If you were a kid in the 90s, there's a great chance that your parents did not let you anywhere near the "Mortal Kombat" video-game. The game alone, with its ultra-realistic graphics, excessive violence and its patented "fatalities" end-moves sparked a national debate on video-game violence and led to the creation of a video-game ratings system that is still in use today.
In other words, it was super bad-ass. "Mortal Kombat" was the bloody cousin of the neutered "Street Fighter" franchise, and it has since grown into one of the most massive, successful video-game properties of all-time, spawning more than 20 game versions, a 1995 film (and it's horrible 1997 sequel) and now this 2021 movie incarnation.
Like it's big-screen predecessor, the new "Mortal Kombat" knows its audience and in that vein, it delivers what's expected. If you were offended then, you'll most likely be offended now, and if you're new to the whole thing, you probably won't think that this is anything all that special at all, given that blood, gore and violence have become pretty mainstream across all mediums, since the "Mortal Kombat" video-game debuted back in 1992.
If you're like me though (at age 42, I was a ripe 13 when "Mortal Kombat" first debuted), I can't even say the title "Mortal Kombat" without screaming it the iconic way that the dude does in the classic video game commercials..."MORTAL KOMBAT!!!!"
This new film has zero connection to the 1995 or 1997 versions from a plot standpoint. But it does give homage to that film with its adrenaline-fueled pumping techno scores that kick in during every fight sequence. The plot is loose and quite idiot-friendly, but there's a massive competition that has been going on for centuries, and if the Earthrealm loses one more contest to the champions of the Outworld, all will be lost. Like the video-game, this just creates a wobbly framework in which heroes and villains can clash, kick-butt and rip each other's hearts out, sometimes quite literally and other times, metaphorically.
A new character has been created for this film who has not appeared in any previous "Mortal Kombat" property, and Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is by far the weakest part of the new movie...he's the least interesting and the one most deserving to be beaten into a bloody pulp, and every time he's on screen I couldn't help but long for any of the other characters to swoop in. Cole is a failing MMA-fighter but one who just so happens to be of a certain famous bloodline. He is recruited to take part in an upcoming epic showdown across realities, while his wife Allison (Laura Brent) and daughter Emily (Matilda Kimber) run around and scream in the background.
Many - but not all - of the original characters are present, as are many that were pulled in from subsequent games in the series. Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) is one cold MF, locked in a historic arch-rivalry with Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada). Fan-favorite Kano (Josh Lawson), cyborg-armed Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Lui Kang (Ludi Lin) and his monk brother Kung Lao (Max Huang) and former special forces operative Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) are ready to showdown with the gallery of villains under the lead of Shang Tsung (Chin Han). In his camp you have Mileena (Sisi Stringer), Reiko (Nathan Jones), Nitara (Mel Jarnson), Kabal (Daniel Nelson) and the four-armed monster known as Goro (voiced by Angus Sampson). Then there is Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), with his electricity and iconic glowing eyes and sedge hat, the appointed guardian of the Earthrealm.
A few of the big canon names are missing, but the world created in the video-games and comic books are populated with so many characters, it leaves lots of room for them to show up in the sequels that will surely follow. Each character that appears in the film cheesily announces their entrance, and you even get some of the actual video-game verbiage thrown in, like "Kato Wins!" or "Flawless Victory!" Again, a fan of the "Mortal Kombat" world hears this and gets excited...a casual viewer may hear all of this and groan.
But for those that come to the table knowing what's on the menu, you'll leave full and satisfied. There is blood, gore and fatalities. There is a lot of great stunt-work, visual effects, cool costumes and set design. Because this is "Mortal Kombat," many of the characters do not survive, but as one character in the film puts it, "Death is just another portal," so just like a video-game, be prepared for the game to reset when the sequel starts.
A famous movie gladiator fighting in an arena once shouted,"Are you not entertained???" to a crowd of blood-thirsty fans. That's the same reaction I would have to someone who wants to try to run "Mortal Kombat" through the typical critical wash cycle.
What does it say about us a society that "Mortal Kombat" is popular to begin with, and did it in fact help normalize the wave of violence found across all mass media since the early 90s? My review is not intended to pass judgment on these deeper issues, or make any sort of political or social statement. But on its merits - and considering the audience in which this film was made for - "Mortal Kombat" is a bloody good-time.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy.
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes.
Starring: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Josh Lawson, Joe Taslim, Mehcad Brooks, Laura Brent, Matilda Kimber, Tadanobu Asano, Max Huang.
Directed by Simon McQuoid (feature-film debut).
"Mortal Kombat" is in theaters and on HBO MAX on Friday, April 23rd, 2021.
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