Released: 22nd April
Seen: 29th April
In 1992, Mortal Kombat burst onto the world and forever changed the course of video game history. To say the game was controversial would be an understatement, it was THE game that every single parent hated with a passion. I vividly remember there was a Mortal Kombat arcade machine at my local fish and chips shop and my mother would never even let me look at the screen let alone play the thing (and now I’ve grown up and watch horror movies so violent they would turn stomachs, so clearly that wasn’t effective).
Mortal Kombat spawned multiple sequels, a bunch of movies, novels and comics and even a top 20 charting song that’s so iconic that just hearing that familiar techno tune is enough to make even the biggest boomer yell out “MORTAL KOMBAT” when the beat drops… and now it’s spawned an OK action film that’s more of a promise for things to come than an actual great film on its own.
Mortal Kombat focusses the story on Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an MMA champion who is currently supporting his family by taking on smaller fights to help pay the bills. On his way home after a match, a ninja named Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) starts wreaking havoc and is about to kill the entire Young family when a man named Jax (Mechad Brooks) drives up to save them. Jax tells Cole to go and find Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) who will help keep him and his family safe. Turns out Sonya, in between capturing villainous men like Kano (Josh Lawson) has discovered stories about an event known as Mortal Kombat, something that she, Cole and Kano will need to prepare for in order to protect Earth from the Otherworld and its leader Shang Tsung (Chin Han).
If I were to be honest, Mortal Kombat is at best OK. It’s not one I’d heartily recommend, it’s not one I’d adamantly avoid, it’s just OK. It really doesn’t bother with the titular tournament that one might expect from a film based on a game series known for being about a brutal fighting tournament. This is all about preparing for that big tournament which we can assume is going to be the centrepiece of a future film.
This means that instead of just brutal fight after brutal fight a large portion of this film is filled with exposition and setup which… yeah, does anyone honestly give a rats ass about that stuff in a Mortal Kombat film? Yeah, the series has a lot of lore and I’m sure someone watching this could give a detailed description of every characters’ history and where their powers come from and what their dietary restrictions are but the vast majority of people do not give a single fuck about the lore of Mortal Kombat.
This devotion to lore and setup creates a lot of moments where we’re basically just watching people give long dramatic speeches in a serious tone. It’s kind of stunning how seriously this film is taking itself, more seriously than the video game ever did (This is a game franchise that created something called “Babality” which turned opponents into literal infants, it’s not a series that should ever have been taken seriously). Every character is almost devoid of a sense of humour… except for my beloved Kano.
If there is one character that saves this film from being mediocre, it’s the glorious Kano who is so full of wit and personality that his appearance actively changes other characters. Characters who are seen to have no sense of humor suddenly develop the ability to tell jokes, like Kano has infected them with some form of humor-based illness. Every line out of his mouth is just a delight, delivered with the kind of cheesy gusto that you expect from this franchise. It’s the kind of performance that should turn Josh Lawson into a massive star, I honestly hope that he is being swarmed with roles right now to do more comedic action stuff because he made this film work.
When Mortal Kombat isn’t being exposition or leaning on Lawson, we still have the big fight sequences and this is where I kind of wonder what’s going on. For starters, there is SO much CGI blood and gore that I wouldn’t be shocked if someone told me that no one even needed to shower after a shoot day because no one got even a little bit bloody. Come on guys, we figured out how to do elaborate gore effects in the 80s and this is the exact movie where you get the excuse to go for broke with the violence and it doesn’t. The original game was downright scandalous because of the violence they put on screen, this film isn’t even as violent as one of the lesser Saw movies.
There are moments when you can actually see a great Mortal Kombat film seeping through, (again, besides the moments where Kano opens his mouth). For example, there’s a rather insane moment involving Kung Lao (Max Huang) that culminates in him saying “Flawless Victory” that felt like an actual moment from the game. Same thing happens early in the film in a fight between Sub Zero and Jax, the over the top elements of the fight created some fun violent visuals that one should expect in this kind of film. These little moments suggest that someone got what film they were making, but then felt the need to really dive into that lore that exactly no one cares about.
Mortal Kombat is OK at best, it’s more of a promise of better things to come than an actual good film on its own merits. With one stellar performance and a few fun action scenes, be thankful that Kano is in enough of the film to carry it through to the end. Hopefully, the sequel will learn from this one – up the violence and give the characters more fun personalities but for now, this is one to maybe watch at home for a distraction but there’s no real need to rush to see it.