I don’t usually review big budget films like Mortal Kombat for a couple of reasons. There are usually a million other reviews of them, and, living in a small town with a two-screen theatre, by the time I get a chance to see it most of those reviews are out. And that’s assuming it plays in town and I get a chance before it hits VOD or DVD. But this time, I had to make an exception.
Mortal Kombat opens like a classic martial arts fantasy. Bi-Han, or as he’s more commonly known Sub Zero (Joe Taslim, The Night Comes for Us, The Swordsman) and his assassins track down Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada, Army of the Dead, Wolverine) killing him and his family, ending his bloodline. Or so he thinks, Hanzo’s infant daughter was hidden away and rescued by Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano, Battleship, Thor: Ragnarok) who appears and disappears in a bolt of lightning.
Four hundred or so years later Cole Young (Lewis Tan, Wu Assassins, Deadpool 2) is a struggling MMA fighter with a strange birthmark. He also soon has Sub Zero trying to kill him and his family.
First time director Simon McQuoid and writers Greg Russo and Dave Callaham (The Expendables, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) get things off to a fast start and never really let the pace flag for long. For example, Cole’s introduction to Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee, The Loved Ones, The Meg) and Kano (Josh Lawson, House of Lies, Bombshell) almost immediately becomes a battle against an invisible lizard creature.
The film’s plot centers around Outworld’s Emperor Shang Tsung (Chin Han, Ghost in the Shell) and his plan to win the Mortal Kombat tournament by killing off Earth’s fighters before it even begins. You can’t win if you can’t field a team, right? This means there’s plenty of opportunities to spice up the training sequences with real fights
For a film like Mortal Kombat the fights had to be incredible. And the choreography for them is nothing short of impressive. Fight coordinator Chan Griffin (Alien: Covenant, Aquaman) and his team deserve a lot of credit for the amount of ass kickery they deliver.
McQuoid was also smart enough not to make the mistake Paul Anderson did and play down the gore and violence. That was what set Mortal Kombat apart from other fighting games and made them famous in the first place. And we get plenty of it this time out, limbs are frozen and explode in a shower of blood, a body is cut in half lengthwise, heads are crushed, eyes are gouged and souls are sucked out. And I’m betting the eventual Blu Ray will have an even bloodier unrated version as well.
Not being a gamer I can’t really tell how faithful to the games the film is, I think the last one I played was Mortal Kombat 4. I do know that Cole Young is a new character, but most of the others are names I recognized including Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada again), Rieko (Nathan Jones, Boar, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Goro.
There are several amusing touches such as various catchphrases and finishing moves from the games finding their way into the film. The final showdown with Sub Zero taking place in what looks suspiciously like an MMA cage. And, one I admit I would have missed if I hadn’t read about it, the code for a finishing move in some graffiti seen during a fight.
I had a blast watching Mortal Kombat, it’s an hour and fifty minutes of fast paced, bloody fun. It’s also a reminder that not every big budget film is a bland waste of time. The ending sets up a sequel, and I hope we get to see it.
Warner Brothers has released Mortal Kombat in theaters and on HBO Max. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.