Mortal Kombat has become part of pop culture on a molecular level at this point. From its early beginnings on arcades to the fight being taken home on game consoles, this game has been with us a extensive amount of time. Over the years, the brutality and graphics have gone through several revolutionary upgrades and with it, so has our need for a Mortal Kombat movie that would capture the insane, pulp, kung-fu revolution that is Mortal Kombat.
James Wan’s Atomic Monster Productions and Warner Bros. took control of the latest adaptation with a strict resolute. From initial reports, this Mortal Kombat was going to capture the essence of the games. Namely, it was going to properly capture fatalities, gore and the look of its characters. The wait was long and the teaser trailers along the way were promising. So, did the film truly deliver?
For the uninitiated Mortal Kombat is a tournament that was created to decide the fate of our worlds. After a number of tournaments are lost by Earth Realm, the good guys ultimately lose. The tournament has gone on for centuries, it gathers Earth’s mightiest fighters and pits them up against the evil combatants out of Outworld.
The stakes are high in this film. If Earth Realm loses one more contest, the world will fall into darkness and everyone would have a really bad day. Think 2020 but a little worse.
This leaves Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) to once again build a team of fighters – Avenger’s assemble style. It’s really exhilarating as a fan to watch the pieces come together here. You are watching mini-origin stories that don’t feel forced or rushed at all. Everyone’s story is organic and nicely constructed.
Most interestingly, is the addition of newcomer Cole Young (Lewis Tan). He comes on as a new fighter. He is a dude that didn’t appear in the video games at all. Young basically acts as the audience here. We are all being introduced to this insane world through his eyes. Young is also a nice center piece since, it becomes really exciting to watch, wait and find out what part Young will play in the bigger picture.
All the folks we love are here. From Scorpion to Sub-Zero, from Kung-Lao to Mileena. The roster is a who’s-who of Mortal Kombat. Director, Simon McQuoid doesn’t set up a whole lot of rules in the character interactions. That chemistry leads to the excitement of knowing that those intensely bone-breaking fights could break out at any second.
There is a very notable amount of pulpy dialogue at times that fits in well with actual video game cutscenes. It’s the same bit of that playful cheesiness that comes with game cut scenes and 70’s martial arts films. Even that tone was whittled to a specific form of dialogue exchange in the film. It was an interesting choice, but goes hand and hand with everything else in the film that mirrors 100 percent of the game series. McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat goes in for a penny and in for a bloody pound.
The center stage spectacle goes down between Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion and Bi-Han/Sub-Zero, as it should. The film actually begins with the origin story of what would become the eternal hatred between these two assassins. The acting power between these two is some powerful stuff. We are dealing with legendary martial artists and actors, Joe Taslim of The Raid fame and Hiroyuki Sanada of Shogun Samurai fame. Both actors are well chosen, considering martial arts nuts are going to come to the show up specifically to see these two go head to head in this light. They do not disappoint.
The unexpected sleeper in the film definitely lies with Kano (Josh Lawson) who steals the show. The Black Dragon, is either front and center or pushes his way to front and center by consistently being hilarious. Lawson nails a comic timing that, I can’t imagine being an easy beat to nail down. Kano is a much larger part of Mortal Kombat than I thought he would be. But, after spending a little bit of time with Lawson’s Kano it’s clear that his mercenary charm is one of a kind and I absolutely love him in this for it.
The film has a humor about itself. It’s playful about the fun of Mortal Kombat. For example, in one scene Kano has a sweep move performed on him. When he stands up, he immediately receives another sweep that knocks him down again. He replies with “is that the only move you know?” How many times, did someone come into the room new to Mortal Kombat and do nothing but sweeps on you and somehow win back when you were playing the game? Moments like that are really fun instants to break up the kung-fu badassery and origin story narratives.
McQuoid is setting up for an expanded universe. It’s clear at the finale of the film, that we are meant to come back to the visit Earth Realm and Outworld again. In recent news, we also learned that some of the actors involved have already signed on for four more films if this one is successful in theaters. I would personally love to keep coming back to this series. It’s a lot of fun and has room to continue to grow.
The previous Mortal Kombat from 1995, was a fun enough techno ride that had brief moments of levity and some iffy CG FX decisions along the way. Plus, the film didn’t deliver on Mortal Kombat’s bread and butter… the fatalities. They just weren’t there. From early on, we knew that fatalities would play a part in this adaptation, but were they going to be up to par? The short answer is, absolutely! The FX team and McQuoid made a special sort of alchemy that didn’t pull any punches when it comes to splitting someone in twain or gutting someone. The detail and attention that goes into the brutality and gore in this film is tremendous. Practical and CG FX combine to create majestic gore. It’s clear that the team knew their audience and they deliver on every single gag.
Mortal Kombat captures gory lightning in a bottle. It manages to create that same childhood wonder, I had when playing my first Mortal Kombat game and my first time successfully delivering a fatality. McQuoid and team knows their blood and butter and knows what the audience for Mortal Kombat is going to show up for. Gore, kung-fu and nods all combine to make a kickass, absolute blast of an experience. If you love Mortal Kombat, prepare for a flawless victory.
Mortal Kombat hits theaters and begins streaming on HBO Max on April 23.