‘Mortal Kombat’ movie review: A+ for gore, B for effort

Director: Simon McQuoid

Cast: Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Tadanobu Asano, Hiroyuki Sanada, Joe Taslim

Score: 2.5 stars

Let’s be very honest, if you’re watching Mortal Kombat, you’re either a fan of the video games, or you’re someone who was taken in by the excellent trailer. Either way, you have some understanding of what you are in for: incredibly stylish fights and relentless gore. And on that front, Mortal Kombat more than delivers.

Australian director Simon McQuoid’s directorial feature takes this beloved video game franchise (which has had no less than two previous feature films) and tries to give what is essentially a cheesy, violent video game a little more depth akin to the more recent iterations of the games, with limited success.

There’s a lot to dissect in this one-hour 50-minute long movie, both literally and figuratively, as a fan of the franchise. One of the many things it changes is the complete history of certain key characters, to fit its overreaching narrative. Whether or not those changes sit well with fans of the games is a highly subjective matter, though I was personally not very enthused by them.

As for the overreaching narrative, it involves washed-out MMA fighter, Cole Young, getting involved in an inter-dimensional battle with the fate of the entire world (called Earthrealm here) literally at stake. The setting is pretty cliche as far as plots go, but that’s one of the things Mortal Kombat is just known for.

The opposing team comprises of treacherous Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung, who is bent on taking over Earthrealm and sends assassins to kill every Earthrealm champion, who conveniently has a dragon marking to distinguish them. One of the many changes brought into the film.

This might be a broken record, but the changes in Mortal Kombat feel like they were meant to distinguish it from the games, but only manage to feel tacked on and completely unnecessary. One of those changes is the concept of ‘arcana’, which is basically a power granted to an Earthrealm champion. The idea kind of makes sense in the context of Earthrealm alone, but its conspicuous lack on Outworld’s warriors, is rather off-putting, especially since they too have some pretty nifty abilities.

In terms of characters and relations, the changes introduced here are a mixed bag. While it’s always fun to watch Kano (Josh Lawson) with his devil-may-care attitude, the more cynical Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) is rather annoying, compared to his more optimistic, confident and hopeful video game counterpart. Asano clearly put a lot of effort into portraying this Raiden, but the script doesn’t do him justice.

Likewise, the change in dynamic between Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) is also incredibly strange, especially since for the purposes of this film, Sub-Zero is actually responsible for the massacre of Scorpion’s family and Shirai Ryu clan. If there are more Mortal Kombat films, one can only hope that some retconning or clever mental gymnastics will be involved.

Cole Young is ultimately the film’s weakest link. As an original character for the film, Cole could have had a much better, more meaningful role, but he ultimately feels like an underdeveloped archetype for something better.

On the other hand, the film absolutely nails it in the ‘Kombat’ part of Mortal Kombat. It has a great many fights littered all over its runtime, and each and every one of them is a delight for Mortal Kombat fans. The fights are brutal, if sometimes brief, and nearly every single one of them ends in what would be a fatality in the games, making them absolutely fun to watch.

The movie’s score is, like its plot, passable. It has some decent cues and does entirely lift the original score from the game, but it is overall not entirely exciting, which is strange given that Benjamin Wallfisch composed the scores for both Blade Runner 2049 and It.

All in all, Mortal Kombat is a movie made for the fans of the game’s comical, exaggerated and oftentimes senseless violence. If you’re looking for depth of character, however, you’re probably not in the right place.

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