tsung’s minions must win a fight-to-the-death combat tournament 10 times in a row. When the film begins, the streak is at nine.
Earthrealm’s mystical protector Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), assembles a team of warriors to battle Shang Tsung in the Mortal Kombat tournament. The group includes the courageous Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), metal-armed soldier Jax (Mehcad Brooks), and down on his luck family man Cole Young (Lewis Tan).
Here’s the part where the movie splits off from the source material. Cole Young doesn’t exist in the Mortal Kombat universe. This character was written to serve as an entry point for people unfamiliar with the series’ complicated mythology. Cool, I’m all for throwing a new guy into the mix. The games introduce new heroes and villains all the time. The problem with Cole is that he is the least compelling part of the film.
In a film packed with ninjas, cyborgs, and supernatural beings, Cole just kind of floats through the story unremarkably. A film’s main character needs to be the straw that stirs the narrative drink. This guy is more like an ice-cube clinking around in the glass – technically, it’s cooling your soda, but you wouldn’t miss that one cube.
What’s wild is that the movie starts with such a bang before losing steam. It kicks off hundreds of years ago and reveals the beginning of Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero’s (Joe Taslim) ancient blood feud. The action-packed opening moments set the stage for a gripping revenge movie before leaving this heated rivalry behind to stick with the infinitely less compelling Cole.
Here’s what blows my mind: the movie opted to include Cole to appeal to people new to the series. The thing is, this movie makes little sense, even if you’re a Mortal Kombat die-hard. It’s loaded with quips and easter eggs alluding to the series’ dense mythology while also playing fast and loose with the characters’ origins. Focusing on Cole is an odd choice since there are zero reasons the film couldn’t have chosen a series regular encountering Shang Tsung for the first time.
To be fair, it doesn’t matter who the film chose as the main hero since most of the characters aren’t well-written anyway. Series regulars like Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kabal (Daniel Nelson) and Liu Kang certainly look like their pixelated counterparts, but they don’t leave much of an impression. Though, I would pay loads of cash for a Kano (Josh Lawson) and Kabal road-trip movie. These two quippy characters exude the colourful personalities lacking from the rest of the ensemble.
I’m firing off a lot of critiques, but I did enjoy the movie. It’s frustrating watching McQuoid get so much right about this franchise while mishandling it in other ways. Mortal Kombat is at its best when it revels in its trippy fantasy-sci-fi mythology.
The first game featured a skull-faced ninja, a shape-shifting wizard, and a half-human dragon prince. All three characters are in the movie, but this Mortal Kombat story doesn’t even include a Mortal Kombat tournament – the most fundamental component of the series.
This reboot may lack an actual combat tournament, but there are still loads of fight sequences. The action scenes are head and shoulders above anything else in the movie. They’re also where this film feels most in line with the video games. Each hard-hitting encounter feels thrilling and showcases impressive fight choreography and tight camerawork. Since the story embraces its fantasy elements, characters shoot fireballs from their hands, teleport, and transform their enemies into human popsicles. It’s all a blast.
Most importantly, Mortal Kombat is violent AF. Fighters get pummeled, blasted, scorched, smashed, shattered, and eviscerated in inventive ways. Fans of the series will get a kick out seeing Kano rip out some jabroni’s beating heart.
Mortal Kombat is the perfect film to watch in a packed theatre with a crowd of fans. I could see myself standing up, covering my mouth, and shouting “ahhh shit,) about 14 times by the time the credits rolled. This movie is fun and exciting but also campy and nonsensical. I enjoyed the overall experience, and I’ll slap down cash right now to watch the sequel. But if you don’t have an attachment to the series, this flick will seem incoherent.
I had high hopes for this adaptation, and it let me down in a lot of ways. But it still delivered enough electrifying action and iconic characters to keep me entertained. Mortal Kombat may not be a great movie, but I still had a great time.